Pennsylvanians Remember the Educators Who Impacted Them the Most

Art teacher Alyce Grunt speaks with a student at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., Wednesday, May 3, 2023. As schools across the country struggle to find teachers to hire, more governors are pushing for pay increases and bonuses for the beleaguered profession. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Patrick Berkery

May 12, 2023

We spoke with Pennsylvania lawmakers and teachers, and heard from readers, about the impact educators — and students — have made in their lives.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time this week reflecting on the impact and importance of educators during Teacher Appreciation Week, which ends Friday.

Of course every week should be Teacher Appreciation Week. Think of the enormous responsibility teachers have in inspiring students to learn, grow, and reach their full potential. 

And think of the selflessness of educators like Savanna Barton, a teacher for children with special educational needs at the Watson Institute in Pittsburgh. Last Sunday, Barton and one of her students, Sophie, participated in the half-marathon during the Pittsburgh Marathon. The pair completed the 13.1-mile course in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Sophie is non-verbal and needs assistance to walk.

Barton said on Facebook that she wanted Sophie to “get to experience life to the fullest and represent her amazing classmates.”

We’re not crying. You’re crying.

We’re doing our part at the Keystone to celebrate teachers. In the staff video below, we sing the praises of educators who had a profound impact on us. I can still hear the voice of my former English teacher/school newspaper editor Mrs. Holt in my head with every lead I write. (“Sell me quickly, sell me uniquely,” she would always say).

We also spoke with Pennsylvania lawmakers and teachers, and we’ve heard from readers, about the impact educators — and students — have made in their lives.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

State Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny)

“I was incredibly fortunate to have many teachers who invested in me throughout my education. But one teacher in particular recognized my potential even before I saw it in myself. When I was in high school, Mr. Heal, one of my teachers from junior high, recommended to my parents that I apply for a youth conference in Washington D.C. I was accepted to the conference and got to experience government and lawmaking first hand. That was when I realized that a legal career could be in my future and it set me on the path to eventually run for office. I’m so grateful that Mr. Heal saw what my future could bring and encouraged me to reach my full potential.”

George S., Former Student at Shaler Area High School, Pittsburgh

“My 10th grade World Cultures teacher followed my entire career and always wrote cards or notes with every promotion or change. I was a superintendent of schools. He scheduled lunches every year with a few (former students) to keep in touch. We did that until he died. My board meetings were always reported in newspapers. After a difficult meeting one fall, he called and asked me to go away for a day and take photographs. We both enjoyed photography. I thought he needed companionship so I agreed to go. We had a very nice daylong excursion taking lots of fall pictures. When we pulled into my driveway that evening, he said that he had read about my board meeting and thought I needed a break, so he called me. The entire day I was thinking he needed to get away but he was there for me!”

Marsha Ellis, Great Grandmother of Kindergarten Student in the Abington School District

“My great granddaughter, Tianna, is always talking about what Ms. Etlen says. This is her first experience with school and Ms. Etlen has made a big impact on her as she begins her school years. I see it myself. Her attention to the children and communication with the family is outstanding. She is a really wonderful teacher.” 

Brittany Harris, 4th Grade Teacher, Reading Virtual Academy, Reading School District

“I became a teacher mostly because I had some amazing teachers throughout my life who really encouraged me. I also love to help people learn new things. What I love the most about teaching right now is just to have fun with my kids. Right now, they’re very funny and into knock-knock jokes. And that just makes my day. So I am loving teaching right now, and I’m so grateful for Teacher Appreciation Week.”


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