Inside WITS: Our Most Influential Teachers

By Eleanor Dollear, Program Coordinator

Ellen Werner, WITS Program Director, (center) with former teachers Jennifer Hermanson (left) and Michele Logar (right).
Ellen Werner, WITS Program Director, (center) with former teachers Jennifer Hermanson (left) and Michele Logar (right).

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Month, WITS staff shared memories of their most influential teachers.

When I reflect upon my experiences in school, I feel like I had so many influential and supportive teachers that deserve my appreciation. One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Fitzpatrick, my high school AP US History teacher. He always kept the class engaged and would often talk with us after class and during prep periods. I really loved social studies, and he helped nurture that passion of mine while making me feel like he cared and was interested in my success as an individual.
– Shawn Bush, Program Coordinator

My favorite teacher growing up was my fourth grade teacher Ms. Chase. She was one of the first teachers to hold me accountable to doing all of my work. I hated doing homework and relied on my great test scores but she would challenge me to be a more complete student, explaining, “Test and quiz scores aren’t enough. Doing your homework shows you are responsible”.
– Nick Colbert, Program Coordinator

I am so lucky to have had so many amazing (CPS!) teachers. One that comes to mind is a high school teacher who taught in my school’s social science department, Mr. Belcaster. The most important lesson I learned from him was the formula “CQ + PQ > IQ” – the combination curiosity & passion outweigh than your IQ. School didn’t come naturally to me and I really had to work hard at it and this “formula” made me feel confident that I could not only keep up but really do well. This was such an important lesson for me and something I think about still all the time!
– Eleanor Dollear, Program Coordinator

When I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Albero. She was one of the first teachers who became an immediate inspiration to me. She helped shape my views of the world and gave me the opportunity to think beyond conventional ideas. She taught our class about mindfulness and how to be a selfless individual. We had many conversations in the classroom about promoting kindness. We usually took the conversation one step forward in regards to thinking about how our actions can make an impact around us. As an eco-friendly educator, our class had many discussions about ways to be a positive influence in our community. We learned about ways to protect nature, and how to be conscious of energy consumption. Mrs. Albero enhanced my understanding of the world at such a young age, and for that I am so grateful!
– Kevin  Hujar, Program Specialist

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Polacek, was a dream. She was kind, patient, and made learning an absolute joy. School came easy to me, and she made sure that I was challenged in the classroom, especially when it came to reading. Talking about books with her was never a chore, and she helped me discover new authors and subjects that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.
– Annie Kennedy, Community Manager

My 5th-8th grade band director, Mr. Beckman, was our neighborhood’s Mr. Holland from Mr. Holland’s Opus, and I had the privilege of playing in the top band during his last year before retirement. Mr. Beckman had high standards for his students (“results, not excuses!”), but was also nurturing, patient, and fun. Beyond music, he taught me the importance of practice, being on time, keeping a schedule, and most of all – what it means to commit to a new skill and learning from mistakes.
– Elizabeth Kristoff, Grants & Foundation Relations Manager

When I think of a great teacher, I think of my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Sand. She was always so nice and made learning fun!
– Laura Tilsner, Program & Operations Manager

A great teacher I had was Mrs. Ewles, who taught 3rd grade. I transferred to her classroom from a different school, and she was so important to me having a strong transition. She kept me challenged, as the rest of the class was behind where I was in learning.
– Tena Kunik, Chief Strategy Officer

One of my favorite teachers was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Roberts, went out of her way to make me, the new kid, feel welcome. She challenged me continuously, insisting that I be tested for the gifted and talented program. She also created a reading group that was almost just for me – she wanted to make sure I was always challenged and learning. When my family moved from Dallas to Tyler, Texas, we stayed in touch with Mrs. Roberts. My mom sent her pictures over the years and when I graduated high school, Mrs. Roberts sent me flowers with one of the most beautifully written, thoughtful letters of encouragement I’ve ever received; I still read it when I need a boost. When I became a teacher, I wanted to channel Mrs. Roberts. I wanted all students to know without a doubt that they were loved, valued, and smart. Looking back, I also used a few of her instructional techniques, especially with phonics and reading groups, to much success. Cheers to Mrs. Roberts!
– Mia Valdez-Quellhorst, Director of Teacher Programs

I had many great teachers over the years, but my second-grade teacher in particular had an impact on me as a young reader and learner. Mrs. Logar always took an interest in me (and all her students) as people, not just as students. She always encouraged my love of reading. At the end of the school year, I was reading her classroom library copy of “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I asked her if I could borrow it over the summer and bring it back when I started third grade. She gave it to me to keep, instead. I still have that book, marked with her name and room number, and it reminds me of the importance of reading as a shared, social activity, and of how special it is to own a book that means something to you.
– Ellen Werner, Program Director