Best teacher ever! That's how these Long Islanders who sent in the following emails feel about an extra-special educator in their lives:
At 26 years old, I am proud to say that I still keep in touch with my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Hert. She taught me two valuable lessons that still carry over, which are: to always remain true to yourself, and that it is OK to fall in love with a good book. Twenty years ago, I sat cross-legged on the floor of her classroom learning about new authors, such as Patricia Polacco and Tomie Depaola, as she read to us in her soft-spoken voice. In her classroom, Mrs. Hert encouraged her students to be their own individuals and to practice kindness. During my later years in elementary school, Mrs. Hert's classroom remained a safe refuge for me. Starting in third grade, I was mercilessly picked on in the cafeteria. Mrs. Hert let me spend my lunch period, instead, by helping her in the classroom. Sometimes, I used to come to her classroom in tears and she would always be there to offer a hug, words of encouragement and a new book to read. Instead of dreading lunch, each day I would look forward to the time I got to spend working with the children.
Now, I am working as an emergency medicine physician assistant. During my interactions with my patients and their family members, I try to practice with the kindness, compassion and tolerance embodied by Mrs. Hert. After my long shifts, I always look forward to listening to a book during my drive and have another one waiting for me at home on my nightstand. I consider myself one of the lucky students who had the opportunity to have Mrs. Hert as my teacher; she is now retired. The lessons she has taught me about life and learning at the age of 6 helped mold me into the person I am today.
-- Allison Mead, Farmingdale
Mr. Castellanos, Northport High School math teacher and girl's basketball coach, is one of those rare teachers who not only made an impact on students in his class or on his teams, but he also made lasting impressions on students around the building. To this day, I still stay in touch with him, and I graduated high school 23 years ago. Many people still keep in touch with him, too.
-- Todd Weinstein, East Meadow
My first-grade teacher from McVey Elementary School in East Meadow is, by far, the best teacher I have ever had. She knew how to put a smile on my face when I was missing my mom, she made learning fun and she does everything possible to put her students first. It has been about 18 years since I have been a student in her classroom. We keep in touch through Facebook and occasional lunch dates. Today, we share a love for Disney and puppies. I know that I can still go to her with any problem I may have without judgment. She always gives the best advice. She still puts a smile on my face. I love you, Miss Hackett, and I always will! Thank you for teaching me how to read.
-- Nicole Tenzer, East Meadow
When I was in elementary school, my music teacher, Ms. Stephanie Panzicka, was a huge influence on me. I remember having music twice a week and loving every minute of her class, between singing, playing instruments and music "games." She encouraged me to do NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) starting in fourth grade for piano, and fifth grade for voice. Ms. Panzicka was the first teacher to instill in me that I had a talent and that I should pursue it. In sixth grade, I was selected to participate in the All-County Chorus Festival and I remember loving every minute of rehearsals and practice time with Ms. Panzicka.
Today, I teach elementary vocal music in Maryland. I have been recreating lessons that Ms. Panzicka did with my class 10 years ago, and bringing the enjoyment that I had in her class to my students. If it wasn't for Ms. Panzicka, I don't know what I would be doing today, but I can say I probably would not have pursued music this far in my life if it weren't for her.
-- Scott Scheinson, Oceanside
I'm writing to let you know that the greatest teacher on Long Island is a part of the Timber Point Elementary School family in the East Islip school district. Anyone who has attended Timber Point, walked the halls or went to any function that has been held on the grounds there has come across Mrs. Ruland. She is the reason that I chose to go to school for education, and over the course of the past 20 years, she has influenced every person in my family.
We first met Mrs. Ruland 20 years ago, on my first day of the third grade. I was scared, as any 7-year-old is, walking into a new classroom on the first day of school. That's when we saw her, with her bright smile and cheery voice, and of course my nerves calmed instantly. She is not only fantastic at teaching, she is one of the most caring, calming and maternal teachers I've ever had in my entire student career. She was the one teacher I always went back to visit (probably more than I should have), long after I left her classroom to move on up in the educational world. Finally, five years later, I had a reason to visit her classroom.
My little brother Gregory was in her third-grade class. He had the same response as I did, and loved her as well. We both continued to visit her long after we left the halls of Timber Point and moved on to the junior high and high school. She was my inspiration for wanting to teach. She passed her passion for that career choice on to me, so naturally when I got accepted to Hofstra for teaching, she was the first teacher I told. Now I know what you're thinking: many families have the privilege of having one or more children have the same teacher, and you're right. Mrs. Ruland conquered the Frampton trifecta, however, last year when my son Shaun had her for the second grade. You would have thought I hit the lottery when I opened his school packet last July and it said he would have her as his teacher. Nothing brought me greater pleasure than walking my son into her classroom on the first day of school, and it was the first (and probably last) time I had no question of his well-being as he ventured on to a new chapter as a student. I knew he would be fine and I knew she would take wonderful care of him, just like she did for my brother and me.
