The answer is...Finding my voice
May 8th, 2012
01:35 PM ET

The answer is...Finding my voice

Courtesy Dinan FamilyBy James Dinan, CNN

Editor’s Note: In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this week, we’re asking our colleagues at CNN to share their stories of teachers who have inspired them.  James Dinan is a copy editor for CNN.com video.

Choosing the one teacher who inspired me the most is difficult, but I wanted to choose an educator who, technically, wasn’t a teacher of mine at all.  I never took a class of hers, but I was there for an after-school activity she advised.

My freshman year at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, New Jersey, was a lonely one.  I was a public school student thrust into the world of itchy uniform slacks, Friday morning Masses and a freshman class made up primarily of strangers.

Trying to find my voice was difficult, but I gave it a try early on.  I made the freshman basketball team, but I was more Larry from the Three Stooges than Larry Bird on the court, and I only played when the game was out of reach.  Other sports and clubs didn’t interest me at the time – I feared being crushed by the returning upperclassmen, so I didn’t bother trying.

That changed one February morning, when I was called to the principal’s office via the PA system.  As I walked down the empty hallway toward Father McHugh’s domain, I wondered what I did to warrant detention.  Did I not hold the door for a senior, or did I not get ready for gym class fast enough?

Imagine my surprise when Mrs. Fitzgibbons, an English teacher at the school, greeted me at the front of the office.

“You may be wondering why you were called to the office,” she said. “You’re not in trouble, but I need your help.”

Mrs. “Fitz” explained that she was setting up an Academic Team showdown – think “Jeopardy!” without the budget or studio audience – between members of her Freshman Honors English class and a rival school.  I wasn’t in her Honors class, but a few of her students told her that I had to be recruited to join the team, as I had a knack for remembering “odd” things.

I agreed to do it and, the next day, sat down with seven or eight of my fellow Pope John freshmen for practice.  For the first time in high school, I felt like I belonged to something.  My thirst for knowledge and quick recall of facts came in handy during the scrimmage, as I correctly buzzed in on everything from Shakespeare toDinah Shore (To this day, Mrs. “Fitz” can’t believe I knew who Dinah Shore was.  I proudly noted that Shore’s TV shows and music were favorites of my maternal grandmother).

Practice soon turned to the actual showdown, and Pope John handled the High Point “menace” with ease.  The match, in term, led to Mrs. “Fitz” inviting me to join the varsity Academic Team next school year, as well as encouragement from classmates to try my hand at debate and mock trial.

I never learned the name of the student or students who urged Mrs. “Fitz” to sign me up, but I thank them for the kind words.  As for Mrs. Fitzgibbons, she was the first teacher who encouraged me to break out of my shell and embrace who I am.  So what if I’m a tad quirky?  I’ve managed to succeed in the game of life and, for that, I have Mrs. “Fitz” to thank.

Do you know an inspirational teacher? Schools of Thought wants to hear your story.  Email us at SchoolsofThought@cnn.com or send us an iReport!  You may see your story on Schools of Thought!

I was inspired by my fourth-grade teacher
Now retired from the classroom, Mike Flagg had always wanted to be a teacher and enjoyed interacting with his students.
May 7th, 2012
10:40 AM ET

I was inspired by my fourth-grade teacher

Courtesy Scott BennettBy Katherine Dorsett Bennett, CNN

Editor’s Note: In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this week, we’re asking our colleagues at CNN to share their stories of teachers who have inspired them. Katherine Dorsett Bennett is a copy editor at CNN.com.

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." – quote by William Arthur Ward, American scholar.

As an elementary student, I enjoyed reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV. I had a natural curiosity about current events. I grew up in LaPorte, Indiana, and was interested to learn all I could about my small town and the big world outside of it.

My curiosity about news turned into a passion the day I stepped into Mike Flagg's fourth-grade class at Door Village Elementary School in 1981. Some of his lesson plans included classroom time to discuss current events and how they impacted our lives. He explained to us, for instance, how significant it was for Sandra Day O'Connor to be appointed as the first female member of the U.S. Supreme Court that year. He put in context this great achievement for women and got me excited about government and how journalists reported about it.

Mike Flagg opened my eyes to a news report about the introduction of the Boeing 767 – a plane that made its first flight in 1981 and could carry a large amount of people to places all over the world. Little did I know back then that I would one day write about travel destinations and many other types of stories about places around the world for CNN.
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May 7th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

DWTS contestants appreciate their lifelong 'stars'

by Tomeka Jones, CNN

Editor’s Note: Monday marks the start of Teacher Appreciation Week and some of the cast from “Dancing with the Stars” stepped away from the dance floor to help honor educators around the world.

CNN asked the stars to put the spotlight on their favorite and most inspirational teachers.  Here’s what they had to say:

Maria Menounos, TV Host, Extra: Mrs. Brunner actually taught me how to speak English so I always start there…

Roshon Fegan, Actor, "Shake it Up!": I'm going to have to give the biggest coach, teacher, mentor award to my father. He is a teacher in every way of life.

Chelsie Hightower, Professional Dancer: My mom is amazing. She's been through so, so much and she's always been so strong for her kids, and always been such a good mom.

Menounos: But, then there's Mrs. Dudley who taught me to love Shakespeare.
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