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One teacher can change the world

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There are milestones in a child’s life that every parent looks forward to. Things like taking those first steps, the first day of school, watching them head out on that first date, graduation and beyond.

Last Friday was one of those milestones for our family. We always knew my oldest son would land on his feet. Outgoing, smart and charismatic, people just tend to like him. I never worried about his post-high school ambitions. He plans to start law school in the fall of 2020.

My younger son was another story. Introverted to his core, he always kept mostly to himself and only let a few close friends inside his little world. Halfway through his sophomore year in high school his focus was blurry at best, his grades were suffering and all he wanted to do was sleep in class and play video games. I was picturing needing a house with a basement — so he could live in it as an adult. Enter Mrs. Heather Futrell, a chemistry teacher at East Wake Academy.

Needing a physical science, my son signed up for chemistry and it literally changed his direction in life. Everyone has that one special teacher who sparks something in us and puts us on our path in life. Whether or not we choose to stay on that path is up to us, but there is always that one teacher who finds something in us and says, “You can do this.” For my son, Heather Futrell was that teacher. In her class, he found a passion for something other than a video game — he found a passion for research and discovery, he found a passion for learning, he found a passion for science.

My son would take every chemistry course available, and at the end of his senior year, he had achieved the highest score in AP chemistry ever at East Wake Academy, edging out the valedictorian who was also in the class — as far as I know, that score still stands today, four years later. His scores improved across the board with his love for chemistry as his math scores also began to soar.

When you ask him what the caused the sudden change in direction halfway through high school from not caring to becoming passionate about learning, he will tell you — Mrs. Futrell did.

When it came time for college, two schools offered academic scholarships — Arizona State and East Carolina. The East Carolina one was a full-ride chemistry scholarship that he accepted and never looked back. At the end of his freshman year his was ranked at the top of his class, and while he no longer holds that distinction, he has maintained those grades. He double-majored in chemistry and biochemistry and set his sights on what is by far the top school in country for pharmaceuticals — ranked second in the world only to University College London. As bad as it pains me to say it, that school is UNC-Chapel Hill. The average PCAT score to gain acceptance into the PharmD program there is the 87th percentile. The score my son accomplished yesterday was the 97th percentile.

While it may seem like this column may be about how great my son did, it is actually about someone else. It’s about a teacher named Heather Futrell. It’s about someone who is underpaid and underappreciated and spends her own money on classroom supplies so that my child can do all the things he did. That one special teacher who reached way down inside him and said, “You can do this, you can change the world.”

Who knows, maybe one day my son will walk through the door and say “Dad, I found a cure for Parkinson’s.” If that day comes, it will be because one single teacher put his feet on the path he was meant to travel.

One teacher can in fact change the world. I think it’s time we acknowledge that and treat that profession with the respect and dignity is actually deserves.

Mark Cone is owner and operator of