Everyone has a special teacher whom they idolize as a child. I was class mother last year, and watching her interact with the students brought me right back to my childhood, making me realize she really was as amazing as I remembered. She was there the day my son made his first holy communion at St. Mary's, we have now gotten to experience the Bronx Zoo with her three times, we have seen her every year at the FTK carnival, family fun night, the Halloween Festival and any other function that East Islip holds. She is a staple in the community, an inspiration and has become, over the past 20 years, a part of our family, and there is no teacher on the Island that deserves to be recognized more than she does.
-- Keryn Frampton, East Islip
I have had many teachers who didn't "get" me and never took the time to see I could easily get lost in the system, or, as the expression goes, fall through the cracks. I entered Sachem North High School and met Carol Todaro. Ms. Todaro was a physical education teacher, dean of students and the varsity softball coach. She took the time to get to know me and tended to me in a sensitive manner. She was caring, kind and loving. The attention she gave me changed my entire life. I felt worth it, I felt as though I could be someone. I tried hard and actually wanted to succeed. While some teachers told me I wouldn't make it in college, Ms. Todaro showed me all the colleges I could get into. I had a newfound respect for teachers and a drive I never knew I had. Ms. Todaro taught me to be a fighter, to be true to myself, be proud of myself and to never give up. I took all of her valuable lessons and carried them with me into adulthood and my own teaching career. I became a physical-education teacher and coach just like my role model. I give back every day to every one of my students because I know firsthand that I can turn a child's life around with simple words of encouragement. To this day I keep in touch with Ms. Todaro, who is now an assistant principal at Sachem East High School. She taught me how to be a fighter and to never give up. She is the biggest fighter of them all -- she has battled through cancer and beat it! She made me the woman and teacher I am today and I am forever grateful.
-- Michelle Cocchiaro
My name is Amber and I am a sophomore at the University at Buffalo with a major in psychology and a minor in education. There was a teacher I had in fourth grade who I still keep in contact with, Ms. Theresa Rodriguez. On the last day of school [at Francis J. O'Neill Elementary School in Central Islip] she gave everyone her email address. I went home that same day and emailed her, thanking her for a great year I had being one of her students. We continued to email each other every few weeks updating one another on our hectic schedules. While in high school she attended some events that I led. I was very excited and happy to have seen her after all those years. I admired her so much because our fourth-grade class was not an ordinary fourth-grade class. She put our brains to the test daily! Every week we learned about a different philosopher and every week we had to memorize a poem and recite it to her. We had a spelling bee every week and constantly had projects to do. She made us memorize the map of the United States and even write a play, with props, as if we were in the time of the pilgrims. One activity I will never forget is when we had to pick a person in history, read about them and present their story. We needed to dress up as that person, and having chosen Florence Nightingale, I wore a nurse's outfit with a stethoscope and only used index cards to refer to while presenting. At that age this was so much work to handle, but looking back at it now I thank her for making my class as difficult and fun as it was! She showed me that anything is possible at any age. I'm so glad to have stayed in contact with her; she really did open my eyes to a lot in life. Thank you so much, Ms. Rodriguez!
-- Amber Alvira, Central Islip
When I entered sixth grade in 1986, I was a socially awkward 10-year-old. At an age when peer acceptance seemed to be the standard by which we lived and died, I was the girl who read too many books, knew too many right answers, wore the wrong clothes and was a klutz in phys. ed. I also was dealing with a stressful and unusual situation at home, with a father who was very ill and not working, and an overwhelmed young mother who had just re-entered the workforce to help support her husband and three little girls. It wasn't the best season of my childhood, to be sure.
But that year, I had been placed in the class that everyone knew was the best. Phil Tache had been teaching sixth grade at Brentwood's North Elementary School for more than 20 years by the time I had the great good fortune to be placed in his classroom, and he was well on his way to being legendary. His larger-than-life personality was evidenced by the volume of his voice, the amplified, violent sneezes so loud he received blessings from classes two doors down the hall, the way in which he took no nonsense from would-be troublemakers -- so much so that their grateful mothers would call him to thank him for scaring their wayward children straight.
He had a red beanbag that he would pitch right at your head if you were talking, if you were a wise guy, if you were a Mets fan or just to get your attention (it whizzed by my ear a few times, barely missing). Mr. Tache had been, for many years, the teacher you wanted to have, for better or for worse.
