Headshot of Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

While the first Saturday in May is cause for celebration in Kentucky each year, the first week of May also should be on everyone’s calendar. It’s national Teacher Appreciation Week and it’s a great time to think of and thank those teachers who have influenced your life.

While writing this month’s column, I tried to think about a teacher who had a big influence on me and how I turned out. I thought about this for a while, but I just ended up stumped. It is too hard to think of just one. I have been very lucky to have had a lot of great teachers.

My mom, of course, was one of my first teachers. She also was my science teacher from 5th through 8th grade and showed me how to make teaching meaningful for students. I had some wonderful high school teachers too, including Jean Evans, who taught a course called Modern History. She showed me the importance of student perspective and how powerful student-teacher discussion can be.

But perhaps my most influential teacher was actually my freshman chemistry professor in college, Garry McGlaun. He taught me several great things, like the beauty and power of chemistry. But he also showed me that if given the right support, chemistry was attainable. I was not interested in chemistry prior to his course. In fact, I did not think I was very good at it. I took it because it was a step toward a different major.

During the class, I got to know Mr. McGlaun and more importantly, he got to know me. He believed not only I could do the work, but he also believed I could excel. He showed me that chemistry did not have to be a dry and irrelevant subject, but a dynamic and applicable science that explained so much of the world.

Mr. McGlaun eventually asked me to teach his lab courses and I cannot tell you how big an honor that was. I ended up majoring in chemistry and becoming a chemistry teacher, in large part, due to him. He simply loved chemistry. He loved teaching it and he believed a guy from a very small rural school could too. I will always be grateful to him for that.

Teachers play such an important role in a child’s life. They teach us to read and to write, they are our supporters and they are the people who push us to be better. And sometimes, if you’re very lucky, they remain a lifelong friend.

My story is not unique. Just about every person reading this column has at least one teacher who stands out in his or her mind. There are 40,000 teachers in this state who are making memories and influencing our children right now. For you, teaching is not just a profession, it’s a calling. We can’t thank you enough, but we will try nonetheless.

Throughout the month of May, share the stories of the teachers who have influenced your life or the lives of your children with the hashtag #thankakyteacher. We’ll be sharing those tweets throughout May to recognize both Teacher Appreciation Week and Teacher Appreciation Month.

I will never forget the teachers who made a mark on my life and helped guide me to the wonderful place I am now. So thank you mom, thank you Jean Evans and especially, thank you Garry McGlaun. You all have been a guiding light and an inspiration in my academic and professional life. While they may never fully know how they’ve touched my life, I am profoundly thankful they were all there when I needed them.