The Heart of a Teacher

The Heart of a Teacher

Teachers have been every bit as heroic during the pandemic as they’ve always been. Now is a time when everyone needs to read and hear as much good news as possible. During Easter weekend, enjoy this heartwarming story about John Paul Sellars ’01, a teacher who honored a professor who inspired him– and who created an event for others to honor the teachers who inspired them as well.    

The gym at White Knoll Middle School in West Columbia, S.C., was full and quiet on Dec. 19 as John Paul Sellars ’01 and Dr. Mike Rischbieter, professor of biology, stood at center court.

“For me,” Sellars began, “you truly are an embodiment of the Maya Angelou quote, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”

It was Teacher Appreciation Night. Sellars, a teacher and boys’ basketball coach at White Knoll Middle School, organized it as a way for his fellow coaches and their players on the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams to recognize the teachers who have inspired them the most.

Coaches and players invited their inspirational teachers to be their guests for the special night. The male players invited their guests out to center court during the halftime of the girls’ basketball game, and the female players invited their guests out during halftime of the boys’ basketball game.

They recognized the teachers and spoke a few words about how they inspired them.

Sellars didn’t major in biology at PC. He majored in elementary education instead. But he chose to honor Dr. Rischbieter because of the support he showed him in his biology classes.

“Science was never really my thing,” Sellars said. “I always wanted to be good at it, but for whatever reason, it didn’t come naturally for me.”

Sellars struggled in biology, but Dr. Rischbieter provided support along the way. He met Sellars outside of class when he needed extra help, and he clarified concepts to help Sellars understand the information.

“I believe the one thing we as teachers can provide our students, more than anything, is the understanding that we care first and foremost about their success,” Sellars said.

Dr. Rischbieter guaranteed Sellars a C in class if he did the best he could.

“I cared that I did my best, and he cared that he got the best out of me even if a C was the best I might get,” Sellars said. “I can assure you, when I achieved that C, it felt like an A to me.

“In this case, (making a C) didn’t feel like concession because I knew I’d poured my heart into it and given it my very best.”

Sellars said he shows his students the same love and support that Dr. Rischbieter showed him. Over his 13-year career in the classroom, Sellars has won Teacher of the Year on the school level three times and at the district level once within the Lexington One County School District.

As Sellars said on Teacher Appreciation Night on Dec. 19, his college biology professor showed him how to look into the heart of each student.

“I’ve never forgotten how he made me feel about myself and the confidence he had in me when I didn’t have it in myself. He knew I wasn’t going to grow up to be a biologist, but even still he held me accountable and got the best out of me,” Sellars said.

“This is what teaching is all about: recognizing your students’ strengths and weaknesses, helping them find those things as well, and then getting every ounce of potential out of them, no matter what it takes.”