For Teacher Appreciation Day, U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil shares the following story about Mrs. Minneti, his high school physics teacher — and his favorite teacher — and the lasting influence she's had on his life.
Share your own story here, or online using the hashtag #ThankATeacher.
I wasn’t a very good student in high school. From being suspended to getting kicked out of my math class, it was a pretty rough ride. But clearly, I ended up doing something right somewhere along the line — and it was thanks to the amazing teachers who went the extra mile for me.
That’s why today — Teacher Appreciation Day — means so much to me.
I was fortunate enough to give a commencement address about one of those teachers who came to my aid — Mr. Knapp — but there are many more.
One of those was my high school physics teacher: Mrs. Minneti. I was an OK student in her class (which is to say that I wasn’t terrible). But she let me hang out in her classroom late in the school day, when I didn’t have much else to do. She was always ready with great insights on how to think about life and the extremely practical nature of what learning meant. You might say she taught me the lessons of science that weren’t in the book. She asked me questions to which I didn’t know the answers — helping me think at a deeper level.
She was my favorite teacher.
One day, Mrs. Minneti asked me if I wanted to borrow some science equipment. It was basic stuff, but it had never occurred to me that I might be able to do my own experiments. I had really gotten into photography and high-speed flash photography — the kind that captured images like drops of water hitting a surface. I decided to see if I could replicate some of those world-famous images. I tried all kids of things and eventually, I was able to build my own lab with the equipment Mrs. Minneti loaned to me.
It took me months, but I was finally able to create the water-drops image (and bear in mind, this was way before digital cameras). It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment. When I showed the image to Mrs. Minneti, her response solidified the confidence that I’d felt. She could have just as easily inadvertently killed the flame by not going the extra mile and helping me — she certainly had a huge volume of work that she had to do, and all the other associated burdens of being an overworked teacher.
So today, on Teacher Appreciation Day, I hope you’ll call up your favorite teacher and say thank you. Stop a teacher on their way in and shake their hand and give them a pat on the back.
As for me? Mrs. Minneti, I’m looking forward to giving you a call later today. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me.