My Favorite Teacher

Most of us have a favorite teacher we remember from our school days.

Maybe it was a first grade teacher who helped us learn to feel at ease in that strange new place called “school.” Maybe it was an elementary teacher who was the first to introduce us to the wonder of reading.

Maybe it was a junior high school teacher who knew just the right things to say and do when a troubled, uncertain teenager needed a friend. Maybe it was a high school teacher who was the first to nudge us down the path to a future course of study and a successful career.

Maybe it was a college professor who proved to be a mentor, unlocking important doors for us.

Capacity asked some of West Virginia’s education and business leaders to recall some of their favorite teachers. It’s our hope that their recollections will cause you to think a bit about one or more of your own favorite teachers – and maybe say a silent “thank you.”

David C. Hardesty, Jr.
President West Virginia University

I grew up in a small West Virginia town, which like many others, was subject to the whims of a cyclical energy market. Entering school in 1951, I soon learned that many committed teachers were bound and determined to help the children of Shinnston be all that they could be, notwithstanding the lack of shiny new buildings and extra programming money to support their efforts. They were part of my town, and they taught sometimes two or three generations of the same family. My first grade teacher taught my father and all of his children.

I especially remember three high school teachers – Mrs. Townsend, Mrs. Thornburg and Mrs. Knight – who taught me history and speech, French and Latin, respectively. From them I learned to imagine the past and the future, dream of traveling abroad, the meaning of high expectations and the true joy of learning. It was as much their smile as their expertise; it was as much their encouragement as their experience. They wanted me to learn and make something of myself. It was an unselfish and generous attitude, which prepared me for life.

Having been president of a university for ten years, and having taught my own classes of eager students at our law school, I know now the joy my favorite teachers found in their vocation. As I walk across campus, I often think of Mrs. Thornburg saying, “Bonjour, David!”

Linda Arnold
Chairman, CEO & Founder The Arnold Agency

As I look back on my school days, I realize I was fortunate enough to have some teachers who had a great impact on my life:

Benny Roebuck, my 8th grade civics teacher, sparked my interest in the governmental process. He challenged us to write a contract for our grade – a new concept at the time. My most memorable project was a paper entitled, “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” I threw myself into this project and developed a deep curiosity about the governmental and political process. Mr. Roebuck is currently a middle school principal in Milton.

Robert DiClerico, who taught me political science at West Virginia University, further honed my interest in politics and government. He brought contemporary issues to the table and had us apply governmental principles in our debates. Professor DiClerico is still teaching at WVU.

Finally, there’s Hazel Sparks, my 9th grade English teacher, who piqued my interest in literature. I still remember the in-depth studies we conducted on authors. Charles Dickens comes to mind. Even now I often refer to client challenges with “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Mrs. Sparks is now retired in Beckley.

Thanks for letting me share my reflections and acknowledge how much these teachers shaped my career in communications (uncharted as it was at the time!).

William A. Smith
Superintendent Cabell County Schools

One of my favorite teachers was Mrs. Carrie Barker. Mrs. Barker came to Huntington High School in the late 1960’s from Richmond, Virginia, and there completed her teaching career in English grammar and literature.

The qualities I recall about her were her innate wisdom, sense of humor and her demand for excellence. Her regional accent was foreign to us students who were raised in the “North” and we often got a kick out the way she would pronounce such words as house (“hoose”) and out (“oot”).

She took these linguistic differences as a starting point for discussions about diversity and the value of cultural competence and understanding during a time in our country’s history when racial issues were very difficult to talk about. And as she brought literature and writing to life for me and my classmates, I found myself identifying with Shakespeare, Frost, Bacon, Emerson and other classic writers in terms of the universal human experience. I am convinced that Mrs. Barker and I kept a divine appointment in that tenth grade English classroom on the fourth floor of the old Huntington High School. It was she who influenced my career choice to go to college and major in English literature. I found my first love – teaching – because a wise lady took the time to share her wisdom and insight with me.

David Copenhaver
Vice President Toyota Motor Manufacturing WV

There is a time in life when you’re growing in many ways, all at one time. If you were lucky, you had a teacher that you respected and enjoyed. I had such a teacher, Dr. O.G. Woods, my money and banking professor at the University of South Carolina my sophomore year.

He wasn’t an easy teacher. He and I became very close as we played tennis together and that friendship has lasted throughout the years. I also worked on a project for him the summer of my senior year which actually led to my first job after completing my degree. From the time he took me under his wing, I always felt he saw something in me that no one else ever did, and he really rode me to realize my full potential.

OG, as I came to call him, had a boundless passion for teaching and learning and he taught me it was okay to mix business with pleasure. A real teacher, talented, bright, and all around cool guy … he explored everything. He was a great listener and he impressed upon me the importance of reaching for knowledge. He truly delighted in teaching and learning.

Stephen J. Kopp
President Marshall University

In 1965, my parents, Joseph and Josephine, enrolled me in a summer-school course in “speed reading.” To put this in perspective, I had already made up my mind that I was going to be a major league baseball player, so I was quite mystified by the idea that I needed to learn to speed read in order to play baseball.

My teacher, who I can see in my mind’s eye but whose name I cannot remember, was very perceptive. After about a week of pigheadedness on my part, she told me to stay after class one day. During our brief but memorable meeting, she leveled with me. For the first time in my life, a teacher told me that I was wasting my God-given abilities and that she was not about to let me get by with anything less than my best effort and performance.

What surprised me was that someone actually saw in me something I had not discovered in myself – potential. She set high expectations for me and challenged me to continue to do better. In many ways she ignited a passion to learn that must have been locked away in the recesses of my mind, buried amid the doubts and insecurities of youth.

That summer began what has become a lifelong journey of discovery, inquiry and continuous learning. I did learn to speed read in the process but I credit this remarkable teacher for challenging me and refusing to let me get away with anything less that my very best – to aim for perfection.

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