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The Teachers Who Made a Difference

Celebrating our favorite teachers.

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The work we do at ThinkCERCA wouldn’t be possible without the help of our amazing teachers. We are lucky to work with educators throughout the United States, who share in our belief that critical thinking skills are fundamental to success in the 21st-century world. In addition to working one-on-one with teachers across the country, many of our colleagues are former teachers themselves, who lend their skills and experience to informing new lessons and features within ThinkCERCA.

As such, we understand that a teacher’s work isn’t limited to direct instruction; your hard work and dedication expands far beyond the classroom. You inspire, push, and encourage, teaching all of us the invaluable life skills needed to succeed in today’s fast-moving world. And for that, we thank you!

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we've asked some of the CERCA team to share stories about their favorite teachers and the impact they had on their lives.

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Kavita Venkatesh, Ph.D.
Director of Professional Learning and School Design

Who was your favorite teacher? Naomi Horchak-Morris, my high school Chemistry, Physics, and Chemistry Seminar teacher. She was also my yearbook advisor.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? I don't think it’s a clear "one specific story" situation. Rather, Mrs. Horchak-Morris' overall teaching style (knowledge of content, demeanor in her classroom(s), relationship building) was fantastic. When I was in my teacher prep program, my goal was "to be a teacher like H-M,” which is what we called her. 

If you could reach out to her today, what would you say? Well, I tried to see her when I was in Cincinnati two weeks ago but couldn't make it happen. I'd honestly just ask her to get a cocktail and catch up and hear about what her classroom is like today.

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Elizabeth Riley Boyer
Director of Marketing and Communications

Who was your favorite teacher? Mrs. Ward, my 5th grade teacher.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? After a relatively easy 4th grade, I'll always remember Mrs. Ward for challenging me beyond my comfort level and helping me grow as a student and human being. One example of this was going through Romeo & Juliet with us line by line and having us summarize the story into our own words.

Thinking back on it, I am surprised that she introduced us to Shakespeare in 5th grade, but she explained the story in a way that made sense and was appropriate for 10-year-olds.

If you could reach out to her today, what would you say? Thank you for showing me that I have the capacity to learn anything, no matter how challenging it is.

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Steve Glaeser
School Success Manager

Who was your favorite teacher? Mr. Larry Tennie, he taught Middle School Math.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? Mr. Tennie was a relentless burst of energy as an educator. Rumor was that he drank a 12-pack of Mountain Dew a day, and those who had him 6th period could sometimes spot the caffeinated evidence spilling out of his hidden recycling bin if they leaned out of their seat just right.

Perhaps more telling would be the amassing chalk dust that could be found at the base of his blackboard each day, as he loved pacing the entire classroom, filling the open space with complex mathematical formulas. Wearing a beard (before it was cool) that rivaled those in ZZ Top, Mr. Tennie would let the sweat, soda, and chalk mix so that by the end of the day, you would have thought his whiskers had turned gray.

I see now that all of that was just part of his hook - how he engaged his class and his teaching. He was the first teacher to show me passion in the classroom and effortlessly model the idea that when the educator is in love with the lesson, the students will follow suit.

If you could reach out to him today, what would you say? I'd say thank you! As a former teacher, it's an incredible moment — the highlight of any day — when a former student reaches out to reconnect and offer gratitude for your care and support as their teacher. Mr. Tennie deserves that, ten-fold.

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Katy Erker-Lynch
Partnership Manager

Who was your favorite teacher? I can't pick just one! I had so many wonderful teachers in high school and elementary school. However, two elementary co-teachers are my picks — Ms. Davis and Mr. Smith, who taught 5th grade English and 5th grade science, respectively.

How did these teachers have an impact on your life? Ms. Davis saw that I did best with project-based learning. She shared that with Mr. Smith, and with their collaboration, I was able to learn better in both English Language Arts and science.

If you could reach out to them today, what would you say? THANK YOU! (And I will always remember how to calculate density because of the hands-on H2O and ethanol alcohol lab!)

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Amy Jackson
Senior Success Manager

Who was your favorite teacher? Mr. Parsons. He taught 6th and 7th Grade Social Studies.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? Mr. Parsons had an uncanny ability to bring history to life for his students. His projects helped students think critically about history. For example, we put Christopher Columbus on trial for war crimes when we were in 6th grade. He inspired me to strive to be the type of teacher who creates a classroom environment where students feel important and safe enough to ask critical questions about the world around them.

If you could reach out to him today, what would you say? I actually reached out to Mr. Parsons a few years ago! I thanked him for inspiring me to become a teacher.

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Brooke Kravitz
Visual Designer

Who was your favorite teacher? John Sparks (Sparks Sensei). He taught 9th - 12th grade Japanese.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? In between speaking, reading, and writing lessons, Sparks Sensei would tell fantastical — sometimes verging on unbelievable — tales about teaching and traveling in Japan.

These stories ranged from goofy (abandoning a rental car) to inspiring (teaching English and impacting his students), but were always engaging to a small-town kid. Sparks Sensei's adventures encouraged me always to be curious about other cultures, and to face my fears and begin traveling alone as an adult (most recently to China).

If you could reach out to him today, what would you say? ありがとうございました。

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Melissa Martin
School Launch Manager

Who was your favorite teacher? Ms. Annette Brown at Morgan Park Academy in Chicago, IL. She taught 9th and 10th grade Biology.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? Being a woman of color working in the field of science, she gave me the confidence and mentorship necessary to become a science teacher for students in Chicago. Ms. Brown pushed me to stretch myself academically and taught me how to be proud of my love for Science. My freshman year of high school, Ms. Brown taught Lab Science, and up until this point, I never had a female science teacher of color. Ms. Brown set me up for continued success in the sciences, ultimately landing me to summer research experiences and scholarships. 

If you could reach out to her today, what would you say? Can I borrow your hedgehog for show and tell tomorrow?  My son would love it.

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Laura Guska
Senior Success Manager

Who was your favorite teacher? Mr. Feehan who taught 8th grade Social Studies.

How did this teacher have an impact on your life? Mr. Feehan taught history in the most interesting and exciting way. He'd take concepts such as the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and compared it to relatable events, like the dating game. He'd jump on desks to paint a vivid image of Sherman's March to Sea and speak in accents to act out different characters in history.

He made history fun, relatable and memorable. More importantly, he made history relevant. He allowed us as students to explore and learn from mistakes in history, to discuss the realities of history that are so often hidden or brushed under the rug and got real with us. We were able to discuss, debate, and think for ourselves in Mr. Feehan's class, and we were all made to feel like our opinions and viewpoints mattered and were respected.

If you could reach out to him today, what would you say? Thank you for unlocking a love for learning and history. More importantly, thank you for allowing me to have a voice in your classroom —  it was the first place I truly felt free to share my opinions without judgment.

Alexandra Rugh

Alexandra Rugh

Alex is an experienced content strategist, digital marketer, and storyteller. Prior to joining ThinkCERCA, she worked at Yik Yak, a mobile app startup. As Yik Yak’s Content Marketing Manager, she developed the company’s content strategy, launched campaigns that amassed hundreds of thousands of new users, and grew Yik Yak’s social media communities to over 2 million followers worldwide. In addition to working as ThinkCERCA’s Inbound Marketing Manager, Alex is also a freelance content strategist and writer. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time outdoors with her family, and volunteering with Autism Speaks and the Special Olympics of Georgia. Alex earned her Bachelors of Science from Kennesaw State University in 2011 and hopes to further her formal education in the years to come.

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