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8 Heartwarming Stories Of Teachers Changing People's Lives

For those who've inspired us beyond back-to-school season.

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Teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

When they're not watching over you, juggling parents, or swigging Diet Cokes to stay awake, they're shaping your life like a pot of Play-Doh. But we take those lessons in stride and sometimes forget to let them know we're grateful.

As Los Angeles-based teacher Ryan Carroll put it, "The only thing I ever want is a simple note to know that my small contribution to society is making life better for others."

Here are a few heartfelt stories of gratitude from our staff and friends.

1. The Transformer

One of my high school teachers, Caryl Gatzlaff, basically transformed my writing style. She was my AP English teacher for two years and was a really tough grader, but she was sure to go through every misspelling, rewording, etc. that needed to be done, no matter how long it took. She actually just retired this year and I couldn't make it to her party in Dallas. She also showed us the beauty that is Dead Poets Society. At the end of the school year as seniors, we got on our desks and surprised her with the whole "O Captain, My Captain" scene for her.

—Candace Lowry


2. The Life Coach

In junior high my teacher Ms. Gould would give us "life lessons" that had nothing to do with the curriculum. She made us practice handshakes and would tell us little tips, like to take off your sunglasses during a conversation. They seemed really irrelevant when we were kids, but there hasn't been one handshake where I haven't thought about that day in class, and I've shaken a lot of hands.

I haven't been able to find her, but thank you, Ms. Gould, for helping me make good first impressions (and get second interviews) for the past few decades. I put my sunglasses on my head in silent salute to you.

—Kasia Galazka

3. The Idiom Idol

I've had several teachers who have significantly influenced my life. One sticks out in particular because she was the first.

I moved to the U.S. — specifically, a small town in Tennessee with very few immigrants — at age 11. I spoke no English but had a passion for the language. My eighth-grade English teacher Ms. Jones recognized this. After two years in the country, I spoke and wrote fairly fluently. But it was Ms. Jones who helped me truly begin to conquer American. Managing a classroom of 30-plus rambunctious 13- and 14-year-olds, she still took the time to fuel my passion. She bought me a book that helped explain idioms, a non-native speaker's personal hell. She rewarded me for my efforts with all things grammar. She checked in on me during my high school career.

Ms. Jones probably didn't know at the time that, ultimately, she sparked my higher education interests and my career. Fourteen years later, I have a journalism degree from a prestigious university. I'm an associate director managing communications and public relations for 150-plus household brands worldwide.

And idioms? Piece of cake, y'all.

—Senka Hadzimuratovic


4. The Buddy Abroad

One teacher was Frau Wuttke, while I was abroad in Heidelberg. I was having a really tough time in Germany, missing my family and losing a couple friends. She always had her office doors open for me every day and never failed to check in with me at least once a week. She always sacrificed her time for the students in the program and never failed to have comforting advice.

—Candace Lowry

5. The Tumbler

One teacher in particular, Mrs. Koehnemann, was my all-time favorite! She could light up any room with her smile and positive energy, and she made everyone in her fourth-grade class feel so loved, and like they were the most important person in the world. Also, she hated the feeling of not being able to sneeze, so whenever she successfully sneezed, she would do a cartwheel for our class while we all cheered — an image and memory I will never forget!

—Maycie Thornton

6. The Tireless Tutor

I recently tried to find contact information for my third-grade Hebrew teacher, Mrs. Warter, but came up empty-handed. I had just switched schools and Mrs. Warter spent countless hours with me before class tutoring me so I could catch up to the rest of my peers, who had already studied the language for three years. She taught me to eradicate the words "I can't" from my vocabulary and it made a huge impact on me, especially now as a journalist, when the information I'm looking for doesn't quickly turn up.

By the end of third grade, I was no longer getting tutored. I was actually ahead of my class and had joined a small group of advanced Hebrew students who stayed after class to study extra. (At the time, this seemed like a great deal.) To this day, I can speak Hebrew with a native, and it probably never would have happened without Mrs. Warter.

—Deena Shanker


7. The Encourager

I had had a fifth-grade teacher who was not particularly kind to me and, being a sensitive kid, by the time I entered sixth grade, I didn't feel like I was good at anything. That changed when I walked into Ms. Hardisty's classroom. She made a point of telling me that I was a good writer and really excellent reader. She made me feel capable of something.

She was warm and fun and gave really constructive feedback: all things that are really important to me now but were especially important for awkward 12-year-old me. English remained my favorite subject throughout school and ended up being my college major. I had a lot of teachers encourage and inspire me along the way, but that confidence began with Ms. Hardisty.

—Chelsea Marshall

8. The Reassurer

After I left my job as a commercial litigator, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. I was moving to California, but other than that, not a clue. Would I continue lawyering? Find something else to do? No idea. It was not an exciting time — it was a very scary, sad, and lonely one.

As I was packing for my cross-country move, I came across a folder stuffed with my old papers from college. Reading through them, the professor of my LGBT studies class had written really wonderful things about my essays. It reminded me of something I had all but forgotten: I am smart. I looked her up and emailed her a thank-you even though I didn't think she'd remember me. She did, and wrote me back a very kind and encouraging email, which brings tears to my eyes even now I as I read it.

—Deena Shanker

Have you thanked a teacher?

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

Did someone help you to get to where you are? Do you still think about something a teacher told you? Tell them!

If Facebook doesn't work, try finding a former teacher through a faculty listing on your school's site. You can even reach out to the school and ask if they can give your note to someone if they can't release information.

It doesn't have to be long or dramatic: Even a short email can make someone smile. "It can be something as simple as a letter or a picture of where they are now showing them truly enjoying life and being a contributing member of society," says Mr. Carroll.

Here are a few words, Mad-Lib style, to get you started:

Dear ____,

I was a former student of yours back in ____, and I wanted to send my thanks for ____. I wouldn't be at this point in my life today doing ____ without your care and direction. Your ____ helped me, and I still think about it to this day.

A Really Wonderful Person

Now get crackin'!