The teacher who gave me a sense of belonging…

Produced & edited by Brian Diggs; cinematography by Anne Bannister & Brian Diggs

Our Voices on Teaching series features diverse perspectives about the importance of the teaching profession and personal stories about teachers who helped give rise to the future.

In the world of education, there are teachers who leave an indelible mark on their students’ lives. Vicki Phillips, CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, shared a tribute to her high school geometry teacher in a heartfelt interview during our 2023 Leadership Symposium.

Despite facing challenging circumstances in her youth, Ms. Bright’s uplifting presence fueled Phillips’ sense of optimism. She not only impacted her high school journey but also instilled in her a profound appreciation for teaching. Bright’s impact extended beyond academics. She provided Phillips with a sense of belonging, a precious gift for a student who often felt like an outsider.

Bright eventually moved on to new horizons, and Vicki lost contact with her, but her gratitude remains unwavering. Her care and mentorship changed the course of Phillips’ life. This story serves as a reminder of the lasting power of teachers who go above and beyond to connect with their students.

Video transcript

Vicki Phillips speaking:

Ms. Bright was my high school geometry teacher. And, you know, now that I think about it, her name fit her exceedingly well because she was the most uplifting teacher I had in high school. And she fueled a sense of optimism in me, even though I grew up in challenging circumstances.

She made a real difference, not just in my high school career and how I thought about myself as a student in the school, but also how I thought about myself as a teacher later on. She helped me think and find solutions in new ways, and she also helped me with a sense of belonging, which I didn’t have much of in high school because I came from the poor end of the county, rode the bus back and forth for so long that I couldn’t really participate in school activities.

And so she found other ways to make sure that I felt like I belonged there at the school and in her classroom. She made me her teaching assistant, giving me leadership in the classroom. And she would spend part of her planning periods with me, helping me understand that there was a wider world out there. But after a couple of years in high school, she got married and moved away, and went to teach somewhere else.

Unfortunately, I lost track of her. But if she’s out there somewhere and she sees this, I hope she knows she made a difference.