Sunday, July 6

Thoughts on my 4th Grade Teacher and Parents

Been spending the past week or so working on a number of product specs and websites and found myself listening to TV in the background. In particular, Friday, October Sky was showing on Universal HD where Homer Hickam was discovering the magic of rocketry and dedication to family and the future. And, as the sap I can often be, I watched with emotion and awe in the inspiration the story brings to many.

Teaching - a Great Role Model
When I was growing up, I found myself often misunderstood - as in, I was at times smarter than expected, socially awkward, incredibly curious and insanely enthusiastic about solving problems. When I was in Elementary School, the teachers were always generous, but were often overworked and had to handle 30+ students during their insanely busy days.

And I remember those days with Ms. Bebon, Ms. Herndon and Ms. Handcock - my elementary school principal. But my life changed for the better in the Fourth Grade when my teacher came to class the beginning of that year to tell us she was pregnant and was going to leave in the first week.

Over the course of the next four weeks, we had substitute, upon substitiute, upon substitute - each trying to establish control and an environment where we could learn - and we were a bunch of wild Injuns running free in the quandrant we called the Fourth Grade. During this time, one of my classmates, David Hecker, got his mom to lobby Mrs. Handcock to get him switched into another class since he was not getting a good education with a bunch of substitutes. Right afterward, I convinced my Dad to speak to Mrs. Handcock as well - since I wanted a good teacher as well.

Mrs. Handcock, whom I had met before in times of good and bad (yes, we did have corporal punishment then), met with my Dad and I and listened carefully to what we said. She turned to us and told us about a new teacher she had just hired - a woman who had just moved from New York who was an exceptional teacher. Would we consider waiting to see how she worked out? If it did not work within a month, she would be happy to switch me into Mrs. Brown's class.

My Dad and I agreed and I waited for the new teacher to arrive. Miss Fazzio showed up and within thirty minutes, you knew that she was in charge of the class and had some incredible ideas on how to improve the education we were getting. She had been in NY's P.S. System and had taught in some innovative courses over the years she had been there. When she got to our school, our class was her first - and she decided to make some changes in our curriculum - driving us further than what the curriculum dictated and allowed us to stretch ourselves in ways, even our most aspiring parents had no sense of.

She allowed the students that were capable of to go through the Fourth Grade math and spelling books - they were able to just take the chapter tests and demonstrate prowess in getting an 80% or better and then advance to the Fifth Grade materials, devil be damned the required curriculum. At the time, I was not seen as smart (got into trouble often) - but I got up the courage and asked Miss Fazzio if I could take the tests as well. I remember that day like it was yesterday, where she looked at me with mild surprise and said "Yes, if you can pass like the other kids." I have no idea if she knew what she did there, but it was the ignition to my rocket to demonstrate to the world that I could achieve like all the other kids.

Over the course of that year, Miss Fazzio introduced all sorts of things to our program - gaming tactics to inspire even the toughest of students who were recalcitrant (Sam Magnapera, I wonder where youa re today) and even gave us goals to strive for - including weekly prizes which, at the time, consisted of simple time with the teacher for lunch in our classroom - when everyone else had to eat in the cafeteria. I used to strive so hard to win those prizes so I could get that 45 minutes with Miss Fazzio and listen to her tell stories or me to tell her some of my dreams.

When the time came at the end of the Fourth Grade year, Miss Fazzio did something special for me - she made sure I got the "best" teacher I could in the Fifth Grade section - Miss Knoblock - who kept me on an incredibly inspiring path to where I ended up graduating high school and going off to grad school. Miss Fazzio was the person who came into my life and inspired me to be more than I could have imagined myself to be.

Why Teaching and Parents?
Aside from the mention of my Dad, why would I entitle this post about parents and teaching? Because, one of the most amazing things in my life was the fact that Miss Fazzio, after I had graduated Sheridan Hills, started dating my father during the summer between Sixth and Seventh Grade. The January of my Seventh Grade year, my Dad and Miss Fazzio married and she became my mom.

Oh - it took time to migrate from Miss Fazzio, to Lynne, to Mom - but today, she is as much my Mom as my natural Mom is - someone who impacted me more than I will ever appreciate or know.

Over the years, I watch the movies about teaching and growth through adversity - Teachers, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds - but the one that always has had my heart is Mr. Holland's Opus - where a jazz artist takes on a teaching job and impacts the lives of 30 years of students at a little high school. He did not know what impact he would make - he was able to see the impact of his work in the final scene of the movie. But rarely do teachers get a chance to see what the impact of their lives have had on others.

I teach (when I can) because I want to give back to the world - because of the gift that was given to me by a woman who happened to take a job in a small town in Hollywood, Florida - and changed my life for the better.

Teaching does not pay in the same way as my other jobs, but the time I spend with students - giving them the feedom to be their own people; to believe in them when they themselves might not - that is my honor and my gift to the people I come in contact with over the years. I have taught, off and on, since I was 14 (the year after my parents married) and in every case, the joy has been to go beyond the shackles of the regimen and to inspire learning beyond.

There are a couple of poems/sayings that I have collected, and one inspires me in this regard more than any - which is why I continue to believe that it is all of our responsibilities to help others everything we do. Teaching is not just in a classroom - it is everywhere where we give people the chance to shine:
Our Deepest Fear

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. Teachers can make such a difference in children's lives. I will ask my student teachers to read it.