Changing the World from Inside a Classroom


I thought about my favorite teacher, Mrs. Kinney, a month ago. She taught language arts for my 5th and 6th grade years, was long-retired, and still lived nearby.

I imagined reaching out to her nearly 30 years later and meeting over coffee. I wanted to tell her she made an indelible imprint on my life and that she is part of the reason I write today.

I didn’t get the chance. A week later, she died in a tragic accident at the age of 87.

News articles and social media posts quoting colleagues and former students echoed many of the sentiments I would’ve shared with her. One article interviewed a former student who remembered an encounter with Mrs. Kinney several years ago. Our teacher had one question upon reconnecting with this student:

“What are you doing to change the world?”


At face value, this question is intimidating. But the article goes on to say that, for her, “Changing the world wasn’t about grand gestures or Herculean feats, but simple, everyday actions.”

Teachers employ this practice in a thousand ways every day. And Mrs. Kinney embodied this to the fullest.

Mrs. Kinney wasn’t an easy teacher. Quite the opposite, she challenged us beyond our grade level. In her classroom, we read her beloved Shakespeare and put on a performance of the Bard’s Comedy of Errors. We built model cathedrals, bat houses, and stock portfolios. She encouraged (perhaps required) us to submit our top creative writing pieces for youth magazine publication.

She knew our capabilities and wouldn’t accept anything less. She also created a tight-knit community in our multiethnic classroom, engaging us in cultures and ideas unfamiliar to us outside of school.

I remember all this from 30 years ago in her classroom.

This is a testament to the lasting impression Mrs. Kinney left on my life and hundreds of others. She cared, she challenged, she innovated, she listened. She knew us.

And she was still teaching well past retirement. When she asked about changing the world, I believe she wasn’t just inquiring. She was advising: pause to recognize how your daily actions – from the big to the mundane – make a difference. Because they do. We can use her question as a north star to guide how we devote our time, talents and love.

As a mom of school-aged children, I am in awe of the teachers I’ve observed in recent years. They read each child and pivot to meet their needs. They grade papers at home, penning thoughtful critiques in the margins. They are in the stands for students’ ball games and performances. They tell us about our kids in a way that shows they truly see them.

I missed my chance to show my appreciation to my favorite teacher. And so, I’ll offer my thanks to Julie, Debbie, Amy, Stephanie, Beth, Bonnie, Nichole, Elizabeth, Katie, Lisa, and all the teachers for their tireless dedication to educating the next generation.

Who comes to mind when you think of your favorite teacher?

Perhaps the one who took time to see you behind the image you tried to project. The one who recognized your hidden talents and inspired you to put in the work. The one who influenced who you’ve become.

I encourage you to thank them when you have the opportunity.

In a 7th grade journal reflection I recently dug out of storage, I wrote about how, “I still thought of Mrs. Kinney’s class and her ability to change the lives of all her students.”

Teachers, with each challenging lesson, listening ear and encouraging word, you are changing someone’s life, inside and outside of the classroom. And, by extension, the world.


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