Appreciating the Power to Transform

Guest Correspondence

This past week has been Teacher Appreciation Week, and I have been reflecting on the unique power of great teachers. As the mother of three and as the President and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, I see the role teachers have in the lives of students, and I am struck by the ways that, through their competence, commitment, and character, teachers can transform lives. 

While one teacher can profoundly change a student’s life, the power to captivate young people is made easier when students have been inspired to wonder, to look deeper, to ask why at every stop along their K–12 journeys. 

We are fortunate in Sarasota County to have so many tremendous teachers who do just that. Through my involvement with the Ignite Education Teacher of the Year Awards Celebration, I am honored to have met and seen in action educators who fuel curiosity and a desire to always know more in our youngest learners. Teachers such as Shannon Haddad, Alex Kellemen, and Kari Johnson embrace the material they teach with such mastery, passion, and joy that their students can’t help but be inspired. What a great way to begin this journey.

Sometimes it’s not a single teacher. The collective energy and commitment of a school uniting to develop a lifelong love of learning can uncover countless new pathways. 

This February, at Glenallen Elementary School, I witnessed an immersive grant in action, one that created a week-long learning adventure. Pre-K through fifth grade students arrived at school to discover a staged archeological dig site taped off on school grounds. What followed was a week of discovery. As students processed what they’d found, clutching shells and artifacts, brushing them clean, the joy was incredible. These students felt immense ownership of the material as they researched and presented on what they’d learned. Inquiry-based learning was in action, and I am certain a future scientist will look back at that week and remember their teachers’ commitment and excitement—and know that it all mattered.

As students progress along their journeys, as they reach middle and high school, it might seem more challenging to captivate learners. Distractions abound. Students gain more independence. And teens have their own superpowers, one of which can be the power to keep their feelings and their enthusiasm concealed. As a mother of three, I know this doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t making a profound difference, modeling character, guiding their students, helping them find their purpose.

I also know that many teachers keep drawers or file folders filled with sources of inspiration, and in these are cards from their students, sometimes from students they would never have expected, sometimes years after they have graduated. In their letters, these students share the impact that their teacher had on them—how that teacher filled them with a fascination with calculus or crustaceans or Camus, how the teacher led that student to pursue history in college, or become an EMT, or start a business. 

Students write messages like this: You helped me understand math, for the first time! I wouldn’t be where I am today without your belief in me. Your class changed my whole plan for my life. I’m so lucky I had your class—your passion for theater and everything you taught us has meant so much to me. Your class meant so much to me.

That’s what great teachers do. Their love of the subjects they teach is so strong they can’t help but engage their students. Their creative ways of imparting lessons and making the material clear and meaningful, indeed vital, that matters.

This past week, I hope you took a moment to reflect on and maybe even to reach out to a teacher who inspired you, a teacher who fueled your curiosity, your need to know more, and who maybe even led you to pursue a different major in college, a different career path, a whole different trajectory in life. Our best teachers can do that. It’s their superpower. 

On behalf of the Education Foundation, our board, and our generous donors, we salute you, teachers, and your power to transform. We value your competence, your commitment, and your character. You keep our community thriving.

Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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