Everyone has a favorite teacher.
Sometimes it’s the third grade teacher who helped you finally figure out fractions, the eighth grade history teacher who made class fun or the high school science teacher who encouraged you go for your dream job and sometimes it’s a family member.
The Arizona Daily Sun asked a Flagstaff teacher, Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng and Flagstaff City Councilmember Charlie Odegaard who their favorite teacher or teachers were, how they shaped their lives and what they would say to that teacher today. Here are their responses.
Danielle Grimmett, a fifth grade teacher at Marshall Elementary School, has two favorite teachers: Marylyn Myers and her mom, Valerie Grimmett.
“Myers was my resource teacher. She was amazingly supportive,” Danielle wrote in an email. “She would give special attention to each of her students. She would pull us out of the classroom and work with both my sister and I to address any needs we had. She gave us a place to ask questions without judgment and a place to feel safe. She worked with each of her students to help them understand how they learned best and the skills to help us cope in areas we struggled.”
“I use many of the skills she taught me today,” Danielle said. “I know she didn’t hear it enough in her career, but thank you, Mrs. Myers, all of your hard work is truly appreciated and remembered!”
Danielle’s mom, Valerie, also has a special place in her heart. Valerie taught in the Flagstaff Unified School District for more than 20 years. Teaching was her second career, Valerie said. She started her work life with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Then as a single mom of four kids she decided to switch careers and become a teacher. She put herself through Northern Arizona University’s teachers’ college, earned her degree and taught several different grades at two different FUSD schools before settling in as a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Kinsey Elementary.
“She loved to teach science and inspired her students to love it, too,” Danielle said. It’s why science is one of Danielle’s favorite subjects to teach.
“She taught me how to love nature and the world around us. She taught her students how to have fun while learning. (She) ran a tight ship but was often caught dancing and being silly around the classroom,” Danielle said. “She even made her students love spiders. She had a resident spider that she called Fred. Her love for life and interest in the world around her is what has inspired me.”
Valerie said Fred was a spider that showed up one day while she was using an overhead projector for class. Fred seemed to come back each year and was so popular that students started bringing in other eight-legged friends for Fred. Valerie retired in 2012 but then went to work at the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center for a few years so she could continue to work with students.
Danielle said it was her mom’s love of teaching and her experiences in her mom’s classroom that got her to thinking about teaching a second career. Danielle also graduated from NAU with a bachelor’s degree in another field. As she pondered her career options, Danielle considered her mom’s path in teaching.
“I had to do something rewarding and stimulating. It just seemed like a natural fit. I was good with kids and I was good with classroom management,” Danielle said.
So she returned to college to get a master’s degree in Elementary Education and ended up getting a job at Marshall Elementary School teaching fourth and fifth graders.
Danielle said she frequently calls her mom for advice. Her mom’s background in teaching let her know what to expect before she stepped into her first classroom and how things work.
“I knew what I was getting into. I think a lot of younger teachers don’t know what to expect until they’re in a classroom by themselves,” Danielle said.
“If I could thank her today, I would say thank you for opening the world up for me and teaching me that being different isn’t a fault but instead a strength to be proud of,” Danielle said. “Thank you for always being interested in learning all you could and inspiring your students to do the same."
NAU President Rita Cheng said her favorite teacher was Don Blegen. He taught biology at Elmwood High School in Elmwood, Wis.
“It was a very small high school and I remember him as being young and energetic,” Cheng said. “I recall that as high school students we were having fun and not necessarily paying attention all the time. I remember that he really knew the content and that he used humor to get us to focus. He encouraged me to go to college when few from my class had that ambition.”
”I’d like to tell him thank you for bringing the best out in me and for seeing a future in education from a young farm girl,” Cheng said.
Councilmember Charlie Odegaard said, “My favorite teacher of all time was Mr. John Wesley Ply at Flagstaff High School.”
Odegaard said he took a math class from Ply, who passed away in 2013.
“His style was he really wanted you to understand the subject and he was always there to help you either in class or after class. I believe it was his kindness that students liked,” Odegaard said.
Ply’s upbeat attitude taught him to look at the glass as being half full, to always be kind and smile. It’s something Odegaard said he tries to do every day.
“What would I say to him is, ‘Thank you,’ with a smile,” Odegaard said.