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Our Teachers, Our Heroes

As the 2022-23 school year kicks off, Invitation Magazines celebrates the classroom teachers who are impacting students all around north Mississippi.

Compiled by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem | Illustrated by Sarah Mccullen

“Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.” — Sidney Hook

When thinking about one’s years of education, from kindergarten through college, it’s the teachers who clearly had a passion for educating who come quickly to the minds of most. You know exactly who they are, no matter how many years have passed since you sat in their classrooms. They may have taken a subject that scared you and helped you master it, or at least face it without fear. They may have understood things at home weren’t so great and cut you some slack when it was most needed. Their classroom became for you a warm and welcoming place, and when they even dared to make learning fun, why, that was pure lagniappe.

Special teachers provide support, understanding and compassion, in addition to completing lesson plans, grading papers and a plethora of other job responsibilities — including during the pandemic when educators learned to teach remotely so students could continue to learn rather than losing more than a year of education. Truth is, a good teacher probably feels her or his job is never truly finished. And to many students of every age, teachers are heroes.

Ten students from different districts in northeast Mississippi have written about a teacher in their lives who has been among the most influential. Invitation Magazines is happy to share these words of praise with you.

“Lots of my teachers have impacted my life, but the one who sticks out the most is Ms. Pittman, my sixth-grade reading teacher. All the students loved her. She had a way of encouraging kids who got in trouble in other classes by giving them jobs and keeping them close. Ms. Pittman taught us how to notice good traits in our classmates. She challenged me to read outside of my favorite genre. I was skeptical about reading “The Outsiders,” but she was right. Every nine weeks, she would change the color of her hair. First, it was natural brown, then a lighter brown, then black, and she even bleached her hair white to finish strong. Ms. Pittman had an alter ego she called “Kashauna” who came out when we got rowdy, but that did not happen much because she kept us focused and made learning fun.” — Isaiah Barbour, 13, Grade 8, Tupelo Middle School. Kashauna Pittman was Isaiah’s sixth-grade ELA teacher at Milam Elementary School.

“I can honestly say that I have been blessed over the past 11 years with amazing teachers. If I had to pick a favorite, I don’t think I could because there are many. However, I was asked to chose one teacher that has impacted my life, and Mrs. Neshia Hardin immediately came to mind. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the first grade. My dyslexia was mild enough that I didn’t require accommodations in school, but I can remember Mrs. Hardin always going above and beyond to find ways to help me overcome my difficulties. She was always encouraging and made me realize that I am capable of being a good student despite having dyslexia. This fall, I will begin my senior year at SHS with a 4.0 grade point average. I thank Mrs. Hardin for doing more than was required of her as my third-grade teacher.” — Ainsley Robison, 17, grade 12, Saltillo High School. Neshia Hardin was Ainsley’s third-grade teacher at Saltillo Elementary School.

“Going into the seventh grade was a little scary. Middle school is never easy, especially for me because I have dyslexia. Then I found out I have to sit through English first thing in the morning! To my surprise, I met the most amazing teacher ever, Ms. Christy Plunkett. She made school so much better by making it fun. She always went above and beyond for all of us. We did new things to help me focus and remember what we were studying and reading. She always tried to help me feel successful because she knew how hard I tried. I love to be active, so sitting still can be difficult. I play football and baseball, so I know teams are important. I am thankful to Ms. Plunkett for being on my team, too!” — Landon Evans, 13, grade 8, New Albany Middle School. Christy Plunkett was Landon’s seventh-grade English teacher at New Albany Middle School.

“Throughout my years of school, one of my teachers from my early elementary years has had the biggest influence on my life. Her name is Mrs. Susan McDonald, and she currently is a fourth-grade teacher at Corinth Elementary School. She is one of the best teachers to ever come through our school district, in my opinion. I gained so much knowledge, and she had a way with teaching children that made learning fun. She prepared me so well for the next grade, and she was more than just a teacher for education. She loved her students, and she wanted to make them better at all areas to help them be successful in life. She made me who I am today, and I will forever be grateful for her.” — Jon Worth Garrett, 15, grade 10, Corinth High School. Mrs. Susan McDonald was Jon’s fourth-grade teacher at Corinth Elementary School.

