This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. It is a time to appreciate and celebrate those teachers in our lives who go the extra mile. It means so much to parents when educators take special interest in their children’s success, and give the time and attention necessary to see them reach, and surpass, their goals. We know that it is not always an easy feat, but it is definitely necessary. This week, and every day of the year, we thank you for all of your hard work. Without you, the academic success of our youth would not be possible.
I had the honor of attending a special White House ceremony last week in which President Obama announced the National Teacher of the Year. And while there was technically only one winner—Sean McComb from Maryland—in my eyes, they were all winners. We can all be proud of the distinguished leaders that made the final cut. They reaffirm my belief that America’s public school system is the absolute best in the world and is in great hands with passionate, bright energetic teachers leading the way.
As National PTA president, I have also used this week to think and reflect on teachers who have made a difference in my life. One in particular that immediately came to mind was my eleventh grade Advanced Placement European History Teacher, Mr. Ed Thiel. He indeed was one of the teachers that had a profound impact on my educational experience. His passion for teaching and skillful manner in educating our young minds impacted generations of young men and women. His methods transcended the boundaries of a small town and helped us to see our large world from our small town in Elberton, Georgia. He was an encourager and sought the best in every student.
Even to this day, I can hear his voice after I attempted to answer one of his thought-provoking questions. “So, Mr. Thornton, why is that so?” he would ask. “Do you accept that fact as the truth in history, or is it someone else’s version of the truth?” he would follow. His Socratic and philosophical approach to teaching influenced generations of students to dig deeper and think broader on history and the impact that it had on our world.
Mr. Thiel made a very powerful impact on my life. He would spend the first 10-15 minutes of each class discussing current events, which I used during my tenure as an assistant professor years later at Michigan Technological University. His approach of challenging our young minds and questioning everything that we were ever taught helped us eager learners foster critical thinking skills. This gift of cultivating minds to think critically and look at history from different perspectives was priceless in our education.
So today, I salute Mr. Ed Thiel for his impact and exceptional example in the teaching profession along with the countless other teachers around the world who have made it their mission to educate our children.
Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.