I was no troublemaker. I could have easily kept my nose in a book and stayed under his radar and passed uneventfully through his class [at North Elementary School in Brentwood]. But the man changed my life, and no matter how many times I try to express that to him, it has fallen short of the undying appreciation and affection with which I remember my time in his class. Realizing that I had an interest in mythology, I was enlisted to help him finish the daily crossword puzzle ("Attina! Get up here; what's the Roman name for the goddess of the hearth?"). Understanding that I was having a rough time fitting in with some of the kids in the class, he quietly encouraged my positive social interactions, both by allowing me to sit next to one of my good friends and also by letting the others see me get punished for talking too much. And knowing what I was faced with at home, he was an ally and an advocate when things were rough.
As the years went by, he moved on to teach sixth-grade humanities at North Middle School, where both my sisters were (quite deliberately) placed in his classes, so that they, too, could experience the booming voice, the high expectations and the heart that my family had come to know they would find there.
Mr. Tache is Boston-bred, a fan of the Bruins, the Patriots, the Celtics, and -- in 1986! -- the despised Red Sox. He mercilessly teased the Mets fans in the class, long after the ball got by Buckner that October. He was a product of parochial school, a fact he was both proud of and (allegedly) deeply scarred by, much to our constant amusement (especially the Halloween he arrived dressed in a full habit). His stories of the nuns who taught him were both riotously funny and terrifying to a room full of public-school kids. His family is of French descent -- he speaks French fluently and his four daughters were all graced with elegant French names.
Even now, nearly 30 years later, I remember nearly every anecdote, the inflection of every joke, every lecture. He affected me more than any educator I ever had, before or since.
As I passed through high school and college, I would visit his classroom whenever I could, and was always met with open arms, queries about mom and dad, about my education, my plans, my life. His kindness and affection were effusive, and memories of his class spurred me to major in history and pursue a career in education.
I now teach sixth-grade social studies in Roslyn. I don't have an elementary school classroom of 20-some kids; over 130 children rotate through my room in the course of a day. But when they are in my room, they are met by a teacher whose voice has been known to carry, whose jokes delight as often as they elicit groans, who scandalizes them with tales of Greek and Roman gods, but most important, who they know loves them fiercely and holds them to the highest standards.
Handwriting and grammar are important in my room. I'll know if you didn't study for a quiz. But I'll also know if you didn't study because things at home have been rough, and do everything I can to make school a place that you feel safe. I open my mouth some days, and hear his words falling out of it: ribbing the Cowboys fans in my classes, or berating a disrespectful display. The day my sister laughed and told me I had become Mr. Tache, I knew I was in the right profession.
Phillippe Tache is the gold standard by which I will always measure my effectiveness as an educator, and the finest mentor I could ever have hoped for.
-- Dianne Attina Vogel, Commack
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk about a man who was my teacher over 15 years ago. He has made such an impact on me for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in Jericho, typical suburbia on Long Island. I was not interested in attending school, to say the least. My brother, who is six years older than me, had a teacher named Mr. Zarrett when I was just a baby. For the next six years, all I ever looked forward to was having the chance to have this man be my teacher in the fifth grade as well. Finally I made it and my dream came true -- I was put into Zarrett's class [at Jackson Elementary School]. For the first time I actually enjoyed going to school. I remember being sick, having my mom tell me I needed to stay home in bed, and crying that I needed to go to school because I was horrified I would miss yet another amazing day in class. This shocked no one more than me.
Mr. Zarrett is truly a one-of-a kind type of teacher. He made everything fun and interesting. Teaching never seemed to be a job to him, or a chore, but rather something he wanted and loved to do -- which made me love to learn.
I was 9 years old when I left his fifth-grade class. I am now 25 years old, graduated from college and working in the medical field. To this day, in the beginning of June, I still go back to Jackson Elementary to see my fifth-grade teacher on his birthday. I spend hours talking to him about life, work, family and friends. He was my biggest mentor. Such an inspiration to me, literally throughout my entire life. He has two children who are his pride and joy, and he's done everything to give them a life they deserve.
I've had many teachers throughout my life. Mr. Zarrett, however, is the most memorable I've come across. When I get a bit older and have children of my own, I can only hope that they will have one teacher even half as good as Mr. Zarrett was, to inspire my children the way that he inspired me.
-- Erica Katz
Words cannot express how much pride and love I feel for you. You are my most special student from Mark Twain and now as an adult fulfilling all my dreams for you.
You make me feel that my life had value and meaning in that I could inspire you on this journey.
I will always remember your first day in class and how your little face lit up with such excitement.
all my love
This is a note I received from Sylvia Lederman-Hyland, my photography/visual media teacher. It was 37 years ago that I sat in her classroom at Mark Twain Junior High School for the Gifted and Talented.
