Where I am Today
By Karen Lockinger Greenberg
The crowd was cheering all around me. Our team had scored another touchdown. Yet, in my mind the world had stopped. I heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing. Nothing, that is, except, “Oh my god, it is really him. I can’t believe it is him.”
My life changed completely on a November night in year 2007. You could say it was fate. You could say it was destiny. I say I was simply in the right place at the right time. Perhaps the stars were lined up in just the right order. Or, perhaps I just needed the push I got that night.
As Mr. Larry Langstaff climbed the bleacher steps there was no way he could have known that I had been thinking about him for the past 15 years. There was no way he could have known he had been one of the largest inspirations in my life. He was about to find out.
My heart was pounding as the man who had changed my life once before and was about to change my life again continued to walk toward me. There is no way he is going to sit here, I thought. That would just be too cool.Cool things don’t happen to me. Mr. Langstaff and his wife took seats directly behind me. Yes, cool things do, in fact, happen to me. I believe this night was the first of many cool events.
Pretending I wasn’t excited to see Mr. Langstaff made me crazy. In reality I was jumping out of my skin. I turned to my friend who had invited me to the Homecoming football game and whispered, “Marge, do you know who that is? The guy who just sat behind us?”
Although old enough to be my mother, Marge was one of my closest friends. She had traveled my hills and valleys as a teenager and young adult, right beside me. If anyone outside my family knew my secrets and fears, hopes and joys, it was Marge. “No,” she replied, “But if you don’t turn around and say hello I’m going to throw you off the bleachers. You are driving me crazy with your shaking leg.”
I swallowed, knowing Marge was right. I just needed to do it before I lost my chance. I swallowed again and cleared my throat. I felt like a freshman boy about to ask a senior girl to the Homecoming dance. My palms were sweating, and I felt like I was going to throw up. Okay, I thought, this is it.
“Hi, Mr. Langstaff,” I said as casually as I could. “How are you?”
“Hi. I thought I recognized you. I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.”
What? He doesn’t remember my name? He was like an idol to me. I thought we had a connection back then.“Karen. Karen Greenberg. It was Lockinger back when I was in Junior High, though. I had you for 7th and 8thgrade science. I took Thematic Science with you when I was in 9th grade, too.”
“Yes, I remember. I’m sorry I forgot your name. You and Matt used to sit in the back corner with Adam. That was a great class. It was the only year I taught that freshman class. It was a lot of fun.”
So he did remember. How great was that! “Mr. Langstaff, there is something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. You really changed my life when I was in Junior High. You are still the teacher I most remember. I would have been a completely different person without you. Thank you.”
There were tears in my eyes as I said those words, and the smile on Mr. Langstaff’s face was priceless. I could tell he was pleased to hear that he had made a difference in the life of a young person. After all, most instructors go into the field hoping to touch the lives of their students in one way or another.
“Thank you,” he said again. “I appreciate that. What are you up to now days?”
Right then I made a decision I had been putting on hold for more than ten years. “Oh, right now I am a stay-at-home mom, a wife, and I help my husband with his landscape maintenance company. I am thinking about going back to school to get my teaching degree.”
“Wonderful. Good luck with that. You will make a great teacher,” Mr. Langstaff said. Although his words were casual, my heart soared. Me, a teacher. A dream come true with just a little push.
As I prepare to graduate in the next year, I know I owe this life change to a man I first met when I was 12 years old. What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a teacher- one like Mr. Larry Langstaff. I am where I am today because of a few kind words and a smile I will never forget. I am here today because a teacher is never off-duty. Mr. Langstaff was an inspiration. I can only hope I will have an impact on the life of a student as strongly as he did.
***** Update: May 1, 2011 *****
As I read this piece I thought it was strange how I had written this as if my former teacher, Mr. Langstaff, were a rock star coming up the bleacher steps. In many ways, he is. Students love the man, and he really is a talented person. Even back in junior high school I knew Mr. Langstaff was there because he had a passion for teaching.
That same passion has been passed down to me. I completed my student teaching, the last portion of my elementary education degree on November 5, 2010. I couldn't hold back the tears from the moment my day at school started. In the morning I thanked my mentor teacher in a letter I had written the night before. I had to walk out of the room, because I couldn't watch him read my heart-felt words. Saying good-bye has never been one of my strengths, and that was a day I was saying good-bye to something more than a classroom full of children I had become extremely attached to and a mentor teacher who I will never forget. I was saying good-bye to the past, to the frightened woman who was almost afraid of success. I would emerge from the classroom, at the end of that day, a "real teacher" ready to take on the world.
On November 18, 2010 I was granted my teaching certificate by the State of Arizona. Ironically, the process of becoming certified is extremely cold and impersonal. No confetti and streamers fell from the ceiling like I had envisioned; there was not even a "Congratulations!" from the man who handed me the piece of paper proving I was now an elementary education professional. I took the paper and walked to my car alone. My family did celebrate later, but the process itself was somewhat anti-climatic.
Since becoming certified I have spent a lot of time in the classroom as a substitute teacher. I can tell that my calling was not to be a sub, but we all need to start somewhere. The most fun I had was when I got to sub for my student teaching class. (Thank you for always requesting me, Mr. Hodges!) That is one group of students who I will always be with me. One day I hope one of them will look back and say, "I remember Mrs. Greenberg. She was so excited about teaching..."