Today, May 8th is National Teachers’ Day. I had three teachers who helped me set the course of my life.
My 5th grade teacher at Our Lady of Angels Grammar School was Sister Patricia Michael of the Sisters of Charity. I hated this woman! She would not let me get away with anything. I sat in the back with the other dumb kids – that was considered proper seating in those days, smart kids upfront and dumb kids in the back. I enjoyed being with the idiots.
“Francis,” she would say to me. “You are not stupid. You are one of the smartest kids I know. You belong up front. If you don’t get there by the end of the term you will be in great trouble. Do you hear me, young man?”
And she had this damn thing about writing. “You can be a good writer but you are lazy. You better learn the rules before you bend them, young man.”
So my early essays for her came back coated in what looked like blood. Slowly (and surely) I learned to write a decent essay because of her falcon-like hovering over my work.
By the end of the year I was upfront with the smart kids. It was uncomfortable but what could I do? She was beating me into the submission of being smart. Damn her!
I went back some years later to tell her how much I appreciated her for what she did for me. That she was a great teacher and I wanted her to know it. She cried.
I dedicated one of my books to her.
In 6th grade I had a true poet as a teacher, Franciscan Brother Jonathan. He was very interested in my writing and he gave me a tremendous amount of advice. He wrote in my yearbook that I would be a published writer, just wait and see!
He also told me that I had a way with public speaking. He didn’t call it that; he’d say I had a way with crowds.
I dedicated one of my books to him.
And finally my 8th grade teacher and basketball coach Franciscan Brother Barnabas. We had the best 8th grade basketball team in New York City. I wrote about this in my book The Virgin Kiss.
I had backslid a moment and my grades were in the low 80’s. He told me that if I didn’t get them over 90 there would be no basketball for me. I got them up.
In basketball I had two roles; to cover the best player on the other team (I was one of three who covered Lou Alcindor – now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar – and my job was to irritate the hell out of him since I was a foot-and-a-half shorter than he was). I also had to handle the ball if the game was within 10 points at any time. We tended to defeat teams by huge scores and 10 points close to us was considered too close.
He once told me that if there were ever a problem the ball would go to me and I would take care of it. I took care of it. We went undefeated.
I dedicated a book to him.
I enjoyed my career as a teacher and what made it worthwhile was joining Facebook and discovering that I had not wasted my time in education. I appreciated those former students who told me that 33 years of my life had real meaning to them.