Teacher’s Pets

Over the past twenty-eight years, the number of students I’ve taught would literally fill an arena. Since I’m not cut out to be a rock star or athlete, it’s wonderful that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to teach thousands of students English; I’ve been passionate about it ever since I was in sixth grade, when I was devouring SRA reading cards while the other kids did their math or fooled around.

One of the most rewarding things about my teaching career is that I’ve been fortunate to teach and tutor so many students. Over the years, a conservative number of students (both in-class and in tutoring sessions) is 5,600. (That’s 200 students a school year times 28). Let me introduce you to several of my very special tutorees:

First and foremost, Kevin D. has been my charge for the past four years. When I met Kevin in 2016, he was a slight seventh grader with a quiet, polite demeanor. Newly arrived from China with his lovely parents, he needed to strengthen his English skills so he could do well on his state ELA test and, of course, in his English class. Week after week, Kevin amazed me with his intelligence, diligence, and most of all, his kindness. He is literally the kindest student I’ve ever had in 28 years, and I’ve had some very, very nice students. He never has a bad word, a bad mood, or a bad day. He is relentlessly optimistic, polite, and very, very smart. What a joy it’s been spending so many hours with him, watching him not only grow in his command of reading and writing and eventually prepare for his SATs, but seeing him literally grow from a small seventh-grade boy to a tall eleventh-grade young man. I have no doubt he’ll ace his SATs. The quarantine interrupted our weekly tutoring sessions in March, but his lovely, sweet mother Maria has texted me throughout the Covid-19 crisis to say he’s doing well. I’m sure Harvard, Yale, and Stanford will be among his top college picks, and I have utmost confidence they’ll pick him as well.

Sara D. is an 11-year-old dynamo who’s on track to be the next Wimbledon champion. Because of her tennis training, she needed a tutor to homeschool her in English. I was extremely fortunate to receive a call from her dad, and we set up a daily schedule that was perfect for us both. I would tutor her on my way home from teaching my classes at Farmingdale State College. Tutoring Sara was a dream. She, too, is respectful, kind, and has a mind that’s as lightning fast as her tennis volley. She has the maturity of someone twice her age, but she’s also a fun, down-to-earth, and super sweet girl who’s a teacher’s dream. I’m so proud to know her, and I’m sure that before too long she’ll be wowing the crowds at Wimbledon. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, my time with Sara was cut short, but I’m looking forward to working with her again this fall.

Stephanie R. is 30 years old now. Perhaps she’s a mom and a teacher herself. I tutored her when she was in third grade and her mom was working two jobs to support Stephanie and her brother Fred. Her mom was a very sweet, trusting soul, and during the hours I spent with Stephanie I was touched by her mother’s boundless love and sacrifice for her children and her willingness to entrust me with Stephanie’s care while she worked. I would meet Stephanie at 3:30 in her apartment every Wednesday. Stephanie was always smiling, and she always called me “Miss Honi,” even though I told her that Honi would do fine. I was so proud of Stephanie’s steady growth and command of English skills; she, too, was very mature for a girl of just eight years old. Then Stephanie suddenly moved, I didn’t hear from her or her mother for several years, and I had no way to get in touch with them.

One day, I ran into Stephanie in the library in Astoria when she was around 15, and I was so surprised and happy to see her I was literally dumbstruck. She recognized me, smiled, and we spoke for a bit, and I was awed by her poise and intelligence. She was as polite and lovely as always, and though I haven’t seen her since, whenever I think of her I can’t help but get teary-eyed that the sweet little girl whose mother spoke limited English and worked so hard is now a grown woman with whom I’ve lost touch. I would be thrilled to hear from her should she ever come across my post. Stephanie, sweetheart, if you’re out there, know I’m thinking of you and the impact you had on me. I hope I had an impact on you as well.

There are so many other students who’ve moved me whether I’ve taught them as a middle school teacher, a professor, or a tutor, who’ve inspired me to give them my best as I try to inspire the same in them. I’m thankful to the many schools and colleges I’ve worked at for the opportunities I’ve had. I’m also grateful to the many parents of my tutorees for entrusting me with their children’s education.

What a privilege it’s been to be welcomed into their home week after week, to watch their kids improve their reading and writing skills and, in many cases, gain mastery over the SAT and ACT exams. I wonder if those children and their parents realize how much they’ve taught me not only about teaching, but about sacrifice, dedication, and love. Those lessons would fill many arenas.

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