The scoop from celebrities: Your most valuable class

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Most anyone who has been through school has one.

Maybe it was that gifted teacher who inspired self-confidence in you for the first time. Or that first class in a subject that would become your lifetime pursuit.

We asked some prominent Texans to tell us a story about the class or teacher who changed the world for them.

Janice Voss
Five-time space shuttle astronaut

“The summer before my senior year, I went to a summer program. …

“We were using Fortran 4 to do something on missile impact. They told us there was a barracuda or some kind of nasty fish, and it eats all the fish in a certain radius. We had to figure out how many fish would be left after a certain time …

“It was really about missiles – if you’re trying to bomb someplace, you have know about radius of impact.”

Raymond Nasher
Civic leader and real estate developer

“I went to the Boston Latin School. …

“Philip Marson was an incredible teacher. I had him for English. He made certain we read a very important book every week, and that we wrote essays every couple of weeks. … It taught me the importance of reading important work and being thoughtful in regard to language.”

Henry Cisneros
Former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of housing and urban development

“It was an English teacher, Brother Martin McMurtrey at Central Catholic in San Antonio. He liked my writing. He wanted us to read a paragraph like a conductor hears music – to be able to tell there was a discordant note in there. He said our lives would be better if we came to love books and reading.

“I remember the first time he asked me to speak extemporaneously in front of the class. It was the very first time I stood before a group to articulate an idea. He pulled me aside after class to tell me he thought I had done well. Not only did he encourage reading and vocabulary and writing, he played a huge role in helping me break out of my shyness and have the confidence to stand before a group.”

Ellen Herbert
Longview High School art teacher, 2004 Texas Teacher of the Year

“I took a graphic design class at Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport. It was an extended class, three hours a day instead of one. It was a creative class – we were presented with visual problems and challenged to find ways to solve them. We were taught some technique, but it was really a unique chance to have open-ended time to use our problem-solving abilities. You really felt you had a chance to work through these visual issues you needed time to work through.”

D.L. Coburn
Playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Gin Game

“It was a drama course senior year. …

“It gave me my only preparation for writing plays. Out of that drama course came roles in the senior play and things like that. I went out for the play because there was a pretty cute girl who had the lead. I just wanted a small role that would get me into rehearsals. Mrs. Vanderlain ended up giving me a very large role.”

George Foreman
Former heavyweight boxing champion, minister, entrepreneur

“The school was in Houston – Atherton Elementary. Math was the most important subject. Mr. McNeal was so hard on me. I never knew I would one day have to count millions of dollars. … I am so grateful I had one teacher who could see into the future.”

Larry Hagman
Actor, J.R. Ewing on Dallas

“Typing. That’s where the girls were.”

Laura Miller
Former Dallas Morning News reporter, mayor of Dallas

“Funny enough, the class that influenced me most was … typing! First, because I became an excellent typist, and it served me well for years when I was on tight deadlines as a journalist. More importantly, my teacher – Mary Bankowski at Rippowam High School in Stamford, Conn. – was a strong, dynamic, inspiring business teacher who made me feel smart and special and convinced me I could achieve anything I set out to do. She helped me start a new school club called ‘Students With a Purpose’ – my first brush with public service!”

Eddie Bernice Johnson
U.S. representative from Dallas since 1992

“It is geometry. The course is based on logic, and it teaches you how to solve problems. The skills learned in geometry will take you through life. This branch of mathematics empowers you to see the world in a different light. As opposed to seeing the world as a place marred by random chaos, there is a certain order and logic to our world. The straight lines and the geometric angles teach us to understand the world and our place in it. I have used the logical approach to problem-solving throughout my daily life and my career in politics.”