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Three teachers

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.

16 thoughts on “Three teachers

  1. Great to remember and appreciate those very early in life who had a positive impact.
    I wish I could do that. I hope those whom I don’t remember have a postive impact on me.

  2. My only decent elementary school teacher was Mr. Cavagnolo (Mr. C). Although a bright child, I also had pretty bad ADHD, so up until that point, most teachers saw me as a disruption to be managed in class rather than someone with promise. He recommended I joined the gifted program, which changed my life. In addition I remember he placed great focus on the class memorizing all of the states/countries of the world and their capitols. I had a natural fascination with maps anyway, but I would like to think he played a small role. It’s depressing that my daughter is around the same age I was, and knows much, much less about geography.

    Going later, I had a 10th grade English teacher – Mr. Lippman – who was very integral to my life because he taught me how to actually write an essay (introduction, thesis, supporting arguments, conclusion). I thought this skill was universal, till I was in college and had a roommate/friend (a science major) who literally had no idea how to structure an argument and just spit out facts in random order until he ran out of things to say. Helping him edit essays was…challenging…to say the least.

  3. “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).”

    Reminds me of my 4th grade science teacher. My family had moved to a new district during the closure of 1st semester, and the teacher privately gave me from school bookshelf a few animals books I was steadily reading. Some teachers genuinely care about students’ interests.

  4. Delightful stories. Thanks for sharing them.

    You’ve mentioned growing up in Oregon. I didn’t realize you did the “live somewhere else while really little while dad is in grad school” thing. I did that too, guess that’s standard with a parent in graduate or professional school when you’re young.

  5. Many of us benefited from women teachers who had limited occupational options, so that many with higher intellect went into teaching. So it’s rather sad today to see the unfortunate state of education schools, the PC indoctrination, and the low test scores of most education majors.

  6. You have to wonder if those 3 would have become teachers today. There is so much more opportunity for women now than there was in the 40’s and 50’s.

    BTW, it might be nice if you posted a brief message and link to this post on their Obit pages.

  7. Today, the chances are close to zero that you would be transferred “to another school with a special gifted class.” The educational establishment thinks it is very important to keep peers together. The program might well not even exist because “academically talented” is a near occasion of tracking, and tracking is a sin.

  8. i shared these stories in part because yes, as someone with small children, it is clear things have changed. frankly, ms. dyke’s behavior would be totally inexplicable today. one day she just realized i didn’t belong in her class, or that school, and she kept pushing and pushing my dad until he started badgering the school district. she went to the extent of telling my dad what school i should be sent to as an alternative.

  9. I see your Ms. Dyke and raise you a Mr. Queer. He was a really good high school math teacher. I was generally a history, poli sci and lit guy who managed to get an M.S. in applied mathematics after my career in mainstream journalism proved hopelessly futile (being mostly libertarian/conservative). Also got an MBA. I’d like to think Mr. Queer helped put the wind in my quantitative sails despite a youthful militant indifference to mathematics. Watching my former newspaper colleagues rake-step their way to insolvency has been its own reward and I have done OK since leaving that horrible business. But I have come to understand these idiots will always be with us and revenue, or lack of it, is not part of the economic model of mainstream media. Seriously, Mr. Queer was a good math teacher though (who had a wife and daughter).

  10. It’s really nice that you can remember your early teachers.

    Sadly for me, my early memories are fading away and I can only remember bits and pieces. I certainly cannot remember much of my middle school teachers let alone elementary school ones (I only remember few flashes, sounds, and images of those days).

    I do remember most of my high school teachers vividly, the most influential among who was the late Dr. Jack Irgang, an American history teacher. He was something of a legend at Stuyvesant High School. He was a chain-smoking, white-haired, bright blue-eyed Jew who went off to fight in the Korean War, came back, and availed himself of the educational opportunities that opened to ordinary GIs.

    He taught AP American history and was renowned for screaming at the recruiters from the Ivies – “You make my job of actually teaching my pupils difficult!” Despite the heavy odds – for Stuy was a cutthroat, hyper-competitive environment for bright, aspiring students from lower and middle class, often immigrant, families – he’d try desperately to inculcate the sheer love and joy of learning history in his students, for the sake of knowledge and wisdom it would bring, not for vocational gain and certainly not for getting into the Ivies.

    He tried to get me a job as a bartender on Martha’s Vineyard one summer (I couldn’t as I was underaged), but I appreciated his efforts to open my eyes to the world of the American elites, as well as his many history lessons.

    He was the finest of the teachers I ever knew, only equaled by a couple of professors I encountered later.

  11. Razib you are one of the lucky few that escaped unharmed from the tyranny of nice white lady teachers. Everyone knows how they have been crushing the souls of little POC boys for generations.

    You have really been strolling in the Sailer bait lately.

  12. I find your recent overlap of topics with Steve mildly humorous, and that was all I intended. The point of Steve’s posts on this particular one being the left can even find exactly the sort of “nice white lady” you are honoring here to be a menace. I am not shocked by your flare of temper as that is a part of exactly the guy I thought I was talking to. It is exactly that sense of seriousness and superiority you have that makes me find it humorous, get off your high horse. Clearly I also find your content interesting and yes actually superior or I wouldn’t keep coming back to read it.

  13. I think these stories say something very positive about the US. That 3 teachers went out of their way to help a child in what they perceived were the child’s special needs (and they could do it! because they knew how to help) is very nice and almost unheard where I live.

  14. I had a great teacher in the 4th grade, Mrs. Daughtery. She had finally recognized the reason for my classroom antics and misbehavior was boredom, and she made me an offer: I could read the World Book Encyclopedia all class day long as long as I promised to remain quiet and at my desk. I wouldn’t have to do anything else asked for the rest of the class as long as as I wanted to read the encylcopedia. I jumped on the offer, starting at page 1 of Volume 1, so excited. I didn’t finish reading all the entries to complete the full 27 volumes until late April the next year. I learned so much! And learned so much more than any of the mundane class instruction going on around me. Sometimes Mrs. Daughtery would ask me a few questions about an entry I was reading, or ask me to write a short report.

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