Favorite teacher leaves her mark

Of all the first-grade classrooms in all the schools in all of Utah, a black teacher walked into mine. She was different. And for a young Latina with an unusual name in Salt Lake City circa 1983, different was good.

Mrs. English wore a long winter coat, had a delicate frame and could crack a hilarious joke when her largely government-assisted class needed it most. Every parent who sent a kid off to the first day of school this past Monday hoped their kid would get a teacher like Mrs. English. A teacher with that rare ability to make a kid feel special. Really special.

Outside of my parents, she was the first person I idolized. For a 6-year-old, that can show up in mysterious ways. For this 6-year-old, it meant an unwavering devotion to the entire black race as evidenced through my favorite TV programs.

Once I finished my homework and chores, you could find me lounging on the couch, rooting for the black couple on “The Newlywed Game,” the black family on “Family Feud,” or the black beauty queen in the Miss America pageant.

If there was a black person competing for something on TV, they had my full-fledged support. My family took note of the biased behavior but let it slide. They knew I didn’t see an ethnic race or even a contestant. I saw my personal hero, Mrs. English.

Very similar to our country’s situation today, these were tough economic times. My father couldn’t find gainful employment and we lived in a neighborhood you didn’t walk through alone at night. Yes, they exist in Utah. I sat on the curb with the rest of the kids on my street one afternoon and watched as police cuffed prostitutes and shoved them into cop cars. We surely qualified for government assistance, but my father was a proud man. And we all know how well proud men and handouts go together.

I remember a girl in my class, her name was Tricia, who came to school a few different times sporting visible bruises. She had the kind of home life that made for plenty of long meetings with school counselors that ended with lollipops. She broke into tears one morning because she was embarrassed about facing her peers with a black eye. Mrs. English told her not to worry: “I’ve been walking around with TWO black eyes my whole life!”

It took a class of 6-year-olds a minute, but one of us finally got it, explained it to the rest of us kids and pretty soon we were all cracking up — even Tricia.

Mrs. English knew how to make us forget the bad stuff and remember the important stuff.

One Friday in January, she gave our class a special weekend homework assignment. She challenged us to find out who said the words “I have a dream” and report back on Monday. I couldn’t wait to learn who on earth made those simple words so great and tell my teacher all about him. Beating my classmates sounded good, but impressing Mrs. English sounded even better. I marched straight home, tapped my father’s shoulder and eagerly asked him to tell me everything he knew about the man who had a dream.

For my father, a former civil rights activist, that moment turned my teacher into a woman who might actually deserve his daughter’s undying admiration. He gladly accompanied my mother to parent-teacher conferences shortly after and that sealed the deal. Mrs. English was my favorite teacher, my father’s favorite teacher and my mother’s favorite teacher.

None of us wanted first grade to end. But, it did. I spent the summer cheering for the black contestants on “Supermarket Sweep” and “The Price is Right,” oblivious to the rude awakening ahead of me. As it turned out, someone forgot to tell my second-grade teacher that yours truly hung the moon. This lady rarely smiled, had zero jokes and insisted on “inside voices” at all times.

When my father landed a good gig a few months into second grade, my parents bought a house in another city to move us on out of there. I found Mrs. English at recess one day to share the news. We said goodbye as I wrapped my arms around that long winter coat. Before I skipped off, she asked me to tell my father how happy it made her to see we were “movin’ on up.” Whatever that meant.

I didn’t return to that elementary school again until just before I graduated college. I wanted to tell Mrs. English about my accomplishment and the path she paved for me, but the new teachers there never heard of her. I tried the phone book but had the same luck there.

It wasn’t until four years ago that I heard her name again, when my mother called to tell me she’d just read her obituary in the newspaper. My eyes welled up for a woman I knew for nine months of my life. I sent a floral arrangement to the funeral home and signed the online guest book, trying my best to convey to her loved ones the impact she had on me.

Her daughter Daphne got in touch with me a year ago. We had a lovely dinner when she rolled into town a month later. She told me all about her mother, Bettye English, a woman who loved to teach and retired in 1990. I told her all about that first-grade class and how we all went home every day feeling special. Really special.

Contact columnist Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter at @startswithanx.

Life
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Army medic’s Afghanistan story told in new book
The graphic novel “Machete Squad” is based on journals written by Las Vegan Brent Dulak.
Las Vegas man talks about losing his wife
Dwayne Murray, 37, lost his wife, LaQuinta while she was at Centennial Hills Hospital. A jury awarded him $43 million last week after it said the hospital failed to perform the standard of care in administering a drug for her sickle cell disease.
Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life and times of a 90-year-old horse player
Leo Polito of Las Vegas describes meeting legendary jockey and trainer Johnny Longden on the beach at Del Mar. Mike Brunker/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Learning the history of singing bowls
Presentation at Summerlin Library teaches residents about the history of singing bowls (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vicki Richardson speaks about on the power of art
Artist and arts advocate Vicki Richardson talks about the power of art to inspire and challenge. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DressCoders pairs tech with haute couture
DressCoders is a startup focused on haute couture garments. The company uses illuminated thread that is washable and can be sewn right into the fabric. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Brava infrared oven
In cooking with the Brava infrared oven,there’s no preheating. the bulbs can reach 500 degrees in less than a second. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sinks Merge Style And Utility
Study could determine cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases
Dr. Aaron Ritter, director of clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, discusses his research on how inflammation in the brain impacts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holocaust survivors talk about tragedy and friendship
Janos Strauss and Alexander Kuechel share their perspectives on life. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Siegel Cares' Santa delivers toys to kids at Siegel Suites in Las Vegas
Siegel Cares, the charitable wing of The Siegel Group, delivered toys to families at their apartment complexes in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Revisiting “Christ the King” sculpture
A longtime admirer of the sculpture at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas shares her perspective. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator Christmas House
Arguably better than a hotel holiday display, is Terry and Angie Fator's home located in southwest Las Vegas.
UNLV Winter Graduation Packs Thomas & Mack
UNLV's 55th winter commencement ceremony included approximately 2,146 undergraduate and graduate students who recently completed their studies. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Build-A-Bear comes to Reed Elementary School
Students participated in a Build-A-Bear-Workshop at Doris Reed Elementary School in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center art depicts names of God
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center founder Sharaf Haseebullah talks about new diamond-shaped art panels featuring some of the 99 names of Allah at the main entrance the Las Vegas mosque. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing