The teacher who helped me rediscover that I’m smart…

Produced & edited by Brian Diggs; cinematography by Anne Bannister & Brian Diggs; interviewed by Christine Lowak

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.

“It wasn’t the content. It’s how he made me feel. I never forgot it afterwards.”

It’s no wonder Byron Sanders spends his days committed to closing the opportunity gap and empowering youth as the President and CEO of the impact nonprofit, Big Thought, based in Dallas, TX.

Beginning a new journey at a new school, it was Sanders’ 10th grade history teacher, Mr. Abraham Wehmiller, who helped empower Byron Sanders. In this new environment with new peers, Byron questioned how he measured up. Mr. Wehmiller helped him rediscover that not only was he really smart, but he was as smart as his peers.

Byron says that from then, ’[he] saw himself differently because [Mr. Wehmiller] called it out of him. Mr. Wehmiller believed in him and that encouragement would pave the way for Byron to be the relentless advocate for education and marginalized students that he is today.

Video transcript

Byron Sanders speaking:

Abe Wehmiller. Abe Wehmiller. Abraham Wehmiller. He was a 10th grade history teacher. And Abe was the one who helped me rediscover that I’m smart.

I would have to get up at five o’clock every morning, take a bus, all the way out to school to get there on time. And now I’m here, (in a) wealthy environment. That was not our story. And I get there, and these kids feel like they’re light years ahead of me and they’re writing these amazing papers and I was like, dang man, they’re being disrespectful to the teacher by saying they disagreed with things, right. That’s what I thought at the time.

It was a new world for me. Instead of thinking, hey, Byron, there’s probably some extra tips and tricks that you’re just not familiar with. Yes, (a) new environment. Don’t worry, you can get the hang of it. I started to interpret this because I had always been good in school, that maybe I’m just not as smart as these kids. So let me try and find my space in the middle and be satisfied with that.

And it was Abe Wehmiller who took one of the papers that I turned in. He said this is really good. He was the first teacher up there who said this is really good. These thoughts are really well thought out. How you articulated it, it’s compelling. You’re really smart. He said, I called my professor at Georgetown. I told him I got a kid coming your way in a few years. And I was like, what? Me? Georgetown? Why are you even talking about me to some teacher at one of these really cool fancy schools? I didn’t think I belonged anywhere near that.

I saw myself differently because he called it out in me. He was a mirror that I needed at the time. He defogged it, wiped away all of the smears, the self doubt, the inadequacy. And I was like, maybe I am smart. And that’s all she wrote. It wasn’t the content, it was how he made me feel. I never forgot it afterwards.