If children are our future, what does that make teachers?

I think we'd all agree that the people in charge of teaching the next generation are pretty important. Yet educators are still under-appreciated and underpaid.

Thankfully, that doesn't stop them from being amazing.


Not a day goes by that we don't hear an incredible story of a teacher going way above and beyond for her students. They pay for supplies out of their own pockets. They work extra hours to help kids who are falling behind.

And that's not even the half of it.

Here are 11 times teachers completely blew us away with their creativity, generosity, and passion for the job.

1. A gym teacher got the whole class cheering a boy with cerebral palsy.

GIF from Simon Curran/YouTube.

It was race day at Colonial Hills Elementary School. Matt Woodrum, who suffers from cerebral palsy, wanted to run, but he quickly fell behind and began to struggle.

John Blaine, his gym teacher, jogged up to him to offer some encouragement, rather than pull him to the side.

Pretty soon, the whole class was trailing Matt as he ran, with John leading the cheers as they all crossed the finish line together.

Warning: Watching the full video may cause a severe case of the cries.

2. These teachers transformed their students' lockers into literary works of art.

Photo by Poma Magician/Flickr.

Teachers at Biloxi Junior High spent one summer painting over an entire hall of lockers, decorating each like the book spine of a famous literary work, including a few modern classics they knew students would like.

They wanted to give the kids something fun to look at and get them pumped up about reading.

"We love the students here and it brings interest and gets them excited about coming to school," one teacher told WLOX.

3. This kindergarten teacher asks her kids two important questions every single morning.

Image from "The Ellen Show."

Sonya Romero teaches kindergarten in a poverty-stricken area of Albuquerque, New Mexico. When her kids show up in the morning, first she asks, "Have you eaten today?" Then, "Do you need anything to wear?"

She helps out with extra clothes, snacks, and basic care for every kid — out of her own pocket.

"We usually spend about the first hour of our morning getting ready for the day," she told "The Ellen Show."

4. This biology teacher wears wacky outfits to get her students excited to learn about the human body.

Image from Debby Heerkens, used with permission.

It can definitely be a challenge to get kids to pay attention to an important lesson. That's why Debby Heerkens, a biology teacher in the Netherlands, stood on a table during an anatomy lesson and stripped off her clothes.

Underneath? An anatomically accurate spandex suit featuring all the muscles of the body. And another one beneath that showing bone structure.

Her method might have been a little odd, but I'm sure her students didn't forget that lesson for a long time.

5. This gym teacher got his kids to exercise by breaking out the "Whip/Nae Nae."

Image from Jared Paschall/YouTube.

Jason Paschall, a gym teacher at Harvest Elementary School in Alabama, needed a fun way to get his students moving and building good exercise habits.

So he put on their favorite song and figured out how to incorporate some extra cardio into the routine. The results? Hilarious, adorable, and a great workout!

He even filmed it and put it on YouTube so other teachers around the country could use the routine.

6. One of his students was bullied, so he read a gay fable to the whole class.

Omar Currie, a third-grade teacher from North Carolina, overheard some of his students calling one boy "woman" and "gay." So he sat them all down and read the famous and controversial "King & King," a children's fairy tale that depicts a same-sex relationship.

Omar wasn't thinking about starting a controversy. He just wanted the kids to think more carefully about how other people feel.

"The moral is to treat people well, no matter who they are," he told The Huffington Post.

7. A sex-ed teacher wasn't allowed to talk about condoms ... so he talked about socks instead.

Always wear a sock. Photo by Mark/Flickr.

Sanford Johnson was in the middle of sex-ed training when the instructors told him he wasn't allowed to talk about proper condom use.

"No problem," he thought. And so he made this video to teach kids how to properly put on a sock if they were to ever "be engaged in a sock activity."

Safety first, kids. Here's the excellent lesson in its entirety.

8. Chris Ulmer compliments all of his special ed students each and every morning.

Image from Latest News/YouTube.

Chris teaches special education at a school in Jacksonville, Florida, and he says sometimes the kids can feel like outcasts. So he starts every day by showering each student with genuine compliments.

"I noticed the kids were always more motivated, happier, and better-behaved on [the days that began with affirmations]. So we started doing it every day," he told ABC News.

Um, I think we'd all love it if our days started like that. Kudos to Chris for giving a little extra love to some kids who really need it.

9. One of her kids told her she couldn't understand him because she was white. So she changed her entire approach.

Photo by Anthony Easton/Flickr.

Emily Elizabeth Smith, a fifth-grade elementary teacher from Texas, recently accepted a big-time teaching award. In her acceptance speech, she talked about a moment that changed her forever.

"Things changed for me the day when, during a classroom discussion, one of my kids bluntly told me I couldn't understand because I was a white lady," Smith said. "I had to agree with him." She says she went home and cried.

From then on, she made some big changes. Together, they read Langston Hughes. They studied Latino culture. They talked about the crisis in Syria. They explored ideas that reflected a more diverse and global curriculum.

She was already a good teacher, but her willingness to admit her own shortcomings turned her into a great one.

10. These brave teachers surprised their students with an amazing flash mob of "Don't Stop Believin'."

GIF from Ryan Radford/YouTube.

Being an awesome teacher doesn't always have to be so serious. Take this group from Walnut Grove Secondary School, who put on a fabulous rendition of the "Glee" version of "Don't Stop Believin'."

Their dance moves (and their enthusiasm) are actually really impressive, and the kids absolutely gobble it up. It's a must-watch.

11. This teacher literally crosses rivers to get to her students each day.

Image from GMA News and Public Affairs/YouTube.

Elizabeth Miranda of the Philippines might just take the cake for being the most dedicated teacher ever. Each and every school day, she walks two hours through jungle and crosses five rivers just to reach the students in Sitio Barogonte, an extremely remote village.

And you thought your commute was bad.

She's the only one close enough to be their teacher, so she had to find a way to make it work. And she has.

Let's give it up for the teachers, huh?

There are so many who will never make it on a list like this or to the front page of the Internet with some brilliant act of heroism. But just showing up day in and day out and dedicating themselves to helping kids get the education they deserve is more than heroic enough.

Pass these stories along and help our teacher friends know that their hard work is appreciated.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Katherine Morgan, known as blktinabelcher on Twitter, is a writer and bookseller who asked a question of the Twitter hive mind to set her mind at ease.

"I’m 28, so I’m almost there, but can people in their 30s and older please (gently) tell me that it’s going to get better and I don’t need to have figured out my entire life in two years?" she wrote. The tweet took off, with more than 100,000 likes and thousands of replies. While everyone phrased their responses differently, the general consensus was you don't have to have anything figured out before you turn 30.

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