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Teachers

Updated: Jul 6

When I started The Queen’s Gambit it sparked my brain to want to share some stories about the teachers I was lucky enough to have, and why I am so annoying making sure people understand certain things that are evolving now in our world (and have) at a faster pace that we can keep up with ourselves anymore.

I was not a studious student. I didn’t try all that much, or all that hard. I was there because it was where you were when you were a kid. This idea was engrained in me by my mother, family, my extended family and those who just were kind enough to help a Southie kid who they knew needed it. My head start teacher, Ms. Pat, she’s why I advocate for children to start their path of education at the earliest possible age physically and financially possible. But this is also why our country must make universal preK a thing. Learning early means you will always be able to learn. Maintaining a life of learning is both enriching and helps the world.

My first grade teacher, Ms. McCarthy was the first teacher to understand me, see me. Ms. McCarthy did not judge me-she taught me, she worked with me. She went slow, she stopped. She put in extra time energy and yes, definitely attention. I think she just loved to see kids happy, and she loved seeing us learn and thrive. I loved phonics. Phonics was my favorite. She helped make it my favorite. I believe my strong English came from Ms. McCarthy. Her focused energy on making sure I was focused, on something. I will always owe Ms. McCarthy a great debt of gratitude for her love time and yes, for her attention.

I didn’t have another good teacher until I was taken out of my primary school, the only school my family had known because it was the only one the family went to. My mother was forced to make a tough choice and put me in Gate of Heaven School. No longer in existence. This will become a theme. Once there, Gate of Heaven seemed to have nothing but good teachers. Even when I would behave in the same way I did that got me in so much trouble at my last school, they wouldn’t flex their power or try to control me in the same way my previous schools teachers had for my entire life. Putting me in solitary confinement, holding me back for no academic reason, making sure I didn’t have fun or get to participate in certain school activities. They punished me for what they perceived as ‘bad behavior’. Acting out was bad. Making people laugh, very bad. Because I was a distraction to the rest of the kids learning.

Gate of Heaven on the other hand, every teacher I ever had an issue with took it up with me personally. Rarely did these teachers get a principle involved, because these teachers (I think) liked to teach. That’s why they were good at their jobs, and like Ms. McCarthy, they took the time and actually wanted to hear any answer to any particular question. Teachers at my new school made me feel instantly comfortable. More comfortable than I ever felt at my previous school. Ironic that the lesser of two school is the ones still standing today. Gate of Heaven was a godsend for me, and for the rest of my life. My mom had great anxiety about making that decision, her feeling gives us a window about what role anxiety plays in our life. It is a sign from the universe. Something is wrong. Or something could go very right. But the universe likes action. It rewards it. Gossip, stagnation-this is equitable to death in our brains and in relation to the universe. I never had any anxiety once I was in a new school. My friend, Piro who I’m lucky enough is still have as my friend today, wasted literally no time extending empathy and understanding to a new kid at a new school. I’ll never forget the gesture. Instantly, I was ok. Uncomfortable, but ok. You know new schools are for kids. And I was able to make friends immediately, something that without his extension of friendship from him I would not have. Actually, all of my friends at my new school are still my friends today.

How lucky am I to say that.

Then came 7th grade, and another challenge. My new teacher Mr. West, he was my first male teacher outside of gym, and he immediately took extra time with me. Almost guiding me away from the volatility of how I felt. I’m not sure how he even knew how i liked computers. Maybe i told him. But he pushed into a new part of my brain, I was interested. Curious. We were building a computer, part by part, I had no idea what I was doing. But everyday, after school we would build. When I watched it, this was reminded to me in The Queens Gambit. How Mr. Shaibel took the time to teach Beth. I loved every single memory stick, and abstract lesson these days would teach me about growing up. That’s how much he cared. That’s how much he loved what he was doing. That’s how good of a teacher he was. I’ll never forget the level of care Mr. West put into making sure he got me to focus on something. Anything. Because focusing on something meant I wasn’t acting out 24/7. All of my teachers at my new school were better than all of my teachers at my old school. Ms. Mond, Mrs. Fawson, Ms. Hernandez, Mrs. McCarthy, Ms. Kroger, Mrs. McLaughlin, even the art teacher Ms. Putnam, gym teacher Mr. Borboa. Each and every one of them unique, compassionate, caring, good teachers. Good people. The principle of my new school Sr. Pat, from our first meeting I knew she was nothing like I had ever experienced before as a principle. Caring, inquisitive, thoughtful and she actually listened to me. Sr. Pat didn’t judge. She never treated me the way I was treated at my previous school. No more solitary confinement for acting out, instead they let me take 10 vocab words for this week and put them into a skit. Soon, we were using alll 20 and the entire class was doing them. This is how tremendous of a school the old Gate of Heaven in South Boston was. It is a true shame it was lost long ago, due to the reckless greed of the church. For my educational journey would’ve looked nothing like it did has it not been for that decision by my mother, enabled by Sister Pat. I have no idea where all of these people are now, I hope they are well. I hope they know just how good of a job they did, not with me, with everyone. Gate of Heaven has many graduates doing amazing and sound things, that doesn’t happen randomly. It’s because of good teachers. Every single one of you. Thank you. For absolutely everything.

I can’t write something about teachers without mentioning briefly because I’m sure I will talk about him more and more when time allows is the biggest teacher I have had of all, which is my uncle Jerry. My uncle Jerry has taught me so much that I couldn’t possibly do it justice with my fingertips. I simply would not be alive without him. Nor would my character be anywhere close to what it is, whatever that even means. Jerry has been a teacher his whole life, I think, whether he knows it or not. Everyone in his life learns from him, and hundreds of kids and now adults can credit Jerry for teaching them, something. He taught me how to stop lying, how to throw a baseball, how to play baseball, how to teach. My uncle Jerry has taught me more than any other person I know. And boy oh boy do I love baseball, thank you to my uncle Jerry. I still have this dream of visiting every park in the country, hopefully I can someday and take you. I’d be nowhere without him, and his help has helped give me a new life. I could go on and on but there are so many more teachers I should mention.

