For most people, teachers play a very important role in their lives—whether that's preparing them for life, or at least the next grade level.
"They all have a special aura which set them apart from normal human beings," Oprah says. "They never had first names. They never did normal things like you and me—like eating in a public restaurant. And, God forbid, if you see them in a public restaurant you'd just die!"
Who was your favorite teacher? Was it the one who worked you the hardest, the one who gave you all the breaks, or the one who brought out the best in you?
Oprah's favorite is her fourth grade teacher at Wharton Elementary in Nashville. "I ran home the first day of the fourth grade to tell my dad I had the best teacher anybody could ever have. Her name was Mrs. Duncan," Oprah says. "I wanted to be a fourth grade teacher because of Mrs. Duncan."
Today Oprah learned something about Mrs. Duncan she never knew before—her first name is Mary!
Mrs. Duncan says Oprah was an ideal student, so gifted at reading that she impressed her fellow students, and never disrupted class by talking out of turn. "You were quiet, and furthermore, if anyone else was talking you would put your finger to your lips and remind them that you should be listening," she says. "And when a task was assigned you would look around to make sure everyone was following through."
"I always, because of you, felt I could take on the world. You did exactly what teachers are supposed to do, they create a spark for learning that lives with you from then on," Oprah says. "It's why I have a talk show today."
Another of Oprah's favorite teachers is one who never even gave her a grade! Though she never was in Mr. Abrams' class, he was instrumental in helping Oprah get into Nicolet High School—one of the best in Milwaukee—shortly after that city's schools were integrated. "Officials opened the doors for 16 black students," Oprah says. "And this man, Mr. Abrams, was the man who made sure my name was included."
Mr. Abrams says he was on an assignment from a university, working in Oprah's non-integrated school. He often met and talked with Oprah in the cafeteria during their lunch breaks. When he heard that officials from Nicolet were in search of promising black students, Mr. Abrams says he immediately thought of Oprah. "You were the most curious 13-year-old I ever ran across," Mr. Abrams tells Oprah. "You always had a book and you always had a question."
After taking a qualifying test and gaining acceptance to Nicolet, Oprah had to commute from inner-city Milwaukee to the suburb of Glendale, Wisconsin. "I took the bus with the maids in the morning," Oprah says. "It was culture shock for me. It was the first time I realized I was poor. But it made a major difference in my life."