One day a teacher asked her class, “Can anyone give me a sentence with an object in it?”

A little girl said, “Teacher, you’re the most wonderful and beautiful lady I’ve ever seen.” The teacher responded, “Thanks, but what is the object”?

The little girl added, “I’d like to have a longer recess today.”

OK, the little girl was buttering up her teacher, and I don’t blame her. But I would like to butter up all the teachers out there for a different reason — they make a difference in every life they touch. This week is American Education Week. And if you would like to plan ahead, Teacher Appreciation Week is May 3-9.

I have a personal admiration for teachers as my mother taught fourth grade. She made sure my sister and I were the best students we could be, and instilled in us a love of lifelong learning. She always reminded us that school ends, but education doesn’t.

Teachers are the unsung heroes behind almost every successful person. From preschool onward, they challenge, encourage, rein their students in when necessary and then set them free to discover and achieve. I suspect you could ask any CEO, business owner or person who has followed their dream if they can remember a favorite teacher, and they will have an immediate answer.

As I was researching this column, I found some remarkable data from the National Center for Education Statistics. As of fall 2019, there are 3.7 million teachers in public and private schools, managing 56.6 million students in prekindergarten through 12th grade. (Those numbers don’t include the students who are home-schooled or online learners.) That’s an enormous responsibility to face day in and day out.

Education is easy to take for granted. With schools in nearly every town or neighborhood, buses to provide transportation to the front door, books and resources available for all and qualified teachers to lead the way, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get an education?

Yet we don’t always appreciate what we have in America and most developed countries. Our opportunities begin soon after we learn to walk and talk. All we have to do is show up and pay attention (and do some homework).

Teachers are the people who turn four walls into a learning environment and help develop the natural curiosity and creativity that all kids seem to be blessed with. As students progress through the grades, teachers help them expand their horizons and find their passions. And when it’s time to move on to postsecondary programs, teachers are there to prepare young minds to take on the challenges of life after school.

Grayson Kirk, former president of Columbia University, put it well: “The most important function of education at any level is to develop the personality of the individual and the significance of his life to himself and to others. This is the basic architecture of a life; the rest is ornamentation and decoration of the structure.”

I’m pretty sure I made all my teachers earn their salary every day. When I think about who had the biggest influence on my life aside from my parents, I can remember a few. But one stands out: Prof. Harold Deutsch, my academic adviser at the University of Minnesota. I scored a “D” in his History of World War II class, and when I went to plead my case for a better grade, I was quickly informed that my affinity for the golf team had to take a back seat to my studies. He didn’t mince words. And I am forever grateful.

A story collected in “Wisdom Well Said,” edited by Charles Francis, illustrates the impact teachers have on a person’s life and future.

The noted American novelist James Michener received an invitation to a dinner at the White House in the 1950s from President Dwight Eisenhower. And, even though he felt it would be an honor to meet the president, he politely declined.

Michener wrote: “Dear Mr. President, I received your invitation three days after I had agreed to speak a few words at a dinner honoring the wonderful high school teacher who taught me how to write. I know you will not miss me at your dinner, but she might at hers.”

Michener promptly received this reply from an understanding President Eisenhower: “In his lifetime, a man lives under 15-16 presidents, but a really fine teacher comes into his life but rarely.”

Mackay’s Moral: A person without an education is like a building without a foundation.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail