09/28/2012 08:51 am ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

The Teachers that Changed My Life

On September 10, 90 percent of Chicago's 26,500 unionized teachers went on strike, 675 schools were closed, and approximately 350,000 public school students were affected by the largest U.S. labor dispute in a year. I closely followed the news reports of the seven-day teachers strike, and noticed that the media focused its reporting on the opinions expressed by union leaders, the mayor of Chicago, striking teachers, and to a lesser degree, the parents of students enrolled in the Chicago public school system.

After reading about the teachers strike in Chicago, I began to think about the teachers I have had over the years. Personally, my experience with teachers in the New York City public school system has been overwhelmingly positive. My teachers taught me that one should never stop learning; that the more you learn, the more you grow as a person. When I first heard this, I didn't completely accept this idea, and it took a while for me to understand that whatever I have achieved academically, and whatever growth I have experienced as a person was the direct result of the great teachers that I have had over the past 10 years.

This is a tribute to a few of the great teachers I have had, and those that have had the greatest influence on me:

Ms. Golphin (Grade 2)

I attended pre-school, kindergarten, and the first grade while living in Columbia, Maryland. When I moved to New York, Ms. Golphin was the first teacher I had in my new school. There are not many words to describe this wonderful woman. First of all, she was very straight-forward, and did not mince words. She, my mother, and I all recognized that I had a problem with meeting deadlines.

Throughout my year with Ms. Golphin, the class was asked to complete several individual projects, all of which required a great deal of work. During the first two or three months of the school year, I had either not completed the assignments, or had given the projects only enough effort to get a passing grade. My mom did not know I was late submitting assignments, or that I not completing assignments, until Ms. Golphin contacted her. They exchanged telephone numbers, put together a plan to help me get on the right track with my projects, and carefully monitored my progress.

My grades began to improve almost immediately, and I became motivated to apply my best effort to all of my school work.

So thank you, Ms. Golphin. Thanks for taking the extra steps necessary to motivate me, and to show me the value of hard work and discipline.

Ms. Bruen (4th and 5th grade)

Thanks to the efforts of my second and third grade teachers, in the fourth grade I was placed in my school's "Talented and Gifted" (TAG) program. While some of the students in my school referred derisively to our class as the "nerds," I felt honored and proud to be recognized as a talented and gifted student.

The expectations for those of us in the TAG program were extraordinary, and we were pushed daily to higher and higher levels of achievement. The "enforcer" of the high standards established for TAG students was Ms. Bruen. To say she was strict is an understatement. She did not tolerate tardiness, indifference, laziness or sloppiness. Minor infractions simply were not considered acceptable to Ms. Bruen. She confronted me on numerous occasions for what I considered minor errors, particularly in grammar and math. Being late with an assignment was an automatic failing grade, and concomitantly, a threat to be removed from the TAG program.

Admittedly, I was not always enthralled with Ms. Bruen's approach to teaching. However, gradually I began to recognize she was instilling in me precisely the kind of discipline I needed. I remained in Ms. Bruen's class for the sixth and seventh grade. I will always be grateful for the caring and attention Ms Bruen gave all of her students. She certainly taught me to take my time, and to pay attention to details.

Mr. Adler (8th Grade, Humanities)

My school definitely saved the best for last in assigning me to Mr. Adler's eighth grade humanities class. His passion and enthusiasm was contagious when he lectured on the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, the gay rights movement, and apartheid in South Africa. At times in his class, I felt like a character in The Dead Poet's Society.

He also enhanced our reading with field trips to many historical sites in New York, such as the Anne Frank Museum in Greenwich Village when we read her diary. He made history relevant, and expanded our ability to understand and connect historical events to current events.For example, I connected the many battles fought for workers' rights throughout the history of the United States to the recent Chicago teachers' strike. I will always appreciate his ability to bring historical events to life for his students.