I cried a lot this weekend.
I thought of those 20 beautiful, innocent children. So full of promise, just getting started in the wonderment of life.
I thought of the 6 teachers and staff members. Giving the ultimate sacrifice to do whatever they could to protect their students.
And I saw the pictures of Vicky Soto.
And that brought a rush of memories about my favorite teachers...
Leonia, New Jersey, is a quiet suburban town near New York City. Small, about one and a half square miles. Population less than 9,000. Nothing remarkable about it, other than it was my home from ages 8 to 26.
Of course, there was nothing remarkable about Newtown either.
My 6th Grade teacher was Julie Helmis. She was beautiful, vibrant, always smiling. She was one of the very few teachers whose class I genuinely looked forward to attending every single day. She made me want to become a better student, even a better person. I had a total crush on her; most of the boys in our class did. But I adored her not just for her looks, but for her personality, intelligence and charm. She helped me understand not to look at women as objects, but as people. A valuable lesson for a 12-year old on the cusp of puberty. She's a role model.
I'll bet Vicky Soto was that kind of teacher.
Tim Cullen was my teacher at various times throughout High School. Mostly History, some Economics. He was also a big sports fan, and was the referee at many of our local sporting events. Mr. Cullen was tough, but fair. He was short and bespectacled, but always a commanding presence. He'd speak to you as if you were an adult, as if your opinions and thoughts mattered as much as his own. He made you want to work your ass off for him. He's a role model. He reminds me of my Mom, in the best sense.
James "Jim" Avidon taught English in High School. He had a genuine ease in the classroom, inviting, funny in a droll way. But what was even better was that he led the Drama department. Thanks to his encouragement and faith in me, I got to play a Grandpa in "You Can't Take It With You", a Reverend in "The Crucible", an Inn-Keeper in "Fiddler On The Roof" and a jackass of all trades, Bottom, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Loved it. Mr. Avidon taught me to let go, be more self-confident. He was serious when he needed to be, but was never afraid to poke fun at himself. He's a role model. He reminds me of my Dad, in the best sense.
I don't mean to speak of Mrs. Helmis, Mr. Cullen and Mr. Avidon in the past tense. Although I unfortunately haven't kept in touch with any of them, I believe that at least two of them are still teaching, nearly three decades later. Mrs. Helmis in Oradell, another Northern New Jersey suburb. Mr. Cullen, I think, is still teaching in Leonia, bless him. I'm not sure about Mr. Avidon.
If anyone reading this diary happens to know any of these teachers, please let me know, or at least forward this tribute to them. I'd very much like them to know the positive difference they made in my life.
So. Show some love. Who are YOUR favorite teachers?