A Tribute to The Brave Who Came Before #TsChangeLives

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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There’s a special smell this time of year: a mix of sweaty kids and exhausted teachers. Walking around the hallways is treacherous as parents teeter past with arm-loads of teacher appreciation gifts and students race around like walking went out of style. I’ve been reteaching procedures like it’s the first week of school and feeling a bit melancholy as we count down to the last. This time of year makes me feel reflective. And this year, I’m feeling especially grateful for the brave teachers who came before me. Thank you, thank you to all of my teachers. What a difference you made for me.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, wouldn’t it be cool if teachers spent some time tracking down their own favorite teachers to say thank you? Imagine how much that could mean to our childhood heroes. Imagine what those moments could mean to each of us. Even better: What if we shared those stories of reconnection on social media to promote the importance of being a teacher? I think we could start a really powerful movement, cast a very positive light on teaching, and learn a lot from studying what makes our memorable teachers memorable.

I challenged some friends to share stories about their favorite teachers on Twitter this week using the hashtag #TsChangeLives. The stories have been so heart-warming and inspirational! So here’s a deeper look at my favorite four teachers and why they were life changing to me.

My third-grade teacheWriting for Mrs Petersen 1989r was a nurturing soul named Kate Petersen. I still remember exactly what her individual school picture looked like because I kept it for years (and probably still have it somewhere!) Mrs. Petersen loved to teach creative writing, and she was the first person to treat me like an author. Our class wrote stories on theme-shaped lined pages, and Mrs. Petersen always had plenty of paper for my long stories! Her encouragement gave me so much confidence, and she sent me to other classes around the school to read my work! have a distinct memory of walking down the hallway to another class while feeling really brave and important. What a gift of confidence for a third-grade kid! That was epic for me. Thank you Mrs. Petersen! I still have a binder full of my stories! #ConfidenceGiver #AuthorMaker

Mr Davis 2018

My sophomore year of high school, Conrad Davis packed my English class with intense grammar and vocabulary instruction. Oh I remember rolling my sophomore eyes sometimes. (Teenagers have a hard time with gratitude.) Little did I know, Mr. Davis laid my foundation for articulate writing and conversation. We had weekly quizzes for SAT vocab words and daily exercises from grammar books that smelled like an old library. Mr. Davis knew what was good for us even if his assignments weren’t popular. I respected him so much, and he treated us with respect, too. Last year, I unexpectedly ran into Mr. Davis at a party. I was so overcome with gratitude that I chattered on and on like a star-struck teenager. It still amazes me to think about what a difference he made in my life. So happy to have this picture to remember him! Thank you Mr. Davis! #Future-Minded #FocusedOnKids #NotStressedAboutPopularity

Marsh and VB 05-2016During my junior year, I was fortunate to have Ken Van Buren as an English teacher and advisor to Key Club. Oh I loved his class! He was a captivating story teller with a deep understanding of literature. Above all, I remember feeling like he treated us as equals without giving up any authority. Masterful. Mr. Van Buren (“VB”) really got to know me as a person, and he was the first teacher to call me “Jess.” I remember growing really fond of that nickname in his class because I felt seen and valued. I’m eternally grateful for the time VB volunteered for Key Club. I fell in love with volunteering that year. It takes a special soul to make self-focused young people turn outward and care about the world. I saw VB a few years ago at a school advocacy event and realized he’s probably the person who made me care about such things. I just about burst with happiness to see him again, and we keep in touch now on social media. Thank you VB! #CreatingWorldChangers

My all-time favorite teacher is Christine Marsh. (You can see her above and also below!) She’s been inspiring me with her passion since Senior Year English class. When I think about her classroom, I still feel my brain buzzing. We had challenging, intelligent conversations that made me feel like a grown up. I learned how to think deeply, read critically, and write clearly. Chris gave honest, meaningful feedback about my writing that prepared me for academic requirements in college. I worked really, really hard in her class without ever resenting it. She has a way of inspiring students to embrace discipline and become their best selves. Every kid needs a teacher like that. She made an effort to keep in touch with me after graduation—a gesture that made me feel so special. Today, her ongoing actions as a teacher leader never cease to inspire and amaze me. Thank you, Chris for the ways you continue to teach me! #Discipline #HonestFeedback #BestSelf

Marsh Senior English Class-1998

I’m eternally grateful for the role these four people played in my life—and for their contributions to the profession I love. Teachers really do change the world, one ripple at a time. Who started your ripple? Have you reconnected with them as an adult? I’d love to hear the qualities that made your favorite teachers so memorable. Share in the comments below or join the larger conversation on Twitter at #TsChangeLives.

PS: Kate Petersen, I’m still looking for you!


I teach preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. I am a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. I earned my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU. My research explored how early career special education teachers collaborated with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. I believe all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. I am passionate about National Board Certification, mentoring early career teachers, improving teacher retention, elevating teacher voice, and collaborating with a network of courageous educators who passionately advocate for kids and schools. I believe that real-life stories from our schools should inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities. Therefore, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories here. I welcome your comments on my blog posts and hope that we can advance the dialogue together.

Comments 6

  1. Treva Jenkins

    “There’s a special smell this time of year: a mix of sweaty kids and exhausted teachers. Walking around the hallways..” Isn’t that the truth lol! Loving that 3rd grade class photo. I really appreciate this blog Jess. You made me think of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hines. I would love to track her down to tell her just how much she impacted my life. She was that first grade teacher that never gave up on me and she was so patient with me, especially when I was learning math. I have always struggled with math and Mrs., Hines created such a loving and safe space for me to learn and make mistakes without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. To all the Mrs. Hines of the world, WE SAY THANK YOU and we celebrate you!!!

  2. Jen Robinson

    Hi Jess,
    Love how you started this blog with, “There’s a special smell this time of year: a mix of sweaty kids and exhausted teachers. Walking around the hallways.” Everyone who works in schools knows exactly what you mean. I have several teachers that have impacted my life as a teacher – one that comes to mind is Mr. Walters, my fifth grade teacher who saw my potential so clearly that I began to see it in myself. He pushed me outside my comfort zone and recognized I could achieve more than I ever knew. Each day I look for ways to see potential and worth so clearly in our scholars that they too see it in themselves.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Loved these words: “…saw my potential so clearly that I began to see it in myself. He pushed me outside my comfort zone and recognized I could achieve more than I ever knew.” Don’t we all want to be this person for others? Don’t we want others to be this person for us? What an amazing world we could create by synergizing and helping others find their voice :) Cheers to Mr. Walters!

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