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Denise Gross: English • Charleroi Area High School This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward


My “great” teacher is Mrs. Gross. I was introduced to her my first year of high school. At the time I was more interested in boys than academics, but English class with Mrs. Gross was different. Her unique teaching style captivated my attention and kept me focused on my education. Directing and motivating adolescents is a delicate and sometimes difficult process, but she always found a way.

Junior year I took Creative Writing 1 and 2. I've always had an interest in writing but never the confidence to pursue it. The first day of class, Mrs. Gross had us write five journal prompt ideas. She would say, “I don't want anyone to ask ‘What's your favorite color?' I want spontaneous prompts. Make the class think!” After we were finished we put them in a hat, and each day someone would pick one and write the prompt on the board. She made us write every day, and pushed us to fill the page. Our first official project was not a writing assignment – it was to decorate our journals. Nothing could ever be plain because it was creative writing and this was our break from the boring.

That class was my favorite part of the day. There was always something to look forward to – whether a new project or going outside to sit under the trees and write whatever we felt. Each day she had a surprise planned. The final project was by far my favorite. It was to compile a book of the class's poems, short stories, memoirs, ethical wills, etc. It gave us insight into one another. It's one thing to get high school students to get along, but she allowed us to understand each other.

Teachers sometimes spend more time with their students than parents do. For me, Mrs. Gross was that teacher. I spent study halls, class time, and lunch in her room, and that is what makes her different. Every day during lunch I wrote, and I was never alone. There were always other students there working on projects, taking tests, or receiving extra help.

Mrs. Gross had expectations, like most teachers, but she was never demanding. What I found most moving about her is that she compromises, allowing students to move at their own comfortable pace and work on assignments with her personally. Her commentary not only inspired but motivated us to go the extra mile with our writing.

It's difficult not having one of her classes this year, but that doesn't mean she hasn't been involved in my life. One day I was at my locker and Mrs. Gross went out of her way to find me and urge me to enter the Scholastic Arts and Writing Competition. She encouraged me to work on more pieces and submit them for the competition. Though I felt nervous and insecure, I knew she wasn't going to let me get away without entering something. She was persistent. She and I were both busy in and out of school, but she always found time. She even offered to meet me for coffee over winter break. The night of the deadline, Mrs. Gross stayed up right until the very last minute, e-mailing and supporting me. I am so grateful she did because I won an American Voice/Gold Key Award for my memoir, and various other merits for my poetry and short stories.

After winning, I received an invitation to the regional awards ceremony. The Gold Key winners were encouraged to read a writing sample on stage. Public speaking is not my favorite. Anxiety has held me back in the past, and I was determined not to read on stage. While Mrs. Gross would never force me to do something I didn't want to, she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. She helped me practice. During lunch I went to her room with a friend or two and read my memoir. Even this was difficult for me, but she helped me through it. My voice became steadier, and the day of the ceremony I went on stage and read with confidence. I could never have done it without her.

Mrs. Gross has not only helped me academically but emotionally. When I have bad days or find my emotions running wild, I go to her room and calm down. She offers insightful and careful advice that really helps. This not only goes for me but for all students. I know many others who confide in her and find her reliable and caring. Mrs. Gross absolutely deserves to be Educator of the Year.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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