High school teachers more influential than you think

By Stephanie Youssef

Whether you hated it or loved it, high school, and specifically high school teachers, played a crucial role in getting you where you are today.

Just over spring break, when I was visiting my old high school, I started really thinking about how much the wonderful teachers I had there helped shape me into who I am.

One memorable teacher, who had the greatest positive influence in my life, was my literature teacher, Mr. Jones. 

It was inspiring to see how hard he worked to challenge us to think about things differently, and we could see his passion for writing and teaching in every interaction we had with him. He taught me new, interesting ways to analyze literature and approach academic topics in general, ultimately helping me become a better writer and student.

The power of teachers may not seem obvious at first, but I think high school teachers help play a larger role in shaping most of us than we may realize.

For example, our interests in college are often strongly determined by experiences we’ve built upon from high school — especially when it comes to majors and extracurricular activities. 

In high school, where classroom settings are typically smaller, this influence is more direct than in university settings. College professors put a greater emphasis on delivering academic information, which is perfectly fine — that’s what they are supposed to do. And we rate them by how successfully they do it. 

However, in high school, teachers have a greater responsibility for the kind of learning environment they create in their classrooms — they have more freedom than college professors to make them their own. Additionally, regardless of what your interests are, they were probably sparked by a teacher you had in high school — whether it was the subject they taught or their class in general. 

Maybe, a given teacher even helped you choose your current major or an extracurricular that you enjoy. If so, that teacher likely had a very strong impact on your college career. I mean, without Mr. Jones, I wouldn’t have developed the love for writing and analysis that I have today, and I wouldn’t have started writing for The Daily Illini as an opinions columnist.

Even teachers that maybe weren’t as charismatic or likeable influenced us by helping us uncover the academic subjects we didn’t like or chose not to pursue in higher education.

Think about it. 

A few years ago, the time you didn’t spend at home was mostly spent in school, where your teachers functioned as role models and secondary parents. They probably pushed you academically to strive for success, graduate and attend an accredited university. They pushed you to realize your greatest potential. 

Not only did you learn academic material from them, but you also likely developed some of your personal interests through them.

Beyond influencing your favorite subjects and extracurricular pursuits, much of what you get from your high school teachers that sticks with you long-term isn’t included in the class syllabus. 

A school is just as much about shaping social behaviors as it is about academic learning. Outside the home setting, teachers are additional positive influences who can help promote good behavior. 

In high school, teachers are especially essential in that they help guide you through a pivotal stage in your development: right as you are becoming an adult and learning responsibility and self-motivation.

Look at where you are today. 

You worked hard to achieve the success that you have, but you also had help from teachers in high school. 

Take the time to reflect on some of your wonderful high school experiences. Think about how much you changed from your freshman year to your senior year and about what teachers helped influence you in your high school career. 

Maybe even shoot them an email letting them know what you are up to and how they helped you become who you are today. 

You may find that, as their student, you had an influence in their lives as well.

Thank you, Mr. Jones!

Stephanie is a sophomore in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @syoussef22.