The Inspiration

There were quite a few of us nervous about our fifth grade teacher. First off, he was a man and therefore even in his normal voice, he was much louder than what we were used to. Fifth grade back when I was young was not the senior class in high school but we were getting closer to the end and that also made us anxious.

Fifth grade was known for being hard. At least that is what I remembered hearing.

So it was a lot on all of our shoulders when we first stepped into Mr. Falk’s classroom. After that year, I would never be the same.

I would be better for it.

Every Monday, we would go to the library where he would read us different picture books, chapter books, and even the classic, “Chicken Soup With Rice”. He would read with expressions that gave us imagination and encourage us to seek out all kinds of books. I remember his smile as I checked out a Julia Ward Howe biography for the hundredth time. “I just love learning about a hero”, I would explain.

He was loud at times. Passionate now that I look back on it. There were a lot of us in the class that year with all kinds of unique personalities long before anyone knew what to do with them. We thrived in the discipline and glowed when a compliment came.

We sat in our rows each week taking a spelling test. It would always take an extra long time because Mr. Falk couldn’t help sharing what he thought of the Cosby Show the night before or if he was upset about yet another Knicks basketball loss. Sometimes, it was just to share a story about his wife Ellen or one of his sons.

He actually seemed to enjoy our reactions even if we were just kids. He created a family atmosphere and somehow we all knew we were part of a team.

One day, he informed us that we were going to put on a school play. This wasn’t one of those plays like before where it was boring and there was no storyline. This was going to be different and fun! I decided to try out for the part of The Witch of All Witches in our play called, “The King’s Creampuffs”. Mr. Falk directed me to add a cackle to my voice and after that, I had the part. For someone with confidence issues, this was beyond exciting. My favorite memory was him frustrated with me because to look the scary part, I had to put tootsie roll all over my front teeth. Then, I ate it all. His reaction still makes me laugh. It turned out to be an amazing play. No matter what anyone says, that it was academy award worthy.

Math was not my subject. I can’t even imagine what he went through trying to teach that year’s curriculum to me. Long division was a hellish nightmare. I studied nonstop. My parents helped me. My best friend even helped. Mr. Falk sat with me over and over to get it right.  Before I knew it, my test with a 100% score was hanging on a bulletin board next to me. I never did that again but it never failed to motivate me into believing what I could do. More importantly, it showed that someone believed in me.

I was always interested in writing but Mr. Falk had a writer of the week contest where we were encouraged to be an author of all sorts of stories. This was always my favorite part of school. Creativity and independence were values taught that year that to this day stay with me.

As a teacher, during teacher appreciation week, I am filled with joy at the gratitude shown by my students and their families. I am beyond thankful for teachers who care for my own children.

And then I think about all the teachers who inspired me.

A few years ago, I went on a job interview for my first grade teaching position. The principal asked what I wanted in a classroom. my reply centered around inspiring kids to have fun, learn, and take chances just like my 5th grade teacher did for me and so many others.

When I got hired, she said it was because I used the word “inspire” and that’s something she strongly believes in for teachers.

Thank you, Mr. Falk for being my inspiration.

Happy  Teacher Appreciation Week! This is a picture of our awesome 5th grade class with Mr. Falk. I heard that he passed away sometime ago. Each year, I read a book by Patricia Pollaco to my class called Thank You, Mr. Falkner which is the same kind of gratitude I feel. It is amazing how similar the names are. After reading, I always tear up as I look at the kids who have meant so much to me that year.

What teacher has inspired you? Join in the conversation at 40 Wishes and Counting!


  1. says

    This post is 10,000 kinds of wonderful! I appreciate it as a teacher, a former student and the mother of a former student. My daughter’s fourth grade teacher was the first male teacher she had and he was similar to Mr. Falk. I’m so grateful for the inspiration he provided her and I’m so glad Mr. Falk inspired you to both of your callings, teacher and writer!

  2. says

    I’ve had some great teachers, but I don’t think any of them hold a candle to Mr. Falk. I’m jealous, but also happy for you. 🙂

  3. says

    I love that you have this memory. Most of my teachers have blended into a concept of inspiration. The really good ones recognized that not everyone learned in the same manner. The very bad ones….made me hate school. Luckily, the good ones outweighed the bad ones.

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