There was a lot of talk about teachers during the pandemic. Does anybody remember what teachers were like BEFORE coronavirus? I feel like I can’t remember much of anything from the “before times.” But I do remember Mr. Cusimano.
Mr. Cusimano, or Mr. C. as we called him, was one of my elementary school teachers in my hometown of Blacksburg, Virginia. He had a ton of energy, enough to jog around the school playground during recess. I can’t imagine doing the same if I was balancing teaching with raising a family, as he did. Mr. C. was a dedicated and creative teacher. He encouraged us, in particular, toward creative writing. We regularly wrote and illustrated our own stories about whatever we wanted. Then, when we were done, we would pick a “book cover” from Mr. C’s collection of wallpaper samples. The final step was when Mr. C cut our selected wallpaper to fit the pages of our book and stapled them together. We would then read our “published” book to the class. My mom still owns some of my treasured writings from Mr. C’s class. And, thankfully, I’m still writing and creating, which has been a great outlet in pandemic times.
Most people will say that a good teacher doesn’t just teach academics but also teaches life lessons and demonstrates care about their students’ lives. Fortunately for us, Mr. C was the embodiment of care and compassion. One time I was at my neighbor’s house across the street. It was a small gathering of our friends, and the group decided to watch the movie Ernest Scared Stupid. If anyone remembers the Ernest series, the movies were campy and lighthearted, but I was afraid to watch the movie. Then I remembered what Mr. C. told our class: you don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I got up, boldly told the others I was going home, and marched back across the street. I was proud of my decision and told my slightly bemused mom that I left because of Mr. C’s wise words. Now, looking back, I realize how incredibly important it was for him to give us that message. You don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. What an empowering thing to say to a group of kids. Think about all the things kids do because of peer pressure or because they haven’t been given language and directives for what to do when they are in an uncomfortable situation, especially if an adult is the one causing the discomfort. You don’t have to explain, you don’t have to be polite. Just leave, and if needed, tell someone you trust.
I was definitely a nerdy type of kid, a teacher’s pet who listened attentively in the classroom. I don’t know how many of my classmates actually heard Mr. C, but I did, and I’m still reaping the benefits over 20 years later.
Now, I’ve just sent my first child to kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary. I’m excited to watch him learn and grow, and I look forward in particular to hearing about all the wisdom his new teachers pass on to him. It really does take a village, and I’m so glad that our village is right here in Mt. Lebanon.