Our Town: The Best Advice a Teacher Ever Gave Me

School will look a little different this year, but we’re still counting on teachers to motivate us. We asked some folks in education what advice from their own teachers most inspired them.
by Melissa Howsam

“An early exchange with my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Gwyn at J.J. Jones Elementary in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, stands out for me. ‘Why do I have to lay my head down on the desk and take a nap? I’m not tired or sleepy?’ I asked. She told me, ‘You have to lay your head down and nap so all that you have learned will stay in your head, otherwise you will have to learn the same stuff over and over again every day.’” —Dr. Paulette Dillard, Shaw University President 

“The best advice an educator ever gave me was to prioritize connection over content in the classroom. Our students need to see, to know and to believe that we are their greatest champions. When you put relationships first, the instruction is more effective because students believe the teacher will support them through the entire learning process.” —Lindsey Evans, Apex Friendship. Middle School Social Studies Department Chair and Wake County Teacher of the Year 2019-2020

“Early in my professional career, a wise educator—my mother Laura Duncan, who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 40 years—told me to always show special appreciation for the school office manager and maintenance engineer, for they oversee the school and have keys to every door. That advice has kept me mindful and appreciative of the real heroes in every school. It’s true in life, too: you never know what door you may need opened or what bit of information may be essential to your career.” —James Sanders, Wake College & Career Academy Director of Technical Education Partnerships

“The best French instructor I’ve ever seen teach told me I needed to be authentic with students, that students would know if I was not authentic. And that if caring about the students as individuals was not authentic, nothing I taught would ever matter.” —Cathy Moore, Wake County Public School System Superintendent 

“My tenth grade English teacher told me, ‘Finding reading difficult isn’t a reason not to do it— just find something you actually want to read.’ That permission to publicly struggle changed everything for me.” — Jeff Reaser, North Carolina State University English Professor