When I was in grade 5, I had a great teacher: Mr. K. He would bring his Beatles records for our music classes and all the other teachers would have to close their doors as 30 5th graders bellowed Yellow Submarine or 8 Days a Week at the top of their lungs. He rewarded exuberance over style in judging dance contests. He was fond of me. And I adored him.
Our neighbourhood had a very particular tenor. It was a posh, new-money area with a smattering of ‘have-nots’, usually single mothers, not of the same religion/ethnic background of the ‘haves’. I was a latch key kid of a single mom.
Mr. K encouraged me to write stories and to enter math contests. He made me captain of one of the lunchtime baseball league’s teams and put all of my friends on my team; a dubious honour as they were all terrible. We had geography bees in addition to spelling bees and he introduced us to Krypto. When we advanced to a new reading level, we were awarded with the privilege of being an SRA marker.
And when I won the Mind Over Math contest (among the grade 5’s in the province) he gave us a geography bee. The last two people in the boys agains girls contest were me and Johnny E. Mr. K threw out the final question: “Where is Madagascar?” He knew perfectly well that I had done my animal project on the aye-aye, a lemur from Madagascar. And Johnny E.? Well, this was the furthest he’d gone in any of our class contests. I almost felt bad for him when he looked at Mr. K in bewilderment. Naturally, I was victorious. Mr. K said, “While you’re up here [at the front of the class] I want to announce that you’ve won first place among all the grade 5s in the Mind Over Math contest. Here is your prize!” and started the class in a round of applause.
He just created that moment.
It was the most generous thing anyone had ever done for me.