From the moment I was introduced to photography I was hooked. I am living my dream, and this woman took me under her wing, guided me on a path that became my life that I fulfill and to this day still love.
The dedication that this teacher put in was incredible. When the dismissal bell rang her work continued for a small handful of us. Our curiosity of seeing and learning brought us to a real world of learning: attending workshops, roundtable discussions with famous photographers, museums and more. There was even a time when I won a New York State contest and was invited upstate for the finals and Mrs. Lederman-Hyland was there by my side. A fond memory was when our photography class hit the streets of Manhattan for a real-life excursion. Walking around we heard commotion and turned to witness an accident involving a horse-mounted police officer and a car. We got into action photographing the scene. The media arrived and things turned around when the Daily News focused their attention on us and in turn we were on the front page of the paper.
So many memories are always on my mind. Many years passed, college, marriage, five kids and still following my photography dream. What was missing was losing touch with Sylvia Lederman-Hyland. I always wanted to find Sylvia to tell her thanks and that I owe much of my happiness to her. We didn't have social media to help reunite back then, and I would always wonder if there would be a chance to see her. The Internet was invented and I searched, but I found nothing. Facebook entered the Internet and I thought why would a woman in her 80s be there, but it was worth a shot -- and yes, she was there! We communicated back and forth for a while as I filled her in about my life and she let me know about hers. I dedicated a photography show that I was in to her and wanted so much for her to attend. She wanted to but was living in California and battling cancer.
Time went by and she emailed me to let me know that she and her husband John (my second favorite teacher) were coming back to New York. It was time to meet. I had to and wanted to do this for most of my life.
We made plans in January 2012 to meet at a restaurant near our former school. I took the drive alone from my home on the North Fork to Coney Island in Brooklyn. Millions of thoughts ran through my mind. What will she look like? What do I say? I was so nervous but excited at the same time. I parked my car wondering if I arrived before or after her. I bravely approached the site just to find I was there first.
Peeking through the window I see a couple walking by. My heart dropped; it was Mr. and Mrs. Hyland. I was star-struck, like meeting a famous rock star. Our lunch involved reminiscing about chapters of our lives, and it was incredible. I needed to and told her how she changed my life and thanked her for being who she was.
In March I received this letter from Sylvia's husband:
To all friends and relatives,
I regret to inform you that after a long and valiant battle, my beloved Sylvia passed away this afternoon. She lost a 9-year battle (61/2 of which were metastatic), was strong to the end and only released herself to the inevitable in the last couple of days.
Many of you knew her through only a few of her spectacular talents and achievements, but she had many. To me she was the most glorious partner of almost 44 years. . . . She was so brilliant in so many areas, graduated cum laude with an MS in education. . . . That did not mean she forsook her first love. She was an exhibited photographer in Mexico City and the Catskill Center for Photography, an executive and exhibitor with the Photographer's Forum (successor to the Photo League) and artist of no small measure, unknown perhaps because she never chose to exhibit and would never consider selling any of her works.
She was so proud of all her students and believed that they all could succeed at art.
As for myself, there is no one that I would ever rather be with for anything. We were true partners and, as most of you know, inseparable. All who knew her will be diminished by her loss; however, she would not want you to be diminished by anything but to strive on and use whatever you have gleaned from her life and journey to empower, embolden and uplift yourself to achieve that remarkable life that is within your grasp. She lived life to the fullest, on her own terms and made the best of what was proffered her or thrust upon her, and I believe we can all learn from that. Sylvia will be missed.
Thank you for loving her,
I'm glad that I had the honor in meeting my favorite teach, Sylvia Lederman-Hyland, and the memories will always be on my mind.
-- Randee Daddona, Greenport
Whenever I see a flock of birds burst at once from the branches of a tree, I think of someone throwing black pepper into the sky.
My fourth grade teacher made that metaphor once in a poem she wrote, and I remember the day she read it to us. That one line within the poem taught her rapt audience of 10-year-olds they could paint a picture with words. She read from her Writer’s Notebook. She gave one to each of us. They came in all different shapes and sizes and I remember feeling as though she’d spent her entire summer -- if not much longer -- scouring the earth for just the right notebooks for just the right kids.
Everyday we wrote and everyday we were welcomed to read what we had written. She encouraged us to find our voices. Surrounded by my peers and all of our words, I learned what a good sentence sounded like but also how different and unique they could be. I learned to be observant, to be funny, to be poignant, to be patient.
Jackie Reyling -- she was Jackie Skarupski then and teaching at Miller Avenue Elementary School in Shoreham -- showed me what it meant to be a writer and today I am one. I can only hope one day I’ll impact someone the way she did me.
-- Erin Geismar