Car-free role models

My son’s 2nd grade teacher rounds up the class.

I’ve liked all of my son’s teachers in elementary school. His kindergarten teacher taught reading so well that most of the class was above grade-level at the end of the year. The legacy of that is still visible in my son, who is currently obsessed with reading three books at a time and can only be dragged away for mealtimes when we literally pull them from his hands. His first grade teacher, who grew up in Japan and only moved to the US a few years ago, amused her class endlessly by having them correct her English spelling and grammar (which was difficult, as it is nearly perfect). But the most interesting teacher so far is his second grade teacher.

At Rosa Parks teachers make classroom assignments, and they accept parental requests. When my son finished first grade, our son asked for the first time that we request a particular teacher; he wanted the woman, not the man. When we talked to his first grade teacher, she was unconvinced, and so despite his request we left his placement to her judgment. Our son was disappointed in August to learn that he’d gotten his first male teacher. At the time, he knew his current teacher only as a large figure with a loud voice; he seemed scary. That impression lasted about an hour on the first day of school this year.

“We have that same taillight on our bikes!” says a girl in the class.

My son’s teacher is, in fact, a big guy with a booming voice, and he does not take an iota of crap from any of his students. He is also, to their delight, goofy. He wears sarongs and pink glitter nail polish and plays guitar in class. He reads them books way beyond their grade level and his default assumption is that they are capable and independent. The kids adore him. And although he commutes from Berkeley every day, he (along with his wife and daughter) is car-free. He takes BART across the bay and rides his bike from the station to school. He is by no means the only bike commuter at the school. However it means a lot to my son that his beloved teacher, like us, does not own a car. It makes him feel cutting-edge instead of deprived.

When people visiting from out of town see my son’s teacher for the first time they are intimidated by his size. Within a few minutes, when they start noticing details like the nail polish, and the way kids crowd around him, they grow envious. Is this what sending kids to school in San Francisco means, they ask, that your kids get teachers like this. And I suppose it does. I know that growing up in a small town I never had a teacher half as cool.

Living in San Francisco has other perks. “Guess where he’s from?” asked one parent early in the year. “The United States,” said another. “No, he’s not,” said the first. “Well, he’s from Texas,” said a third. “Exactly!” said the first.

Welcome to the real America.

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Filed under car-free, commuting, San Francisco

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