CASEL Water Cooler

Remembering Our Most Impactful Teachers

May 8, 2023
Remembering Our Most Impactful Teachers

Teachers play an incredibly important role in the lives of the children they teach, profoundly impacting their social, emotional, and academic development. 

They not only create lesson plans, but also positive relationships, supportive learning environments, and a sense of safety and belonging. Each day, they make hundreds of quick decisions, solve dozens of problems, and nurture the hearts and minds of our young people.

We appreciate teachers every day, but we want to share a special thank you for Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8-12.

Many of us are former teachers ourselves. And all of us have benefitted from the presence of impactful educators in our lives. When discussing our most impactful teachers, we found that they all shared one thing in common: social and emotional learning (SEL) superpowers like relationship skills, social awareness, and self-awareness. 

They cared deeply about their students and cultivated classroom communities that we still remember today. 

“As a kid, I was a handful; I had big feelings, big dreams, and a big mouth. I had more than one teacher who, unable to channel my energy, used punitive discipline strategies to contain me. But not Mrs. Fogarty. She saw me for who I was: smart, sensitive, and at times, struggling. She knew I wrote poems and invited me to stay after class so she could read my writing and offer feedback. The poems I wrote that year are still precious to me for what they show me about who I was, and who I was becoming. Her superpower was the ability to see the unique potential in her students, and to help us to see it, too.”
-Heather Schwartz, Practice Specialist 

“Señor López had a tremendous impact on my life, mostly because of his SEL superpowers: social awareness and relationship skills. Señor López recognized my strengths, nurtured them, and encouraged me to continue my study of Spanish. He was kind, empathetic, and understanding. Because of him, I became bilingual and followed my love for language into the classroom to become a Spanish teacher. My career grew from there, but I am certain that it would not have been the same without the guidance and support of Señor López.”
-Andy Tucker, Director of Policy

“Mr. H. surprised me by seeming to understand who I was, outside of my identity as a student with good grades. He gave me room to be funny and extroverted AND be really invested in the novels we were reading or the research paper I was working on. When serious things happened in my life and my friends’ lives, he knew about it and expressed care. His SEL superpower was social awareness—he was great at seeing what was under the surface for teenagers who refused to be vulnerable—and relationship skills—every student I know felt like he really knew and liked them.”
-Claire Schu, Senior Manager of Implementation Support

“Of the many teachers that made an impact on me, one that I’ll never forget is Anna, my middle school speech therapist. As the only person who was hard-of-hearing in my family (and at my school), Anna helped me confidently navigate my speech challenges with deep care and relationship skills. It felt like she wanted to get to know me and invest in our relationship. She’d ask questions and listen to the answer, she shifted her plans for our work together based on what I was struggling with at any given time, and she made sure to connect with my other teachers and my parents about my progress.”
-Jessica Bernstein, SEL Implementation Advisor 

“My freshman year English teacher, Ms. O, had a tremendous impact on me. Her SEL superpower was social awareness. She just had a knack for connecting with teenagers. She really focused on class culture, her classroom felt safe from all of the festering insecurities of my high school years, and I always felt comfortable speaking up and collaborating with my peers within those four walls. The lessons that went along with the literature we read in her class focused heavily on perspective-taking and empathy. She is still teaching at my alma mater and, I know, continues to have a positive impact on her students’ lives!”
-Megan Smith, Executive Assistant

“As a homeschooled student, my mother played the unique role of not only being my primary academic teacher, but also my co-primary SEL role model alongside my father. Her SEL superpower of self-awareness helped her navigate the pressure of being both a parent and teacher. In instances when my mother acted in frustration with our behavior, she always modeled self-awareness, empathy, and humility through pausing her lesson, taking a moment of self-reflection, and apologizing to us. This showed us at an early age that how we treat others has the same, if not more, importance as academics or any other task at hand.”
-Eric Roberson, Digital Communications Manager 

“Ms. Alice Riley worked in the front office of my school and ran First and Last, a community center with programs for youth and adults in our South Philly community. Though Ms. Riley wasn’t my teacher in a formal sense, I learned so much from her. One of Ms. Riley’s SEL superpowers was social awareness. With deep empathy and understanding, she sought resources to support the learning and development of youth and adults in our community. Additionally, Ms. Riley always provided opportunities for us to support each other via community service, field trips, and cultural events. Her commitment and work exemplified social awareness and informed how I live in the world today.”
-Rafiqah Mustafaa, Assistant Director of Learning and Improvement

“In high school, Mr. Freeland was my baseball coach, math teacher, and a mentor to me. Sadly, he has since passed away from cancer, but his SEL superpower, which helped inspire me to enter education, was relationship skills. Not only was Mr. Freeland able to build strong and lasting relationships that extended beyond the classroom, but he was also masterful in helping students build community with one another. He continues to impact my approach to working with and on behalf of young people to this day.” 
-Asher Miller, Policy Specialist

“Ms. Emmanuel was my 11th grade counselor. She took an interest in me, and her influence changed my life. She helped me go to college with grants and scholarships I didn’t know existed. She was genuinely interested in my well-being and she saw things in me I didn’t see in myself at the time. She challenged me and she held me accountable. So, two decades plus later, I still remember her pulling me off the practice field to complete grant and scholarship applications. I’m forever grateful for her.”
-Samuel Oladipo, SEL School District Advisor

“I feel a lot of gratitude for my high school art teachers, Ms. Maher and Mr. Pickett. Their adjoining art classrooms formed a welcoming space where students felt free to express ourselves creatively or take a break from school stress when necessary to talk about our feelings. Both teachers demonstrated the superpower of social awareness by leading with compassion and a genuine interest in their students as human beings. Their level of interest encouraged me to be more creative, and their social awareness made the art rooms into a space where everyone could belong.”
-Jack Lewis, Marketing and Communications Specialist

Who was one of the most impactful teachers in your life, and what was their SEL superpower?

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