To Nachena and Zerah, because they do not have to, but they show up every Friday, or Saturday.
Still to all my nipi/e, they are pure joy and inspiration. And to my incredible family, for letting me go while holding me close.
To all my students, what I learn from you is so much more than what I could possibly share.
My second-grade teacher died of COVID more than a year ago. She was also a distant family cousin/aunt in a small town, so my Mother had told me she was in the hospital and unfortunately the news did not come as a surprise. It still made me cry, and immediately regret not telling her how much she meant to me, how much her care and attention and blatant yet discreet favoritism transformed me into the best student I could be.
Being in her class was no accident. My Grandmother was a beloved teachers’ teacher, who knew her colleagues and the system. Because of my health issues, my Grandmother made sure I was assigned to that class, because she was a relative, one she knew and trusted. In my imagination, Maestra Ada (my Grandma) walked into a meeting Beyonce-like-wind-blowing-through-her-hair, and demanded my special placement. Her colleagues obliged.
Nepotism comes from the same word as niece and nephew, so really it was meant to be, as we had a familial relation. My teacher looked out for me, shared semi-subtle caring looks, supervised me from afar while giving me the illusion that I was on my own while playing with my classmates. Of course she was also a great teacher in the academic sense, but really that was not the point.
Years later, all the way until the last time I saw her (I do not know when), my teacher would dart for me any time I ran into her in the streets of my hometown, yelling “La mia Alessandra” (and eventually “Il mio Joshua”) lightly pinching my cheeks as if I was still 7.
To be sure, she was a great teacher to all her pupils, so just in case I am becoming obnoxious (too late) with the stories of lavish attention, the lesson from her unapologetic care is that she knew how to show it and why it mattered. Looking back at my second-grade memories, I realize that her caring gaze was indeed on me, but also on everyone else, at perfectly timed-intervals, so we all thought we were special.
Reflecting on her as a second-grade teacher comes at a time when teachers have been tested, challenged, and overworked in ways that amplify the difficulties of their incredibly hard work, but also the joys and opportunities for care. I know and have seen the same special care from local teachers who visit their pupils’ homes, deliver lesson plans to tutors, text at all hours to make arrangements, and show up again and again in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, literally at times risking their lives-even if not by choice.
What my teacher did for me in second-grade prepared me for a life of learning, and for my stumbling into teaching. Having teachers such as her, my Grandma, and all those who show up and make each student feel special should not be accidental. They operated in a non-perfect but small public school district where every student got attention, all faculty had a schedule that promoted work-life balance, a solid retirement plan, healthcare, and the support of colleagues that would speak up for each other and for their students.
When I look back at my teacher’s ability to give her best self to me and her students, I see the system that supported her and I cannot help comparing those idyllic times to the reality of teaching during this pandemic, and I appreciate my teacher and all teachers even more. I also reflect on how far we are from a system where students do not risk disappearing, not having a teacher who looks out for them or, even worst, sees exactly what students need, but operates in a system unable to provide equitable access to education.
So, yes this is a reminder to thank y/our teachers, especially before it is literally too late. But please hold the apples-thank y/our teachers by advocating for a system that allows them to show up in the classroom and make every student feel special.
It is not favoritism, it is simply great, intentional teaching.
This pandemic has made us all into students. We had to learn first about ourselves, but also about issues made visible because of the stopping of pattens and systems of movements that made it at times easy to be complacent: inequalities in access to health care, education, employment, as well as systemic racism, policy brutality, political insurrections, with nowhere to go. Entire nations and people had to look directly into what the pandemic revealed without looking away.
The discomfort and suffering of some became a lesson of resilience for all. We all had to feel a bit closer, sometimes because we literally were stuck in the same place, but even and especially when far away. We had to feel before we could see, sense before we could solve, empathize before we could engage. We had to stop and be students.
Grazie Maestra Marisa, e grazie a tutte le mie maestre: Marisa 2, Maestra Santini, Dott.ssa Sannino, Dott.ssa Bruno, Mrs. Mozart, Madame Aprea, Frau G, Dr. Sbragia, Nonna Ada, Mamma, Mariarosa, Clotilde, Stefania, Natalie, Andreina, Daniela, Luciana, Nonno Renzo, Zia Franca, Jenny, Laura, Geraldine, Marina, Elena, Walter, Elena, Lillian, Beverly, Janet, Robyn, Nonna Judy, Micaela, Mimina, Daniela 2, Vici, Nonna Camilla, Zia Nella, Mariagrazia, e A1, 3J, NDJ2M, KA, R, and many more throughout the years. I am and forever will be your student.
Grazie also to the same people from Rhetoric in Everyday Life.
This book, as a companion to Rhetoric in Everyday Life, which we dedicated to teachers, is for students. It is for students who are ready and open to feeling rhetoric, not to fear it as strategy or overcome it as problematic, but as the ability to move, maybe move us a little closer together.