News & Politics

PA education leaders reveal which teachers helped set them up for success

City & State walks lawmakers and advocates down memory lane in celebration of the new school year.

Back to school letter magnets on greenboard

Back to school letter magnets on greenboard Daniel Kaesler/EyeEm / Getty Images

As summer winds to a close and the autumn months draw near, City & State decided to celebrate the beginning of a new school year by speaking with Pennsylvania’s education leaders from across the commonwealth to see what teachers and classes were instrumental not just to their education, but in helping shape them into who they are today. 

Senator Scott Martin as a child and now
Photo credit: Commonwealth Media Services; Provided

State Sen. Scott Martin

Majority Chair, Senate Education Committee “I’ll always remember fondly my first-grade teacher at St. Anne’s Catholic School, Miss Doreen Casey had her hands full with a young 5-year-old who was rambunctious and determined to stay left-handed: me. She had a calming influence on me, found a way to keep my attention and I learned not only how to behave in class, but how to enjoy discovering new things.”

“On a side note, my favorite teacher of all time was someone I never had for class: my mom. Kathleen Martin. She started late after raising seven children and became a beloved math teacher at St. John Neumann Catholic School (formerly St. Anne’s Catholic School). After 30 years of dedication to her field and students, she finally decided to retire this past June. She will always be the No. 1 favorite teacher in my book, and for so many that she taught and mentored over the years.”

Lindsey Williams as a child and now
Photo credit: Nancy & Jack Williams; Commonwealth Media Services

State Sen. Lindsey Williams

Minority Chair, Senate Education Committee

“I was so fortunate to have many influential teachers who invested in me throughout my education, but one in particular recognized my potential before I saw it in myself. When I was in high school, a teacher I’d previously had in junior high, Mr. Heal, recommended to my parents that I apply for a youth conference in Washington, D.C. I was accepted to the conference and got to experience government and lawmaking firsthand. That was the first time I realized that a legal career could be in my future and set me on the path to eventually run for office.”

Beth Ann Rosica as a child and now
Photo credit: Provided; Rich Schwartzman

Beth Ann Rosica

Executive Director, Back To School PA

“The teachers who had the greatest impact on me were those who ignited my curiosity and love for learning and encouraged critical thinking. The one I remember the most in my formative years is Mr. Waterhouse, my third-grade teacher from Linden Hill Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. He was a kind and thoughtful teacher who was passionate about teaching and excited to watch his students master new concepts. He encouraged us to think for ourselves and not just accept information at face value.”

“I was similarly fortunate at West Chester University to study with Dr. Jim Trotman, the founder of the Frederick Douglass Institute. Dr. Trotman pushed my critical thinking skills further and expanded my world view through a series of African American literature courses. His perspectives on literature and life shaped the course of my career.”

Jerry Jordan as a child and now
Photo credit: Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; Provided

Jerry Jordan

President, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

“I can still hear Miss Alice Graham’s voice reminding my classmates and me at West Philadelphia High School that corresponding parts of congruent triangles are equal. She would tap the chalkboard, reminding us of the mnemonic device, and we'd jot ‘CPCTE’ down in our notebooks. Surely, I wasn't frantically writing down the geometry lesson because I had dreams of becoming a mathematician – I liked math well enough, but Miss Graham was teaching, and I was listening. Miss Graham offered what so many great educators do: a feeling of belonging. She made her students feel valued and capable.” 

“I think back to my days in Miss Graham's class as emblematic of the fantastic education I received at West Philadelphia High School. The resources that my classmates and I were provided – including our choice of five languages and a host of activities, electives and a robust course catalog, are resources that we are fighting so hard for today – if we are truly committed to a better tomorrow for all of our communities, equitably resourced public education is nonnegotiable.”

Sharon Sedlar and her teacher Mr. Yarosh
Photo credit: Provided; Provided

Sharon Sedlar

Founder, PA Families for Education Choice“As a freshman and sophomore at Seton LaSalle High School, the most lasting impression came from Mr. John Yarosh, our head track coach. I'll never forget my first meet where I ran the 300 hurdles. I took off far too fast for the entire race and was exhausted by the time I reached the last few hurdles, dead-stopping in front of one of them. From the sidelines, I hear a booming voice – ‘GET IN THE AIR!’ – and I finished the race, placing second. I came to realize in workouts and practices, and subsequent years, that I have a strength I might not have ever realized had it not been for that coach yelling at me to dig deeper – that I was stronger and more capable than I ever thought. This lesson, and mantra, has carried me throughout my life.”