Wendell: Caps off to this year’s grad class and teachers
As we hurtle into June I want to offer congratulations to all graduating students of the Class of 2022. The past few years have been unlike any other years and you will have plenty of stories to tell years from now.
And what a badge of honor – to complete so much of your work from home, under duress and all kinds of stress; not only are congratulations in order, you deserve a hearty well done!
And thank you to all the teachers that stuck with it, especially in those early days as the bugs were being ironed out. Thank you for being there for these students during these difficult times.
It’s amazing how the names of your teachers stick with you. Someday I’ll be a very old man, but if someone were to ask I would be able to rattle off their names as if they were lifelong friends instead of grade school teachers that I haven’t laid eyes on in decades.
Epstein, Vogel, Werber, Beckerman, Linser and Roth…my grade school teachers from first through sixth grade at P.S. 60.
Epstein, Vogel, Werber, Beckerman, Linser and Roth. Their names come as easily to me as the everyday lineup of the 1986 Mets. The memories of those six ladies, my first teachers, are still with me more than 40 years later.
Miss Epstein was my first grade teacher, and the way I remember it she was a kind old lady who taught us how to sing “Do Re Mi.” But when I look at our class picture, she couldn’t have been more than 30 at the time.
But to a six year old, 30 seems really old. And to a scared little kid who didn’t want to leave home, Miss Epstein taught me that school was a fun place to be.
Miss Vogel was my first crush. She wore mini-skirts and had long black hair. She was the teacher that said I needed “extra work writing original sentences and compositions.” As a result, my parents encouraged me to write every day; what started as an exercise turned into a career.
Miss Werber frightened me. I always seemed to be on the wrong side of discipline in third grade. Every time I acted up, Miss Werber was there to scold me. If she taught me one lesson, it was that there are consequences for your actions, especially when you get caught sticking paste in a classmate’s hair.
Miss Beckerman introduced me to an entirely different world when she encouraged me to expand my reading. At her recommendation, I bought my very first “non-children’s” book through the Scholastic Books program, a World War II novel called “The Survivor” by Robb White.
Children’s books never interested me again, and I now own thousands of paperbacks. Over 45 years later, that first book is still in my collection.
Miss Linser helped me learn math. Up until fifth Grade, mathematics was a dirty word to me. Math lessons frightened me.
She took the time, keeping me and a few other kids after school, and took all of the fear out of math. To this day when I have to multiply something, I can hear Miss Linser doing the “times table.”
And then there was Miss Eleanor Roth. We had moved away from Woodhaven in the middle of sixth grade when I was 11, and I didn’t handle the move well.
I was lonely in my new neighborhood and I felt scared and alone, and as a result my work suffered.
They let me finish out the year at P.S. 60 even though I had to be dropped off and picked up every day. In the afternoons, Miss Roth sat with me on a bench in the playground. She didn’t have to; I was old enough to wait on my own. But she did it to be kind.
And on that bench she would just talk to me. Not so much about school, but about the things I liked to do, such as reading and drawing and playing baseball.
And so she ended my education at P.S. 60 by tying up all the other lessons I learned there. And when I left P.S. 60 for the last time, on Graduation Day in June 1976, I never saw the inside of that building, nor Miss Roth, again.
But they are all still with me. Epstein, Vogel, Werber, Beckerman, Linser and Roth. It may be overdue, and in some cases too late, but I want to let them know that they made a difference. The lessons they taught a little boy over nearly half a century later are still paying dividends, and for that I am forever grateful.