Teaching life’s lessons
Like most kids, I grew up thinking my mom was … well, my mom. I didn’t really consider her life outside of being my caretaker and fulfiller of my every need. The fact that she was a single mom at age 36, raising four kids on a teacher’s salary, was inconsequential as long as I could still have a new dress for prom. I was a typically self-centered teen and figured if my mom worked, it was simply to put food on the table and buy me stuff.
Talk about missing the mark. Turns out, she worked because she loved it.
My mom worked for Rocky Lopez, who, on her first day of teaching in junior high, called her a foul name and she hauled off and slapped him. He apologized, she (miraculously) kept her job, and they were best friends after that.
She worked for Traci, who wowed the crowd at a debate championship and credited her teacher with making it all happen.
She worked for Pinkie, the high school misfit who found her place on the stage, and for Steve, who nearly flunked the eighth grade but graduated four years later as the valedictorian headed for MIT. For James, who was a genius but couldn’t get the girls ” until college, where he wrote his favorite teacher to tell of his success in both arenas.
She worked for Dennis, a star student, whose parents invited her to his wedding when he married young, and to his funeral when he died of cancer a year later.
She worked for Rod and for Lisa and for Jenny, whose parents committed unimaginable crimes and they found a safe place in her classroom.
She worked for 14-year-old Jeremy, whose parents left him alone at Christmas while they went on a cruise and so he unwrapped presents with his teacher in her home instead. For Drake, who had no one to celebrate Easter with, so joined hands around the table with our family. And she worked for Gail, who needed a safe haven from a difficult home and found it in ours.
She taught hundreds of students who were already on their way to great things. But the ones she really touched were the students who had no idea of their potential and because of her, went on to do great things.
My mom taught English, but she also taught something more. To her students, she was on stage, larger than life; expounding on literature and grammar, yes; but more importantly on the philosophies and values of life. Some 6,000 lucky students sat in her classroom over the years, but each fall she would behold her hormone-riddled audience and light up all over again, as though someone had just plugged her into a light socket.
Little did she know her own four children were watching her every move. Listening. Learning. Absorbing. It was impossible to watch her teach for 40 years and not learn a little ourselves.
If I’ve ever reached out to help others, it’s because of her. If I’ve shown passion for education and a love of learning, it’s because of her. If I’ve loved my kids harder than thunder can bump a stump … it’s because of her.
Teachers, like moms, make a profound difference in the lives of kids. I’ve been lucky enough to have the best of both for 41 years.
Happy Retirement, Mom!
And a huge thank-you to all the teachers who make such a difference in the lives of our kids! Charla Belinski teaches the positive parenting course Redirecting Children’s Behavior and writes from her home in Snowmass Village.
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