(Node your homework for English Composition 2: Write a descriptive essay about a person that changed your life.)
When I was in the fourth grade, for the first time in my life, I had a male teacher. The novelty of this was not the only thing that affected me: for the first time I felt validated as a boy who wanted to learn. Not just to learn but to pursue knowledge as more than just an "interest" or "hobby". This teacher's name was Lee Redmond.
Mr. Redmond was a rather short man in hindsight -- at the time he seemed tall enough. He was Italian in descent with a short, well-groomed beard, dark hair and an open demeanor. He did have the capacity for discipline and even anger as we pupils would find out from chattering. In our elementary school the homeroom teacher taught us for most subjects, but I had a more advanced math teacher (as usual, a woman) and a "gifted" teacher (a Ms. Shirkey). He would remain my only male teacher until junior high.
Due to my exposure to this man in fourth grade I chose to become a TOT (a school volunteer position for Teachers of Tomorrow) rather than a "Patrol" (a crossing guard). I was chastised for this as it violated gender roles in our elementary school. It was weird for a girl to want to be a patrol, but it was unheard of for a boy to be a TOT. Even the insignia were clearly biased with a hard hat, reflective belt and white uniform for patrols and a green cloth sash with "T O T" embroidered across the front for TOTs. I defied the taunts and unabashedly wore that green sash every afternoon because Mr. Redmond had shown that it was okay. I thought that since I was already ostracized for being a nerd this extra embarrassment wouldn't alter my social standing. In the end I could always rationalize that hanging around indoors with the girls was better than standing outside in the heat or rain.
In the fifth grade as a TOT I was assigned to Mr. Redmond to help out his class in the afternoons. For the last twenty minutes of the school day, and for half an hour after school we (TOTs) would function as teachers' aides. I would help pass out papers and help the younger children with homework questions or tutor them. After school let out and the other kids went home I would stay after with Mr. Redmond and help grade papers, straighten up the desks and supplies and wash the blackboards and erasers. We used to talk to each other about the day or extra study (like what I'd seen on Nova or in a magazine), or sometimes about his search for his roots. I found that I really looked forward to the end of the day and especially helping the younger children with their school work. I still think I might want to be a teacher today.
I found out a few years later, after moving on to highschool, that Mr. Redmond had found a brother (or half brother) that he didn't know he had. After their reunification and some more combined research they had found out that neither of them were really "Redmonds" -- that this was a last name conferred upon their ancestry at Ellis Island. Both he and his brother changed their last name to Palazzio as their family had been known in Italy.
Despite this he will always be Mr. Redmond to me, a man that showed me it was possible and acceptable to choose for myself what I could become. While my father showed me it was okay to be smart, Mr. Redmond showed me it was okay to break the mold. With this minor epiphany I went on through school to embrace my nerdy pursuits (science fairs, Scholar Bowl, computer club, programming, science-fiction and the like). I think it has helped me to be more progressive, more open-minded, more curious, more literate and informed, and more critical of my, and other's, role in society and our shared culture.
(Epilogue: I don't mean to sound snobbish at all. Also, in this age of 'sexual awareness' I have come to believe that Mr. Redmond may have been gay.)
(Originally written in class on September 23, 2004. With the caveat that this was a 'cold writing', I did receive an A on the pre-Evertything2 version of this essay.)