I hate to break it to you, but I was a terrible student.
Each day, I desperately waited for the final bell to ring so that I could be released from the confines of my stuffy, windowless classroom and run home to my guitar. It was no fault of the Fairfax County Public Schools system, mind you; it did the best it could. I was just stubbornly disengaged, impeded by a raging case of ADD and an insatiable desire to play music. Far from being a model student, I tried my best to maintain focus, but eventually left school halfway through 11th grade to follow my dreams of becoming a professional touring musician (not advised). I left behind countless missed opportunities. To this day, I’m haunted by a recurring dream that I’m back in those crowded hallways, now struggling to graduate as a 51-year-old man, and anxiously wake in a pool of my own sweat. You can take the boy out of school, but you can’t take school out of the boy! So, with me being a high-school dropout, you would imagine that the current debate surrounding the reopening of schools wouldn’t register so much as a blip on my rock-and-roll radar, right? Wrong.
My mother was a public-school teacher.
As a single mother of two, she tirelessly devoted her life to the service of others, both at home and at work. From rising before dawn to ensure that my sister and I were bathed, dressed, and fed in time to catch the bus to grading papers well into the night, long after her dinner had gone cold, she rarely had a moment to herself. All this while working multiple jobs to supplement her meager $35,000 annual salary. Bloomingdale’s, Servpro, SAT prep, GED prep—she even once coached soccer for a $400 stipend, funding our first family trip to New York City, where we stayed at the St. Regis Hotel and ordered drinks at its famous King Cole Bar so that we could fill up on the free hors d'oeuvres we otherwise could not afford. Unsurprisingly, her devoted parenting mirrored her technique as a teacher. Never one to just point at a blackboard and recite lessons for kids to mindlessly memorize, she was an engaging educator, invested in the well-being of each and every student who sat in her class. And at an average of 32 students a class, that was no small feat. She was one of those teachers who became a mentor to many, and her students remembered her long after they had graduated, often bumping into her at the grocery store and erupting into a full recitation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, like a flash mob in the produce aisle. I can’t tell you how many of her former students I’ve met over the years who offer anecdotes from my mother’s classroom. Every kid should be so lucky to have that favorite teacher, the one who changes your life for the better. She helped generations of children learn how to learn, and, like most other teachers, exhibited a selfless concern for others. Though I was never her student, she will forever be my favorite teacher.