In my life there have been many great teachers. But three were very influential early on, when I was new to this country, and had spent more of my life in Bangladesh than the United States. Today my wife suggested I look up these teachers, because likely their obituaries would be out there. I had always remembered these teachers as very old. Well, they weren’t that old…
My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Vanderwarker. When I arrived in her class I was not a fluent English speaker. My intake standardized test placed me in the bottom 5th percent. But by the end of the year, Mrs. Vanderwarker told my parents I had scored in the top 95 percent! She seemed quite proud of me, and I remember she seemed to enjoy talking to my father, a graduate student at the time.
The school I attended for my first 3.3 years in the United States served a mostly underprivileged group of students. To my surprise, Mary W. Vanderwarker seems to have been a quite privileged person, with a private university education, and a life that included ski chalets in Vermont and regular travel. She danced with John F. Kennedy, and turned down a scholarship to attend Georgetown for graduate school. Wow.
Mary Vanderwarker is also why I am called “Razib” and not “Rajib.” She never could say it right.
In first grade I had Mrs. Schuster. Though I was 99% fluent in English by first grade, I still have some issues with “home words.” Mrs. Schuster called my dad in, and gave me a pile of books to read. The main thing I recall is that they involved a young blonde girl who went to the country to visit her relatives. I remember chosing some books about whales and planets in kindergarten…so I think Mrs. Schuster was on the right track about where I might have gaps. I recall thinking Mrs. Schuster was incredibly old. Turns out Bertha Schuster was only in her early 60s.
Finally, there is Ms. Dyke. She was a weird character…her sisters would always visit the class. And they would talk about their crazy family. Ms. Dyke saw something special in me. She started exempting me from regular work, and assigning special enriching material. Finally she got frustrated, and started harassing my father. She kept calling him at his office, until he finally returned her calls. When my father came in Ms. Dyke told him that I needed to transfer to another school with a gifted track (“academically talented,” or a.t.). It was late November, so a strange time for a transfer, and it was a pain for my father to arrange. But Ms. Dyke was adamant. She said it had to be done, sooner rather than later. After talking to the superintendent, it was done, and I was off to the new school.
Ms. Dyke decided to basically steal a bunch of dictionaries and give them to me as a going-away present (she knew I liked the ones with language family maps).
Angela Dyke died in 2013.