“A first-grade teacher who impacted my life was Mrs. Paula Yates. She taught me a lot about God that I will hold and remember forever. She also taught me a lot about math, and I DID NOT like math, but she made it lots of fun to learn new skills. Mrs. Yates also let our class take off our shoes during and after class, which I loved. She also taught me how to be kind and sweet with my Christ-like heart. I loved having Mrs. Yates for first grade because she was sweet, kind and loving. To end, I would stay after tutoring with Mrs. Yates. It was not always fun, but she helped me grow in my not-so-good subjects. She also gave me a nickname — “Blakley Marie.” It has a nice ring! I can’t wait for other kids to have her. She was the best first-grade teacher, and I could not have asked for anyone better.”

— Blakley Parker, 12, grade 5, Tupelo Christian Preparatory School. Mrs. Paula Yates was Blakley’s first-grade teacher at TCPS.

“A teacher that has inspired me is Mrs. Turner. She taught me while I was in the seventh grade at Booneville Middle School. Mrs. Turner has inspired me to be an accountant. I enjoy learning math, and she has helped me love it even more. Mrs. Turner has also made a great impact on me by teaching me how to do difficult tasks in math. If I had a question or just something I was stuck on, she would help me. Mrs. Turner is a great teacher.” — Mia Rosas, 13, grade 8, Booneville Middle School. Mrs. Katey Turner was Mia’s seventh-grade math teacher at Booneville Middle School.

“Over the past seven school years, from preschool up until now completing fifth grade, many teachers have influenced/inspired me. One teacher that influenced/inspired me the most was my first-grade teacher, Kathryn Sapp, at Tupelo Christian Preparatory School. She influenced/inspired me by believing in and encouraging me daily. She showed me that it was OK to ask questions if I did not understand, and she never made me feel like there was ever a silly question. I truly appreciate her for her guidance over the years. She is one of the hardest working teachers and surely the most patient and dedicated of all. Thank you, Mrs. Sapp.” — Rhyleigh Faith Wilson, 11, grade 6, North Pontotoc Upper Elementary School. Mrs. Kathryn Sapp was Rhyleigh’s first-grade teacher at Tupelo Christian Preparatory School.

“Mrs. Bishop was my third-grade teacher at Regents. Even three years later, I still remember her love for Sour Patch Kids, her great storytelling of ancient history and how happy she always was — even on hard days when we were rowdy. On occasions such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and the end of the year, I would get her a two-pound bag of Sour Patch Kids. Days later, she would tell me how much she enjoyed them, which made me really happy. One of my favorite things about her was when she told us funny stories about her kids. Her son named Bo, who was in 5K at Regents at that time, was the one I enjoyed hearing about the most. Now he is moving up to third grade, and he even got to read his incredible handmade book to our grade recently. I loved hearing about her farm and her family when she taught us. Mrs. Bishop is really, really good at her job. She taught me so much and loved me a lot. She is my all-time favorite teacher.” — Coop Bell, 12, grade 7, Regents School of Oxford. Rebecca Bishop was Coop’s third-grade teacher at Regents.

“Mr. Ferguson was a really cool and nice guy and knew how to motivate his students. He was also able to explain things really well. Mr. Ferguson used fun activities, including hanging posters in our classroom for whatever subject we were studying, which helped our class learn. Another thing Mr. Ferguson did was treat each student with respect and realized that everyone learns in different ways. By the time I finished fifth grade, I had straight As. English is my hardest subject, and I actually enjoyed it. Mr. Ferguson had taught me that I was better at ELA than I thought, and I have done better in ELA ever since. That is why Mr. Ferguson was my most inspiring teacher. And, lucky for me, the district moved him to OMS which is where I will be next year as I enter seventh grade!” — Latham Laws, 12, grade 7 at Oxford Middle School. Mr. Lucus Ferguson was Latham’s fifth-grade English teacher at Oxford Intermediate School.

“Ms. Todd is a teacher at Lafayette High School who teaches AP Biology. Ms. Todd has made a huge impact in my life. She is one of the only teachers that I have had that finds teaching as a passion and not just a way to pay the light bill. She makes it her mission to help her students in any way she can. She cares about her students and puts herself in the students perspective to better understand what works best for us. She excels in teaching and makes sure every student understands the material before moving on. Ms. Todd is an extraordinary teacher that made an impact in my life that will never change.” — Jorian Shaw, 16, grade 11 at Lafayette High School. Ms. Laura Todd was Jorian’s 10th-grade teacher at LHS.

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