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Apodaca: Thank you, Mom

May 04, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, which begins Monday, andMother's Daynext Sunday, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share the story of the greatest teacher I've ever known: my mom.

Gentle, humble and delicate, Mom nevertheless taught her fifth-grade students with a quiet passion, fortitude and dignity that commanded respect. She could quiet a class of unruly 11-year-olds with a mere lift of her hand, and inspire them to dig deep to find their better selves.

Mom employed modern, progressive teaching methods long before they had a name. Differentiation? She figured that out decades ago. She believed fiercely in the intrinsic value of education, not for resume-building or future monetary rewards, but because of the richness of thoughts, ideas and purpose that an educated mind could achieve.

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And Mom never gave up on a child. The bright, fidgety kids, the troubled souls and the underachievers — they all had a place in her classroom. She'd call them her darlings — or "Dahlings," in her Brooklynese accent, as in "Dahlings, I need you to pay attention." Miraculously, they did.

When students had problems, Mom was there to help. I recall when one kid in her class injured his hands. He couldn't dress himself for school, much less write, and his single mother worked long hours. So for the next several weeks, Mom delivered schoolwork to his house, and spent countless hours helping him keep pace.

Mom infused my childhood with her passion for learning. Every week, without fail, she took me to the public library to choose a new book. At home we'd sit quietly together, she in her favorite chair, to read and discuss literature.

"Don't worry about me, Dahling. As long as I have a good book, I'll be happy," she'd always say.

When I was young, I confess, I didn't always appreciate her as I should have. She was an intelligent, educated woman, I thought. She could have done anything, and she chose to be a suburban housewife and an elementary school teacher? How disappointingly pedestrian, I secretly believed.

How utterly wrong I was. How badly I undervalued my mother's extraordinary legacy.

Mom grew up in New York City. A sheltered, bookish only child, she suffered a host of ailments that nearly took her life more than once. When she was a girl, she lost most of her jaw to disease, and had to endure a painful reconstruction and learn to speak again.

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