Each year, News 8 celebrates the teachers making a difference in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. The five "My Favorite Teacher" honorees we salute in 2019 were nominated by students, selected by last year's teacher winners, and awarded with a gift card and other items given by Blackhawk Bank and Trust.
DE WITT, Iowa – Some people can trace to just one moment where their life made an abrupt change.
Central DeWitt High School senior Hunter Wright can do just that.
He's just weeks away from graduation, but on this day, his mind is on a quiz filled with boxes and little multiple choice circles to fill.
Ask Hunter - it's pretty easy to just fill in those "bubbles" without any thought. He did it in 6th grade.
"When it came time to take standardized tests, I looked over the passages and filled in any bubble I wanted, not really caring what kind of score I got," Hunter said.
That is until one teacher stood up to him and challenged him to be better.
Now, before he graduates from Central DeWitt, Hunter presented an award to that teacher.
"Mrs. Wainwright, you're My Favorite Teacher."
Six years after Theresa Wainwright met Hunter, this once unenthusiastic student came back to visit the teacher who turned his life around.
"If it weren't for Mrs. Wainwright, I probably wouldn't be going to college," Hunter said. "I wouldn't be have the GPA I have, and I'd probably have the same bad habits."
This is the 20th year Mrs. Wainwright has taught special education at Central DeWitt Intermediate. She not only helps these kids learn, but she teaches them how to learn.
"They just learn differently, and I just have to find that way to help them be successful," she said. "And I love it."
That day for Hunter came when he took a reading test and just filled in any oval he wanted, just to get it done and join the guys at football practice.
As Hunter puts it, Mrs. Wainwright figured it out...
"And she began reading me the riot act. I had never been so afraid in my school life."
"I remember that very vividly," Mrs. Wainwright said.
She also remembers walking across the hall, getting the football coach to come to her classroom, and letting him explain to Hunter the importance of taking his studies seriously.
"We had a very nice conversation," Hunter said.
"He talked, I listened," Wainwright said.
That was the moment Hunter's life changed. His new philosophy toward school came down to one thing.
"I just think did I do my best in this category, in that category?"
And now he's the best in a lot of categories.
He was one of three Central DeWitt students picked for the prestigious Iowa Football Coaches Association All-Academic Football Team last year and has been on the Honor Roll every quarter and semester since seventh grade.
That's why Hunter says this story needed to be told.
"I owe my success in big part to Mrs. Wainwright, who showed me what I could do if I was willing to do my very best."
And Mrs. Wainwright knew he had it in him.
"I never gave up on him and I could see that he could do it."
And now she can see how it's paid off.
A life changed, thanks to My Favorite Teacher.
"So proud of you," she said while embracing this former student. "So proud of you."