Inspired by a teacher? Deborah Roberts' book proves it's a universal experience
Deborah Roberts knows the important role that teachers can play in a child's development from her own life experience. She edited a star-studded book of essays to demonstrate that she wasn't alone: A single teacher can change everything.
In her new book of essays, "Lessons Learned and Cherished: The Teacher Who Changed My Life," out May 2, Roberts shares a collection of essays from celebrities and public figures who learned important life lessons from their teachers.
“Teachers aren’t feeling that kind of love and that kind of respect that we used to show them so many years ago. That was the impetus for the book,” Roberts tells TODAY.com.
She found many other people felt the same, and wanted to pay tribute to the influential educator in their lives. “Once I started collecting stories, I thought, wow, this is something," she says.
Some of the stars featured in the novel include Oprah Winfrey, Misty Copeland, Ava DuVernay, Lucy Liu, Brooke Shields, Michelle Williams, Octavia Spencer and more.
Roberts' husband, Al Roker, contributed an essay too.
"I couldn't leave him out. He would have been insulted, so I thought OK, I better put him in too as I'm talking to everybody else," Roberts laughs.
She says she was met with enthusiasm from all of the contributors. Roberts said she emailed Oprah Winfrey and "had a feeling" she would respond, as they knew each other — but didn't expect how quickly Winfrey would get back to her. "She wrote, 'I am all that I am because of teachers. I will happily do this. Get in touch with my assistant,'" Roberts recalls.
More and more similar interactions followed. "I was absolutely shocked at how quickly people wanted to be a part of it,” she says. The result? A book full of inspirational stories from a range of stages.
In Shields' essay, the model and actor writes about a former college professor who taught her how to trust her instincts and find her voice.
Copeland, in hers, praises her middle school dance coach for helping her feel seen.
"I felt like Elizabeth was giving me this confidence I just didn't have in school," Copeland, who is the first Black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, writes in the book. "I didn't think I was the smartest, I didn't have tons of friends. I just wanted to be ... but after that solo, I wanted to thrive for the first time in my life."
Roberts contributed an essay of her own, shouting out a few teachers who helped get her on her way. She said her sixth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Hardy, made the "biggest impact" in her life.
"She set the bar for excellence as an English teacher. She inspired me to want to read poetry, speak better and make sure my diction was on point," Roberts tells TODAY.com.
In order to show her appreciation, Roberts would always gift her favorite teacher a present at the end of the school year — but never apples.
"My mom used to gift pantyhose," she remembers with a smile. "Every year, she would wrap up pantyhose for us to give to her our main teacher, and at the time, I was so embarrassed. But hey, I'm sure it was practical and they liked them."
Once Roberts completed her book, she showed the finished version to her husband. She says Roker was "thrilled" at what she had created.
Researching “Lessons Learned and Cherished" also made Roberts reflect on her her parenting. The journalist shares two kids, Leila, 24, and Nicholas, 20, with Roker. Roker has a daughter, Courtney Roker Laga, from a previous marriage.
“As my kids began to go to school, I was aware of what I got from teachers (as a kid). I was very observant of their relationships with teachers,” she says.
"Knowing that teachers matter influenced me to make sure my kids knew how much I appreciated them."
Roberts' book “Lessons Learned and Cherished: The Teacher Who Changed My Life," is available for purchase. A portion of the proceeds from Roberts' book is going to DonorsChoose, a nonprofit organization that supports teachers and students in the classroom.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com