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  • My eighth grade English teacher got blown up by a Molotov cocktail. The news of his death came to my mother in a letter because she had been his co-worker, and we had moved away at the end of my eighth grade year.

    I sat at the kitchen table, and my mother relayed what she knew. Mr. Babcock had been in El Salvador for almost three years. A recent election incited riots in the capital city, and Mr. Babcock was a party when the riots started. Word came from the American Embassy that foreigners should stay put for the night, and try to get home when the riots subsided.

    Mr. Babcock ignored the advice, and drove home about midnight. When he got out of his car to open the gate to his carport, a bomb went off. Mr. Babcock didn’t survive.

    “I think you were a bright spot in his day when you were in his class,” my mother commented. I didn’t fully understand this comment at the time, but now that I manage my own classroom, I think I do. I have students, especially in a difficult class, who I would consider “bright spots” because they try hard, they care about the subject, or they have a good attitude.

    I was in Mr. Babcock’s very first class. He chose to spend his first year as a teacher in private school for rich Salvadorans during a time when their country continued to carry on a civil war. Most of my classmates spoke English as a second language and came from very wealthy families. Their whole lives were already mapped out and paid for. I, on the other hand, had a hunger for reading and writing in English, and probably had a family background similar to his. No wonder I was his “bright spot.”

    I owe Mr. Babcock big time. He challenged our class to write poems, and I co-authored mine with a classmate. The poem was about a daisy, and it flopped. I got so mad I went home and wrote another one just to prove to myself that I could. I fell in love with poetry that day, and I haven’t been able to stop writing poems since then.

    Often I like to go back to people who have helped me or encouraged me and tell them thank you. I can’t do that now for Mr. Babcock because his life ended after only three years of teaching. He couldn’t have been much more than twenty-six. But if I could speak to him, I would say this. “Your job was to teach, and you taught me I could write poems. And writing poems has kept me sane through a lot of dark times, and given me joy, and connected me to people I love. Thank you. You did your job well, and your life mattered to me.”
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