As the end of the school year approaches, we think of graduations and moving up ceremonies. We think of parties and summer vacation plans. Take a few minutes and think about the teachers in your life.
I can remember the names of all of my elementary school teachers. My second-grade teacher, Miss Nicholas, was my favorite. She was young and had moved all the way from Wisconsin to teach at our little school in Queens. Miss Nicholas told our class that she was from Sheboygan and explained how the Native American name for her town originated. Miss Nicholas was sweet and caring. At the end of the school year, I asked my mom if we could invite Miss Nicholas to our house for a swim in the pool. She didn’t own a car, so my family picked her up for the afternoon and drove her back to the small apartment she rented near school.
Two of my teachers at Bayside High School stand out: Mrs. Goldstein and Mr. Goodman. Mrs. Goldstein taught creative writing. She sparked my imagination with every new writing assignment. Mrs. Goldstein introduced us to the “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters, a collection of 244 poems about the deceased occupants in a small town cemetery. After reading and discussing the characters presented, she asked us to create a new character and write from that person’s point of view. Exhilarating!
Mrs. Goldstein encouraged her students to think like writers. She asked us to make up pseudonyms. For one assignment, we had to look through the newspaper and choose a factual article to use as the basis for a fiction story. The stories I wrote for Mrs. Goldstein’s class gave me a chance to find inspiration in unusual places. I looked forward to reading her comments when our stories were handed back.
Mr. Goodman taught several languages including German and possibly Latin or Italian. Most importantly, Mr. Goodman was the only high school teacher in the entire New York City public school system to offer Hungarian as an elective language. I looked forward to my senior year when I could finally sit in the front row in Mr. Goodman’s class. My father’s side of the family is Hungarian, but relatives I knew did not speak the language. A pale, slim, tidy little man with a moustache, Mr. Goodman loved teaching. You could just tell by his enthusiasm every day. High school seniors signed up for this class every year just because Mr. Goodman was teaching it. Unfortunately, I had decided to graduate high school early, so I only got to enjoy the fall semester of Hungarian language class.
After starting college, I stopped by Bayside High School a couple of times to visit Mr. Goodman. Of course, that was before metal detectors and security guards in schools. Former students could just walk through the front doors and down the hallways and pop their heads into the open classroom doors. Mr. Goodman was always happy to see me and proudly introduced me to his students.
I corresponded with Mr. Goodman for years. I wrote about my first jobs in publishing and my move to Manhattan to the Hungarian neighborhood of Yorkville in the East 70s and 80s. I called Mr. Goodman for sightseeing suggestions before my first trip to Hungary.
As a creative writing teacher for more than 10 years, I have received countless cards and notes and gifts from my students. It is rewarding to know how much they appreciate my encouragement, ideas and inspiration. Thank you, Miss Nicholas. Thank you, Mrs. Goldstein. Thank you, Mr. Goodman!
Kim Kovach teaches fiction writing for adults and creative writing for children and teens. Want to be inspired? Please visit my website at kimkovachwrites.com.