Your Turn — Shaped by teachers

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The fall semester is underway, and the halls at Southside Virginia Community College are abuzz. Information is also coursing through our digital communication networks as students learn in synchronous and asynchronous settings in varied locations. An exceptional staff of dedicated instructors deliver our mission to serve as a gateway to education.

Without teachers, the world we know would be drastically different. There would be no nurses, welders, or power line workers. There would be no bookkeepers, counselors, or IT professionals. Yet although sharing knowledge and helping students develop technical skills are important facets of what instructors do, they also wield considerable influence that can empower students and change lives forever.

I know this from experience. I still remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Miller. She told me I was smart. That idea inspired me to learn and made learning an exciting adventure. Because of her influence, I never lost my joy for learning.

My seventh grade Band teacher, Mr. Woodson, taught me how to play jazz music and invited me to join the jazz band. When Mr. Woodson told me that I was a good musician and that I should continue to work at my craft, it gave me confidence and the will to persevere.

My tenth grade Music Theory teacher, Mrs. Tatum, taught me how to compose. Under her influence, I created my first jazz composition. I still take pride knowing it is copyrighted and available at the Library of Congress.

I majored in music as a college undergraduate. Mrs. Small, another Music Theory instructor, believed in my talents and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I learned about leadership from my teachers and mentors when I became involved in student government and other activities. These extra-curricular activities served as the catalyst for changing my career trajectory from music to higher education. Eventually, I enrolled in graduate school to pursue a major in College Student Personnel.

More than forty years later, the things I learned from my teachers still inspire me and drive me to want to make a difference for the students I encounter in my current role as a college president. If I could travel back in time, I would tell my former teachers, “Thank you for believing in me and for inspiring me. Thank you for teaching me that learning is a lifelong process.”

Sharon Freeman, an English Instructor here at SVCC, agrees with me about the impact of great teachers. She recalls, “Aida Nelson, my sixth grade teacher and Barbara Wilson, my high school Latin teacher. These teachers are memorable to me, not because of what they said or the subject matter they taught but rather how they made me feel about learning and about myself. These teachers impacted my life not just as teachers but as human beings. Who they are and who they encouraged me to be is far more important than what subjects they taught. My goal is to impact my students in these same ways they impacted me as a person and as a teacher.”

Do you remember the teachers who touched your heart and guided your life? If you’re able, let them know how much you value and appreciate their influence. And if you’re a teacher at any level, let me offer a big thank you for your service.

DR. QUENTIN R. JOHNSON is president of Southside Virginia Community College, which covers 10 counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at quentin.johnson@ southside.edu.