I have been a teacher/writer for 40 years come this June 2018. Actually, I have been a writer since I was an 8th grader, but that only enhanced my experiences. Here in New York, I have taught in Catholic schools, public schools and a charter school for a short amount of time. I taught mostly 6 to 8 grades. I also taught Kindergarten for (thankfully) one day and I taught high school for about a combined total of four years. In public school, I have worked as a Dean of Discipline and as an Assistant Principal. That is a lot of experience. So, as you can clearly see, I have a lot of educational experience and I am clearly able to write about it.
Thanks to the marvelous creations of computers and Facebook, I have been able to re-connect with a lot of my former students, many of whom left many nice memories of them in my class. After talking with them, I usually tell them that they are my favorite student. Recently, I had to stop and ask myself a question. Who is my favorite student?
If you can picture a family with a few children in that family, I am sure that each child is vying to be the favorite child and the parent trying to show each child that they are all being loved equally. That is no easy feat. I should know. I always treated my students like they were also my family. I loved working with them and had hoped that the feeling was mutual. Most of the time, it was and on a few occasions, it was not. Still, they were my baby birds who were getting ready to leave the nest. My job was to prepare them.
During my many decades, I have come across many students—thousands, to be quite honest. One of them who really impressed me was one little seventh grade girl named Elizabeth.
We were in a Catholic school in Jamaica, New York. She and I had just enjoyed the creation of both the computer and the Facebook application because it allowed us to re-connect with those from times past. Elizabeth, though, was a young lady of Portuguese-descent. She was extremely bright and very social. In some cases, she was a bit too social, but I knew that she would be willing to take part in a class discussion. She was also very popular as she was easily able to make friends. Her parents were ideal. If I needed to get her additional help, her parents were willing and able to help me.
Today, she is happily married and living in Portugal. She even has a daughter who—believe it or not—looks exactly like her jovial Mommy. I often refer to her as “Little Elizabeth.” I can even see her Mommy’s smile on that munchkin’s little face.
One other thing that Elizabeth possessed is a wicked sense of humor. Nobody before or after her had her sense of humor and I enjoyed it so much.
It all started on a sunny Spring day. I was teaching her class a topic in English. I walked around the room in order to make sure each child was on task as directed. Then, it happened. Elizabeth started shaking her pen in the air as if it ran out of ink. As I approached her desk, she said,
“Mr. B, may I borrow your pen?”
“Sure,” I responded.
I reached for a pen on the top of my desk.
“Mr. B, may I use the one in your desk?”
Again, I responded, “Yes,” and proceeded to open my upper desk drawer to give her a pen. Then I saw something!!! It was red, black, long and curled up in MY desk. It was a SNAKE!
To be quite honest, before my mouth could respond, my bladder responded first. I turn and ran to my door like a teenaged girl in a horror film. Eventually, I thought that the class would quickly follow me to the door as well. That never happened. When I turned to see why I saw my whole class laughing and the leader with the biggest laugh—Elizabeth! She grabbed the snake out of my desk and repeatedly hit a student desk with it just to show me that it was a rubber snake. Her laugh was just too funny.
She pulled the greatest prank that has ever been pulled on anyone including teachers like me and got her class to join her in pranking me. They were a nice group and I really enjoyed them, too. She got me really nicely.
I did not know whether to laugh or cry, but I ended up laughing. I really wanted to give her a hug and thank her for the great laugh at my expense. I loved her for it. As you can see, it was 1983 and I never forgot it.
She was a symbol of what I considered a favorite student. There were others who did not use rubber snakes to get my attention. Many got scholarships, went to notable colleges, and even went into noble professions like law or medicine.
I remember distinctly a few months ago getting off the subway in Forest Hills as I was heading home from work one evening. Since 9/11/01, I have always made it a promise and a practice to put my hand out to shake the hands of any rescue personnel who were adequately represented at Ground Zero on that fateful day. I saw two transit police officers who were patrolling the subway station. I walked over and shook their hand. One of them hugged me. It turns out that her name was Theresa. She was a sergeant. Not only did I teach her in the same school as Elizabeth was in, but I also taught her two children as well. We chatted and again, I had to hold back a tear because I was so proud of her and proud that she did so well.
Both girls also said something that was very important to me. They said THANK YOU for they truly appreciated all that I tried to do for them. It was worth it.
I have many more favorite students out there, young people who went out, studied, worked hard and eventually made something noble of themselves. Students like Elizabeth and Theresa continue to make me proud and I hope that others follow suit. More teachers should have more students like them.
By the way, I carry my own set of pens with me and I will reach for a pen in my pocket should another student ask for one. This teacher definitely learned his lesson that day. Thanks, Elizabeth.