One morning during fourth grade, my teacher handed out a list of questions and told us to read through them before answering. I went to work without reading the whole list. Minutes later, when I was only halfway done, she asked us to put our pencils down. It turned out the last “question” actually read, “Do not answer any of these questions.” Ever since, I’ve always read the instructions before beginning a project. It has helped me avoid countless missteps.
My seventh-grade social-studies teacher asked the class to be ready to discuss a current event every Thursday, even though only a few students would be called on, at random, to share their thoughts. On Wednesday nights, I would study diligently just in case, and the couple of times he picked me, I knew exactly what to say. As a result, I earned an A in the course. The take-away: Always be prepared.
Dedria M. Harrod
Temple Hills, Maryland
After he caught me daydreaming during class, my junior-high English teacher told me, “Don’t waste any opportunity to learn.” He taught me that listening attentively is an invaluable skill. I still follow his advice and try to pick up some bit of knowledge from everyone I meet.
Sonia Contreras Toledo
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Don’t be difficult. At age 12, I was moody and starting to feel adolescent rebelliousness. Early in the school year, I decided I didn’t like my gym teacher, so I refused to cooperate in class. I shouldn’t have been surprised to get an F on my report card, but I was. More than 50 years later, that memory still stings.
It’s essential to maintain a sense of wonder at the world. At the amazing Montessori school I attended from ages 2 to 11, we didn’t have textbooks or desks. We learned math with abaci and geography with massive puzzles. In science class, we went on nature walks, collecting leaves and identifying them. The teachers taught us to marvel at everyday miracles all around us. It’s something I still do today.
Asheville, North Carolina
When I was in college, my education professor told me that to be a good teacher, you must find a way to appreciate every person you instruct. This rang true to me. As I recalled my favorite teachers, I realized that all of them had been incredibly kind to each of their students. Throughout my 20 years of teaching piano, I have tried to keep this lesson in mind. I’ve been blessed with students of wide-ranging talents and personalities, and they are all dear to me.
Providence, Rhode Island
Never interrupt anyone who is speaking—especially if the person you’re interrupting likes to give detention.
Beaufort, South Carolina
When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher once began class with the words “Ladies and gentlemen.” I, along with my peers, was confused: Weren’t we only boys and girls? She then told us that if you treat people like ladies and gentlemen, they will generally behave that way. Over the years, I have found that she was right.
How to balance a checkbook and follow a budget. I picked up this financial know-how in a high school elective called Consumer Life Skills. The teacher gave us a “job” with a salary and had us determine how much we could afford to spend on rent, utilities, transportation, food, and so on. I was stunned to see what everything really cost. To this day, I keep track of exactly how I spend my cash.
As a five-year-old in Catholic school, I hated having to work on my penmanship. But that practice paid off: My handwriting gives my letters a distinguished appearance.
Mount Vernon, New York
My school required its students to perform community service, and many kids, including me, balked at the task. But after volunteering at a homeless shelter, I noticed that I slept better and smiled more. The experience taught me that volunteering should be a part of every education. It’s a gift to others—and yourself.
In third-grade math class, I learned how to multiply. In ninth-grade health class, I learned how to not multiply. Both lessons were priceless.