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My Turn: I’m a surrogate for students, and proud of it

As I watched the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer, I was wishing I had a dollar for every time one of those political pundits uttered the term “surrogate.”

It did, however, cause me to pause and realize that, as a teacher, I’d like to think that I’ve served the role of “student surrogate” for the past 28 years.

Was it really that long ago that I first stepped into a classroom, picked up a piece of chalk (remember chalk?) and used the blackboard (remember the blackboard?) to demonstrate how to “borrow” a number, when solving a two-digit subtraction problem? Technology? Back then it consisted of keyboarding, print shop and games like “Oregon Trail,” and “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”

Approximately 700 students have passed through my classroom since then. In fact, during a recent period of four consecutive days, I coincidentally ran into either a former student or parent. We exchanged pleasantries and I enthusiastically listened to the details of their life since moving on from fourth grade.

One student was a service adviser at a local car dealership, another a financial analyst in the city, still another an attorney, also in the city, and I’m proud to say, one student (who I believe is destined to be a terrific teacher) landed a teaching position right here on Long Island.

One thing that I find to be underrated in looking at the success of these students is the tremendous impact families have had in what these students have been able to accomplish. Unfortunately, there are also the students who never received the support they needed. I’ve read about some of their misfortunes as well and couldn’t help but wonder if some sort of early intervention could have prevented some of the difficulties these troubled students would eventually face.

There is some good news though. Last spring, Newsday featured an article that detailed a program going on in my Huntington School District aimed to help students at risk. A brother of one of my students was featured in this story. The emphasis was on how advocates for troubled students were providing them with the guidance and support they needed to gain self confidence, turn their life around and become more productive.

Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with terrific staffs and administrators who’ve provided strong leadership and so much more. They know the importance of administering nourishment to the whole child. No student goes home hungry or with soiled clothes. Their stories are inspirational and won’t be found as any part of a statistical report released by the state. A nod goes out to the weekly newspapers and Newsday for recognizing their good deeds.

Finally, on a happy note, I continue to take great pride in my occasional encounters with former students like Jess, who realized her lifelong dream when she opened up her own bake shop, or John, who appeared on David Letterman to demonstrate his invention — the beer-launching fridge. It gives me a warm feeling that these students, who once thought I was a classmate of Christopher Columbus, are doing what they love, happy to share their stories with me. My only hope is that I might have played a tiny role in their success. Here’s my dollar. Call me a “supportive surrogate.”


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