In 1975, unique educator Marva Nettles Collins (1936-2015) had been teaching for 14 years when she had a disagreement with her principal who told her that as a teacher she had to remember that her students were not her own children.
Disagreeing with that notion, Collins quit and used her pension to establish an alternative school for poor kids in Chicago's West Side, children labeled "unteachable" and "unreachable."
"Excellence is not an act but a habit," she explained. "The things you do the most are the things you do the best."
Collins refused to let her students fail and fought for them to find joy in themselves and in learning. She wanted them to succeed and face the future with hope and bright dreams. She did this by challenging students to learn more -- with an interdisciplinary curriculum that included a mix of phonics, the classics, reading aloud, memorization, critical thinking, and foreign languages.
"Children do not fail. We, as a society, fail them," she explained, believing children do not succeed when expectations are too low. She made learning an adventure and proved positive self-esteem, enthusiasm, and hard work paid off.
Her work garnished international attention as she became the subject of the 1981 made-for-TV movie starring Cicely Tyson and profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes in 1975 and again in 1995, chronicling the achievements of former students.
"Character is what you know you are, not what others think you have," she said, making a difference in the quality of her students' lives. "Once children learn how to learn, nothing is going to narrow their mind. The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another."
There is only one you.