There’s no exact formula that determines a teacher’s success, but patience and compassion is certainly part of the equation. 

For most, education is a field as unrelenting as it is rewarding. The majority of our time as children is spent in the classroom, and the people leading them often leave a lifelong impression on our young lives. 

Whether it was the math teacher who lent us lunch money or the art teacher who consoled us during a bad day, these people are engrained in our memory long after we’ve graduated. 

We asked Lake Highlands which educators, past and present, deserve to be recognized and received an overwhelming number of suggestions. Here are just a few of the teachers that we admire and appreciate.

Most revered: Jim Davidson

Lake Highlands High School

Jim Davidson’s students rarely saw him smile. Only a slight smirk flashed across Davidson’s face when he found something comical. His gruff exterior intimidated students who were unfamiliar with the seasoned journalism teacher. Davidson oversaw the student newspaper and yearbook, as well as taught a creative writing class.

“If you actually knew him, he was super friendly,” former student Jonathan Gurule says. “He didn’t put up with any kind of shenanigans of any sort.”

Davidson disciplined teens with the kind of glare that didn’t require words to say “knock it off.” Mr. D, as his students called him, was strict yet beloved. He had a knack for guiding students without handing them the answers and critiquing their work without lowering their self-esteem.

He was the type of teacher that, 25 years after his death, former students still credit for their careers and consider when facing a problem.

“I’m a father now of a daughter,” Gurule says. “The kind of patience he showed me as a student I definitely maintained as a father.”

Gurule isn’t a journalist, even though Davidson played an integral role in his career. He let Gurule, an Apple employee, borrow computers to tinker with during the weekends.

Another former student, Susan Clot de Broissia, spent several years working in international relations. But before that, she was an intern and the only female photojournalist on staff at a small-town Pennsylvania newspaper. Once she was sent to cover a house fire but wasn’t allowed near the catastrophe. Her boss thought it wasn’t safe for a woman. Frustrated, she thought of what Davidson would instruct her to do. The photograph she captured of a family embracing as smoke billowed above them made the front page.

“You always had him in your head,” she says.

Clot de Broissia still has a few darkroom tools stored in her house. They’re not useful, she says, but it reminds her of her favorite teacher. Davidson’s career ended abruptly when cancer took hold. He died in 1994. His death was devastating for his students, many of whom attended his funeral.

Afterward, they visited his grave with flowers, wrapped in copies of the student newspaper.

Best mother-daughter duo

Belinda Bradley, Merriman Park Elementary, and Amberley Bradley, White Rock Elementary

When Belinda Bradley got married in 1992,  all of her students were invited to her wedding. A  few even were junior bridesmaids and groomsmen. “She has parents that have their own kids who come back and say you’re my favorite teacher … I wanted to have that much of an impact,” says daughter Amberley.

Best in Tech

Meagan Collier, White Rock Elementary

Whether it’s asking students to make videos impersonating a historical figure or starting a robotics program, Meagan Collier has a knack for all things electronic. 

Living legend

David Wood, Lake Highlands High School

After decades of experience, David Wood is an institution in his own right. The English teacher also coached tennis and is a driving force behind Wild for Cats booster club.

Favorite rookies

Julia Swanner, Forest Meadow Junior High

“When I get frustrated, I think what would I have done on a Tuesday morning in seventh grade,” she says. “I try to be understanding with them.”

Jenna Ciardo, Lake Highlands Elementary 

Jenna Ciardo transitioned from a marketing career to a third-grade teacher nearly seamlessly. The career switch-up seems sporadic, but Ciardo is most comfortable in the classroom. “She has challenged my oldest but he still genuinely enjoys going to school and working to improve,” resident Suzy Habluetzel Shoup told the Advocate.

Most innovative

Kori Markussen, Wallace Elementary

To teach her students about money, Kori Markussen created a March Madness bracket in her classroom. “That’s when I can’t sleep at night — if I fail a kid,” she says.  

Most determined

Karen Scoggins, Skyview Elementary

For more than 20 years, Karen Scoggins  has helped students with learning disabilities. “She has students with very diverse special needs and works day in/out to meet each and every one of them wherever they are,” Principal Ingrid Dodd told the Advocate. 

Most enthusiastic 

Kathleen McClelland, Northlake Elementary

“Ms. McClelland is an advocate for all kids and will do whatever it takes to motivate them. You’ll often find her eating breakfast or lunch with students or dressing up like a favorite storybook character or super hero,” Principal Mary Kellagher says.

Most school spirit:

Susan Ruth, Lake Highlands Elementary  

Even after 20 years, kindergarten teacher Susan Ruth’s patience has not yet waned. “Susan Ruth is tough when need be but also very loving,”  parent Abigail Lau Jeffcoat told the Advocate. ”My 5-year-old son has had his challenges this school year but has made a complete 180 back in January.” Not to mention Ruth is teaching at the same elementary school she attended as a child.

Most changed

James Rees,

Lake Highlands High School

Band director James Rees wants students to grow as musicians, but “what matters is getting kids to be better versions of themselves,” he says. Rees, though, has grown himself after teaching for seven years. He jokes he was known as the “dream crusher” his first year.

Most enthusiastic 

Jennifer Scarbrough, Lake Highlands High School 

Jennifer Scarbrough can quote Flannery O’Connor and John Steinbeck, but her hope for students doesn’t solely revolve around the content she teaches. “I would like them to be excited about learning. Little knowledge is dangerous.”

Ashley Jones’ Classroom

Most innovative

Ashley Jones, Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet

Whether it’s using Angry Birds to teach students how to decompose numbers or doing 15 minutes of yoga a day, Ashley Jones’, or Ms. Jonesy’s, unconventional classroom has earned her RISD’s Teacher of the Year Award. “I love that I’m the first layer or step in something they’ll learn their whole life,” she says.

Most enthusiastic 

Cathleen Barnette, Merriman Park Elementary

Cathleen Barnette’s third-graders pretend they’re Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel by taping paper under their desks. “In my classroom, everything’s done with enthusiasm. I tell the kids if it’s not fun, we’re going to find a way to make it fun, and we’re going to learn it.”  

Most dedicated

August Whitaker, Wallace Elementary

Every morning, for three years, kindergarten teacher August Whitaker woke up at 4 a.m. to drive 100 miles to Wallace Elementary from her East Texas home. 

Ann Peeler, Wallace Elementary

Ann Peeler is retired from Wallace after decades of teaching — sort of. She’s a volunteer substitute teacher and tutor nearly five days per week. 

Stephanie Bowling, Northlake Elementary

Besides teaching third grade, Stephanie Bowling coaches basketball, runs the talent show and volunteers for nearly every PTA event. “She’ll make every effort to not let time affect her ability to create a positive environment for the students,”  husband Brian Johnson says.

Anita Sorenson, Northlake Elementary

Anita Sorenson launched a mentoring group for young girls, character awards and a service club, as well as keeps a closet full of clothes, backpacks and school supplies in her office for students in need.

To see all of the teachers nominated, click here.