My brother loved Spider-Man. When I say loved, I mean like creepily idolized the guy. Growing up, his entire room was decorated and he even had a Spider-Man bed set. Embarrassingly, we used to play hide and seek with his piggy bank, which as you probably guessed, was also Spider-Man.

I never really got into superheroes, but Scooby Doo was my dude. A mystery-solving, talking dog? It was a match from the start. Maybe that’s why I keep bringing home live animals (Sorry, Mom).

I loved Scooby Doo, but I still didn’t have a favorite hero. Then I went into middle school and met my homeroom teacher Krista Beron. She was incredibly nice and very inviting; we even called her mom. She helped turn bad days around just by being there to talk if her students needed. I didn’t see it then, but I had just met my first hero. Krista is currently battling cancer, but she’s winning that fight the way any hero would.

I entered high school sweating on my first day. When does the hazing happen? Which crowded, musty locker would I be launched into on my first day? What teacher on my schedule was the devilish tormentor seen on the television shows?

Throughout high school, I met more teachers who touched my heart and saved me. First it was Alisha Neinfeldt, a stern woman who expected dedication and results from her students. While at first I was a little frightened, I grew to appreciate the passion she carried for her job. She wanted her students to be the best we could be, and she saw the best in each of us. She kept me on the straight and narrow many times, molding me into a more responsible student. The last day of school came and left, and so did she. A hero was leaving.

The teacher who took her place, AJ Braun, was a younger guy fresh into teaching. He took compassion to the next level, always willing to sit down and talk with his students in a way that made everyone comfortable. He was an effective, fun educator. But he too moved to better his family, and again I was without a role model.

The next chapter of the hero book begins with a drawing of a Care Bear. Weird, I know, but it was an ice breaker. One given to the new assistant hockey coach, social studies teacher Eric Borre. At the time I was just being a smart ass, telling him he resembled the bear.

Little did I know he was going to take over the hockey program by the time I graduated and would also serve as someone I could turn to when the going got tough. He could tell when I was having a bad day, and whether I wanted to or not, he was going to have some smart comment to make me laugh. He made a lot of bad days into good ones, even if it was by asking me who kicked my puppy.

Around the same time, another rookie teacher in Brittney Hodgson joined the school. I found myself confiding in her when times got tough as well. Her room was right across the hall from Borre’s and sometimes she would join our conversations between classes. She too joined in on the banter and it became apparent that I had found a pair of heroes who worked together, even if it was by yelling “Penalty box” down the hallway when I walked their way.

Finally, English teachers Laura Deal and Andrea Armstrong had massive impacts on me. The biggest impact is the reason I’m typing this column—They helped me find my niche.

Through Armstrong’s mentoring in the school journalism course and Deal’s passion for literature that she instilled in me, I began to mold the rest of my life. Another set of heroes were helping me make life more interesting. At Western Technical College, Barb Stanke, Linda Duffy, Andrea Peirce, and Daniela Gonzalez Quezada continued to impact me.

I’m sure I missed some, but they know who they are. Teachers have a special way of impacting their students without even knowing it.I never had Spider-Man, but I did have something else. They say that not all heroes wear capes, and that couldn’t be more true—Some work in classrooms.So thank you to my heroes, named and unnamed, for putting up with awkward teenage me, and for molding me into the person I’m becoming. You saved me and many other students without even knowing it, even if it wasn’t from a burning building or an evil, scary villain.

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Benjamin Pierce is a news reporter for the River Valley Media Group working for three weekly newspapers that cover Bangor, Onalaska, Holmen, and West Salem in the dairy state. He also covers La Crescent in Minnesota and can be reached at 608-791-8311.

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