Transformative Figures: Teachers Who Inspire

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From the Spring 2009 Caller

We asked members of our online alumni community and Catlin Gabel alumni groups on Facebook to share their reflections on teachers who served a transformative role in their lives. Many found narrowing the list down to one or two teachers quite difficult, but they managed! Running throughout the responses, excerpted below, is a common thread: teachers at Catlin Gabel and its predecessor schools were and are united by a passion for working with young people, an inventive approach to teaching, and an uncanny ability to inspire their students’ enthusiasm for the material.

 Rachael GriffinMOLLY MOORES SCHLICH ’44
Producer of film and lecture series, Springfield, Illinois

I had many excellent teachers, but the memory of Rachael Griffin is outsized in her influence on me. She taught art to the young classes at Gabel Country Day School, and she was inspired. She introduced us to many different forms of visual art, and made it such fun. She was warm and outgoing—we all loved her. I am sorry I never had the opportunity to tell her how important she has been in my life.




 Kim HartzellCINDY LAWSON DeVORE ’80
Corporate manager, Broad Run, Virginia

During these many years since leaving Catlin Gabel, I have thought countless times of Kim Hartzell (known as Mrs. Hartzell to all of us in the middle school). Though I never ended up a professional artist, Mrs. Hartzell greatly influenced the success of my career and my life. The confidence she instilled in her students allowed us all the freedom to experiment with our own creativity, and to be proud of our accomplishments.

Mrs. Hartzell’s small art room in the 1970s middle school was a place of inspiration. She was an incredibly enthusiastic woman who introduced us to arts like Pysanky (Ukrainian egg dyeing), beadwork, and mask-making, all the while exclaiming words like “cool!” and “beautiful!” to describe our “unique” works of art.

My career has traveled a path from military law, to politics, to communications and marketing, and currently rests in management. I’ve had many opportunities to draw from my own creativity—producing a television program, creating advertising, and even making natural soap products for my own small company. Through it all, I must admit that I still see Mrs. Hartzell’s smiling face and hear her encouraging “you-can-do-it” words. Her guidance and adoration for her students will continue to influence my life and how I relate to others.

I’m so thankful for having known Kim Hartzell. Even more, I’m very fortunate to have been one of her students.

 Mary Whalen MacFarlaneTED KAYE ’73
Tech company executive, Portland

Mary Whalen MacFarlane taught me longer than any other teacher. For three straight years—6th, 7th, and 8th grades—she delivered a solid foundation in mathematics. I vividly recall when she exposed us to the wonders of Pascal’s Triangle, the basics of algebra, and the Fibonacci Sequence. Mrs. MacFarlane encouraged innovation in her class—such as when Randy King and I developed a 20-word mnemonic for Pi that began “Yes, I have a green barracuda in school today.” Never theatrical, her serious commitment to mathematics and stretching the capabilities of young minds endeared her to generations of Catlin-Hillside and Catlin Gabel students. I use skills and concepts she taught me every day.

Small business owner, Portland

I remember three teachers fondly and with great respect and admiration from my time at Catlin Gabel: Vivien Johannes, Gene Jenkins, and Ann Wright.
 Vivian Johannes“Mrs. Jo” was my English teacher for two years. At the time I did not appreciate her intellect, her joy in life, and what she was trying to teach us. But I did understand in a rudimentary way that she loved teaching, and her students. In retrospect I now realize what a remarkable person and teacher she was. I only wish I could tell her so today. I think her remarkable gifts were mostly wasted on us callow teenagers.

 Gene JenkinsGene Jenkins and Mrs. Wright taught me the basics for real study habits and how to write a decent declarative sentence.

 Ann WrightI can still hear Mrs. Wright saying, “that’s a GROSS generalization . . . be more specific.” And I always remember Mrs. Jenkins’s smile when one of us “got it.”