When I was off to high school it didn’t dampen the number of great teachers I met and had the insane luck of being taught by. Because as kids we either have good or bad teachers. And it’s ok, everyone is a human. We are only capable of so much. But in high school it didn’t take me and my good friend Brendan long to encounter our first good teacher. Wally Bowe greeted us before we could even enter the old Savio Prep building in East Boston. It was such a warm welcome and he was a VERY big guy. His heart though was even bigger. Mr. Bowe made us feel right at home in the midst of a lot confusion and anxiety (for me), going into high school. I will never forget just how kind he was or how thoughtful. Every interaction was meaningful with Mr. Bowe. Bowe wasn’t like this with me, or Brendan, Wally Bowe was like this with every single human being who didn’t piss him off. An absolutely A+ phenomenal teacher, an even better friend. Rest In Peace Mr. Bowe. Your heart your massive hands and that great big ol smile that touched so many lives. I will never forget your funeral, how many city blocks the line wrapped around. You were stolen too early, as too many of good and kind heart are. We remember you Mr. Bowe. He wasn’t alone at Savio, there were so many great teachers there too. Mr. Barrett and Mr. Correale stand out for me as being the best among a good group of teachers. I was lucky to have them both. Mr. Barrett was the living embodiment of Christianity. The best of it. His essence, his faith beamed from not only his teachings but how he lived his life.

Mr. Correale on the other hand was a straight up Italian from the area straight out of the Sopranos. I was an Irish kid from Southie. It’s self too explanatory how we became friends. He was East Boston. Mr. Correale’s level of expertise, not only that, but the level of care with each and every student wasn’t something that only I noticed. Everyone loves Mr. Correale. Everyone loved Mr. Barrett, for good reason. Teachers like these do not grow on trees. They deserve our respect. Our love. AND BETTER PAY. There were so many other great teachers at Savio, I couldn’t possibly list all of them, Mrs. Buccitelli, Mr. Sullivan. So many. I was only there for a year before it closed too, sadly.

But for some reason this same story continued when I went to my next high school, after Savio closed. Pope John XXIII in Everett MA had a full roster of good teachers when I got there. I was very fortunate. Mr. Skerry, Ms Higgins, Mr Jones, Mr. Weiner. Literally just to name a few. All great people, all great teachers. Was I paying attention all of the time? Nobody was. But that’s not the point of school, the point of school is to learn, to allow yourself to grow. To absorb. To let in.

Because of all of these amazing human beings I had as my teachers, and their selflessness, I was able to grow consistently. You need good teachers before you can even ever step foot in college. You need that baseline or being able to learn, without it-college will be a waste. And all of this took place before cell phones were in everyone’s hand. During high school was when they started popping up during class. So I don’t understand what social media or the internet has done to teachers lives nor how it impacts a student day to day. The iPhone came out in 10th grade. I saved up two summer checks to buy it. It was so new and something so entirely out of the world, but nobody really thought it would take off. Not like it has. Much less take over the entire world. I have no idea what this did to kids journeys or to teachers day to day lives, but I can venture to guess that it upended entirely everything. Teachers are now caught on camera having a bad day, making a mistake and their lives are ruined forever. Teachers had all of the power when I went to school but now that power seems to rest within the confines of a cell phone. I’m fortunate to have friends who are teachers so I know for a fact what they have to deal with now from parents thinking they can do their jobs better or not trusting a teacher to do their job. These were simply not issues when I was going to school. Had plenty of other issues to deal with though believe me. But I believe the entire foundation of basic respect needs to be put back together, built back brick by brick placed by each of our hands. We must stop being conveniently degraded circumstantially with the blunt use of technology. These same parents who degrade teachers vote for politicians who block meaningful gun reform legislation, so the armed border nature of dropping your kids off at school doesn’t change. Kids have to sit in fear when they are supposed to be open vessels for learning and the absorption of knowledge. We are in the midst of a deep cultural problem that must be addressed, not by watching cable news but by having conversations with people who think differently than we do. Alll of the schools I just talked about are no longer in existence. It’s infuriating. The financial crush that all too many Catholic institutions felt since the abuses and corruption and scandals of the early turn of century inflicted upon all of us Catholics. Good schools are no longer around. Good teachers, gone. Communities, shuttered. Faith, lost. So much bad (both in treatment and accountability [financial and moral]). The consequences hurt my heart when I go around and see the same thing that I was used to, just in another immigrant community because mine has been flattened both in culture and in love. These are the consequences of corruption, nothing but pain despair destitution dejectedness and narcissism. None of it was around when I was a kid, and I hope the more people see and the more people let go of the quicker the darkness will fade and our future can again be born from the light. Without all of these teachers, and many many more I have not talked about, like Mr. Lande at UMass Boston, the brightest man I’ve ever met teaching one of the most challenging things, deductive logic. It was so hard I dropped the class the first time I took it, only to retake it and pass the next semester. Prof. Lande helped me every time I came to his office, and he ended up writing my recommendation for law school, because of my grit. Without these human beings-I simply would not be writing this. Because I wouldn’t be able to. Thank you to each and every one of them, and to everyone else who I haven’t mentioned yet. You are all very important. Not just to me, to the communities that you came from and to the families that love you. Thank you.

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