Know Thy Students

Hiawathaimage

I recently attended my elementary school reunion. That’s right – elementary school. Lest you think I’m a junkie for nostalgia, you should know that I haven’t been to any of my high school reunions. Though I was editor of the paper, played sports, performed in music groups, I reasoned that in a class of sixteen hundred I wouldn’t know enough people who attended  to make it worthwhile. No worries of this kind  for a Hiawatha reunion, especially when it was organized by two of my all-time favorite teachers, Mr. Biglin and Mr. Naso.

“You used to live next to the Auditores, didn’t you?” Mr. Naso remembered my mom was a nurse and my dad a principal. He told me he would never forget the story I wrote that won a county writing contest.  That my teacher recalled so much about me is not so much flattering as it is amazing. It’s been thirty-two years since I was in sixth grade. Meanwhile I often can’t recall students’ names months after I’ve taught them – pieces they wrote, where they sat, who their best friend was yes,  but not their names.

What makes Mr. Naso’s memory all the more impressive is that he can recite this kind of information about most of my classmates. While my girlfriend and I struggled to remember who was in our class ( Despite being good friends through junior high school, I hadn’t remembered that she was in my class), he knew not only where they lived as kids, who their brothers and sisters were, but also what they’re doing now. Mr. Biglin, my fifth grade teacher, can do the same thing.

Both men were very good teachers. I remember falling in love with the political process in Mr. Biglin’s class. It was the first presidential election I’d ever paid attention any mind. His explanation of how the system worked and passion for the process has stayed with me. Of course, this was also the year we needed to learn about hygiene – the necessity of showering daily, using deodorant, and the like. This  advice was dispensed by someone we saw as a big brother who gave us the skinny on what grown-ups do. The following year Mr. Naso demonstrated multiplying and dividing fractions over and over to me through my tears. He asked us to create our own Utopias and watched as they played out. When he wasn’t calling me a “woman’s libber”,  he applauded my every effort. But more than their adeptness at delivering material, I will always remember their kindness.

Both men encouraged me to play whatever game of ball the boys had organized at recess despite the boys’ reluctance to have me join them. I wasn’t proficient at any sport, but they knew I wasn’t welcome to gossip with the girls on the swings. When I won that short story contest as a sixth grader, Mr. Biglin came in to make a fuss over me in front of the rest of the class. Mr. Naso challenged girls in our class who were trying out for an all-star softball team when they hadn’t played as I did at recess. They saw my struggles and went out of their way to make my days just a little bit brighter.

More than wanting to reconnect with kids from the old neighborhood though I had a wonderful time doing so, it was because of these acts of kindness that I drove five hours to see them. I needed to say thank you. It turns out that they continued to teach me that night. Everyone in attendance had a similar story to tell about the two of them. I need to be more than thankful. I need to be mindful to be just as attentive to my own students. To know them and show them I care. To be the kind of teacher Mr. Biglin and Mr. Naso were for me.

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Published in: on August 22, 2009 at 8:15 pm  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Just found this entry while searching for Mr. Biglin. He was the best teacher I ever had: had him for 5th grade. He called my best friend Tina & I “Frick & Frack”. I’m about to be the maid of honor in her wedding.
    I wish I knew how to get in touch with him and thank him for all that he did for me. On Open School Night, while explaining the 5th grade curriculum, he was trying to demonstrate where he wanted the students’ writing level to be. He came to my parents, at my desk, reached in and came out with a short story I’d written about a friend from where I’d used to live. He read it out loud to the parents. “This,” he said, “is where they should all be. Eventually.”
    Now, as a college graduate about to take on a possibly dismal industry as a young playwright, I just remember him encouraging me.
    I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one.


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