Professional organizer, Charlotte, North Carolina

 Sarah WellsMy hands-down favorite was Sarah Wells, who taught 5th grade for two years while we were still on Culpepper Terrace. Why was she so spectacular? Everything we did centered on the theme of ancient Greece. History, geography, literature, math, science—you name it, it was about Greece. We held our own Olympic Games in the spring in the ancient style (though we were all clothed!). We had to learn how to make togas, we all created our own personalized warrior shields in art, we made wax tablets in shop class and spent a day or two in class writing on them, using Greek letters, as if we were students in ancient Greece. We memorized Greek poetry and performed for our classmates. Truly, the entire year carried the theme. I remember more from this year of school than any other. Miss Wells was tough, but fair and very kind and loving. She started a love of archaeology for me that has stayed with me to this day—I went to Greece in college, was an anthropology/archaeology major, and spent a month on an archaeological dig in Tanzania in 2007.

Finally, Sarah Wells embodied so much of what I think of as great about a Catlin Gabel education: a creative and talented teacher who was given permission to teach in an unconventional manner and was so effective in the process.

Family physician, London, UK

 john WiserMy two favorite teachers, John Wiser (history) and Lowell Herr (science), used optimism and enthusiasm when teaching. John always had a big smile on his face, and his passion and joy for teaching American history shone through. It is in part John’s love for history that has spurred me to run for president of the Royal College of General Practitioners. My name will be on this spring’s postal national ballot, and if I win I will be the third woman and first ethnic minority to ever claim the title of president of this esteemed college, representing the majority of family physicians in the UK. I chose to run to fight the injustices that doctors face here because of relentless government regulation. I am working to make a college that is its members’ advocate and not a government proxy.

Lowell smiled and laughed as he taught physics. He loved teaching (and Ferris wheels) and I loved coming to school to learn from him. He included all his Lowell Herr students and actively asked for contributions on the chalkboard. In 2003 I began teaching by chance. I went to a friend’s home and helped her with her oral module of the MRCGP (family medicine) exam. She passed. I have since taught over 2,000 doctors to pass their licensing board exam in family medicine. I reflect the teaching styles of both Lowell and John. I smile, laugh, and invite active participation from doctors. By the end of the day, they all believe they are geniuses and have the knowledge and skills to pass, and do. So thank you, Catlin Gabel, for having great inspirational teachers who are shaping students to become great leaders!

Police detective, Olympia, Washington

Dave Corkran was instrumental in my success at Catlin Gabel, which set the direction for the rest of my life. High school was a difficult time for me emotionally and academ­ically. I came to Catlin Gabel halfway through my freshman year. I had Dave Corkran for C&C, and that placement was the beginning of a very important connection for me. Dave believed in me academically and supported me emotionally. With the foundation that Dave was so instrumental in creating and the support of my parents, I finished high school, graduating from college in three and a half years with a major in human development and performance, and a minor in biology. I have a happy and successful life with a wonderful husband and three children, and owe much of my life’s success to Dave. Outside of my family Dave was definitely the most influential person in my life. It was great to see him at my 20-year reunion last May.


 Gloria Zeal DavisCHERI COLLINS SMITH ’68
Lafayette, California

Gloria Zeal Davis was my English teacher in my junior year at Catlin Gabel. I had many very good teachers during my four years there, but Gloria was the best and had a profound influence on my life. Prior to that year, my academic interests were primarily in the math and science areas. I liked things that were concrete and specific. But somehow, with her warmth and sense of humor, and the style of her teaching and her expectations, she managed to open up another side of my mind, which allowed me to cultivate interests and a kind of awareness that I hadn’t experienced before. That broadened my view of the world in many ways, and was transformative in my life.

I’ve valued what I learned from her ever since, and as it turns out, have stayed in touch with her through the years. I’ve lived in California for many years, but to this day, we stay in touch on a regular basis. It’s a very rewarding and satisfying friendship. 

Entrepreneur, Bend, Oregon

Reading never came easily for me, but as soon as I could read chapter books I quickly became a book junkie. Going to Catlin Gabel and having a teacher like Sid Eaton brought my love of reading to a new level. As a group we got to delve into authors, enjoy their stories, and use them as a model for our own writing. Having an elective English class with Sid my senior year was learning at its most fun. We studied both essays and short stories, and I still have a strong love of the short story format.

We all became Red Sox fans through the year (if you weren’t a fan you were wise not to speak up), reading specially selected articles that Sid would bring in, and heaven forbid you were in class on a day when the Red Sox lost.

There are the things we need to learn in school and the things that become a part of our lives that we cherish. I am grateful to Sid for the latter.