Blog: Our Best Teachers Ever

On National Teacher Appreciation Day the Empower Schools crew took a few minutes to reflect on the best teachers we’ve ever had. From Shakespeare to French to biology, these teachers epitomize what empowered teaching looks like.

Brett Alessi, President:

Michael Obel-Omia was my high school English teacher.  While I doubt I would have gravitated to Shakespeare on my own, his love for the subject and passion for learning was so contagious that I didn’t have a choice.  He taught me about sonnets and iambic pentameter, but he also taught me that reading and writing could be fun.  I don’t think a day passed that we didn’t laugh in his class.  But he also pushed me.  2 years later, I ended up attending Middlebury College, his alma mater.  He was the first black student body president of the college and became a Trustee when I was a student at Middlebury. When I graduated, he was on stage to hand me my diploma.  Afterwards, we celebrated – and, of course, we laughed.

Chris Gabrieli, Chairman:

Peter Amershadian – Peter Amershadian was my middle school French teacher in Buffalo, New York.  While I am glad I can sputter out enough French while on a trip to be able to get by, that’s not why I think of him as my best teacher.  Peter found a way to make a fundamentally low interest subject absolutely compelling to me and to bring joy to the learning process.  He was tremendously enthusiastic, very high energy and open to lively interchange with us as students.  He had high expectations but made us want to succeed.  He was rigorous on teaching the grammar and structure of the language but knew the fun was in conversation.  What I learned from Peter was a lot less about French than about loving learning in a community.  Relationships with teachers can come back around in life.  I met Peter many years later in Boston where we had both moved.  I was involved in public life and had come out vocally for legalizing same sex marriage.  I learned that Peter was gay (he had been closeted or at least discrete when I was a student) and had a great life partner he could go on to marry because of the change in Massachusetts law.  It made me so happy and proud to be part of a movement that gave back to him.  I feel very fortunate to have had Peter as a teacher and then had the opportunity to become his friend as an adult.

Sarah Toce, Program Director:

Every time I walked into Mr. Bowe’s classroom freshman year of high school I knew exactly what I was going to get. Dylan, Petty, Springsteen, or other classic rock would play on the boombox in the corner and Mr. Bowe would always be there, in the back of the classroom tapping his foot and nodding his head with the music, unsmiling. Some people thought he was terrifying. He was strict, yes, and did not show us the kind of sympathy that many of our other teachers did.  Getting your homework in late was not an option. Being late to class was not an option (he’d lock you out if you showed up late). Failing also wasn’t an option because Mr. Bowe would spend every minute you needed to help you understand if you would just ask. Looking back, I now realize that Mr. Bowe was the best teacher I ever had because he created a classroom where I felt safe, engaged, challenged, and respected. Being a teenager was hard. There were a lot of competing interests and often the sense that things were not going as planned, or worse, spinning out of control.  Inside Mr. Bowe’s classroom there was order, there was certainty, there was something I could engage in and feel confident about. His classroom was not just about learning biology, it was learning to be a student, an adult, a citizen.

Thank you, Mr. Obel-Omia, Mr. Amershadian, and Mr. Bowe and all the great teachers out there for all you do for your students.