by Peter Lopez
Four years ago I started this new career in teaching. Four years ago I was beautiful. I had not one grey hair on my face. I didn’t have these bags under my eyes or this line across my forehead.
I know. You are looking at me and you are asking: “What happened, man?”
I tell you what happened: Katisha happened. Tiana happened. John, Joel, Ariana, Kine, Arielle, Raziya, Anthony, Whitney, Shawnell, and Jaquan happened. And yes, Dennis! Dennis! Dennis!
A decade ago, before I started thinking about teaching, I was happy. I was content. I had a job that paid the bills and then some. I knew the love of family and friends and lovers… a lot.
But after four years of teaching children, I can honestly say that I never knew what it meant to truly love, before I met them. And it is because love, true love, comes from giving without expectations of getting. And if you are a teacher, you are giving. And if you are a good teacher, you are giving everything you got.
I gave my students everything I had over the course of those four years. But I can’t say that I didn’t get anything back in return. Within those four years, my students have given me respect, honor, joy, and meaning.
Let me share with you an anecdote.
I’m not a religious man. My students can tell you that. But one day this June, while I was standing at the corner of West 116th Street waiting for my gyro, I noticed this elderly gentleman eyeing me. I didn’t know why he looked at me intently. He was also there waiting for his food.
Suddenly, two students playfully crashed into me. We then started talking and joking, before they proceeded to school to attend a Regents Prep in Chemistry.
“You… a teacher?” The old man asked. “Yes sir, I am.”
“You teach around the corner there?” The old man persisted.
“Yes sir, I do.” I replied.
“Mmmmm, ” he continued, “That must be tough!” “No. Not really,” I told him. He pointed to my arm and said, “That’s because you rough ‘em up a bit.”
I laughed and said, “No! It’s because I like them. You show them love and they’ll do what you need them to do, most of the time. After all, they’re just kids. And kids want to be loved.”
“You got that absolutely right!!!” The old man exclaimed, as though he were testing me the entire time.
“But,” he continued, “You got one thing wrong.”
He looked at me intently and continued, “They’re not kids. When you show them love and they love you back, the way those two students just showed love to you, they’re not kids. They’re God’s children. And when you show them love, they’re God’s rain. God is raining down on you, son.”
I absolutely adore my students. And they will all – both individually and collectively – be a part of who I am as a teacher, as a person, and as a man.
“God is raining on you, son.” It still gives me chill up to now.
Peter Lopez is an excellent teacher, who I always run to for a tip on student engagement when I need to coach a new teacher a specific classroom management strategy. I have observed, over four years, that he is able to inspire and engage in learning all his students, even those who seem to give the other classes a hard time. The students adore him and seek the calm of his art gallery-like classroom when they seem lost or need an academic support.
He teaches AP Literature in a school in Harlem and runs an after-school Oil Painting class, like a pro. His painting class is always a sight to behold. On Fridays, while everybody is hurrying home, you’ll find his classroom buzzing with activity and laughter as the student painters bring out their inner creativity, one brush-stroke at a time.
He is a highly respected teacher leader and beloved colleague.