Reconnecting After Forty Years

I recently celebrated one of those birthdays ending in a zero and was rummaging through some old photos, school records, etc., when I came upon my fourth grade class picture (the actual photo is displayed above the title for those of you who can’t get enough 60s era fashion and hairstyles).

This was one of my favorite school years, in no small part because the young lady in the upper left of the picture was one of the finest and most inspiring teachers I ever had. I began to wonder: ”Wouldn’t it be nice if I could let her know that, after forty years, I still remember and appreciate her guidance?” I quickly assessed my chances at slim to none (I knew her only by her maiden name and I had no idea what she did or where she lived after 1970). But in the age of the internet, some amazing things are possible.

One factor working in my favor is that she had a fairly unusual first name, which I happened to remember. One hour of “google-sleuthing” later and I was about 80% confident I’d tracked down my teacher along with her email address, to which I sent the following note:

Dear Dr. Davis,
As a boy growing up in Livingston, NJ, I was inspired by a young teacher named Genevieve LaRusso. I was fortunate to have had this teacher twice, once in fourth grade and then again in sixth grade (at Collins School in the early 70s). Recognizing my interest in math, she took the time to expose me to some special advanced material. She also enlisted my help tutoring a peer in math. As a fourth grader, that was a pretty awesome responsibility. Throughout my life, I’ve always enjoyed teaching and I believe that was my very first exposure to the field.
I never forgot the excitement and vitality Miss LaRusso brought to my classroom every morning. She was more than a teacher to me – she was a role model. I went on to study Math at Rutgers and Computer Science at Cornell and for the past 30 years I’ve made a happy and productive living as a professional software developer. I’ve loved math and computers my entire life and I never forgot the teacher who first nurtured those interests in me.
Are you Miss LaRusso? If so, I’d like to thank you for everything you did for me and for your many other students.
Sincerely,
Marc Cohen

You can imagine my surprise and delight when, the next morning, I received the following response:

Dear Marc,
Yes, I am Miss LaRusso and (of course) I remember you! You and Cary Collichio are still among my most favorite students of all time. I remember your family too.. and the work we did at Collins – that musical production in the spring… Collins was a part of my life that will always be close to my heart! Truly, it was students like you who inspired me to keep learning about teaching [especially mathematics]. I am so proud of your accomplishments, Marc, and very impressed with your studies—Rutgers and Cornell – wow! Being a professional software developer sounds exciting and challenging. I know you are very successful and I am glad that you are happy!
When I left Livingston I moved to Connecticut where I taught math in a junior high school and earned a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Connecticut. While there, I met the man I married. I took some time off from teaching to have a family and raise our three children. We are living in Ohio where I have been a professor of math education at Kent State University since 1989. I love teaching students and teachers –how to teach math. My passion for teaching has never lessened… I still approach my work as I did way back in the 1970s.
Thank you so much for taking time to write to me. Your kind words mean more than you could ever know! You will always be a special person to me and I wish you much happiness and joy in your life! Remember me to your family.
With affection,
“Miss LaRusso” J ~Gen Davis

The impact of a great teacher lasts a lifetime. Did you have a teacher who inspired you?