Reconnecting After Forty Years

I recently celebrated one of those birthdays ending in a zero and was rummaging through some old photos, school records, etc., when I came upon my fourth grade class picture (for those of you who can’t get enough 60s era fashion and hairstyles, you can click the image below for an expanded version):

Miss LaRusso's Fourth Grade Class, Collins School, Livingston, NJ, 1970

This was one of my favorite school years, in no small part because the young lady in the upper left of the picture was one of the finest and most inspiring teachers I ever had. I began to wonder:  ”Wouldn’t it be nice if I could let her know that, after 40 years, I still remember and appreciate her guidance?” I quickly assessed my chances at slim to none (I knew her only by her maiden name and I had no idea what she did or where she lived after 1970). But in the age of the internet, some amazing things are possible.

One factor working in my favor is that she had a fairly unusual first name, which I happened to remember. One hour of “google-sleuthing” later and I was about 80% confident I’d tracked down my teacher along with her email address, to which I sent the following note:

Dear Dr. Davis,

As a boy growing up in Livingston, NJ, I was inspired by a young teacher named Genevieve LaRusso. I was fortunate to have had this teacher twice, once in fourth grade and then again in sixth grade (at Collins School in the early 70s). Recognizing my interest in math, she took the time to expose me to some special advanced material. She also enlisted my help tutoring a peer in math. As a fourth grader, that was a pretty awesome responsibility. Throughout my life, I’ve always enjoyed teaching and I believe that was my very first exposure to the field.

I never forgot the excitement and vitality Miss LaRusso brought to my classroom every morning. She was more than a teacher to me – she was a role model. I went on to study Math at Rutgers and Computer Science at Cornell and for the past 30 years I’ve made a happy and productive living as a professional software developer. I’ve loved math and computers my entire life and I never forgot the teacher who first nurtured those interests in me.

Are you Miss LaRusso? If so, I’d like to thank you for everything you did for me and for your many other students.

Sincerely,

Marc Cohen

You can imagine my surprise and delight when, the next morning, I received the following response:

Dear Marc,

Yes, I am Miss LaRusso and (of course) I remember you! You and Cary Collichio are still among my most favorite students of all time. I remember your family too.. and the work we did at Collins – that musical production in the spring…    Collins was a part of my life that will always be close to my heart!  Truly, it was students like you J who inspired me to keep learning about teaching [especially mathematics]. I am so proud of your accomplishments, Marc, and very impressed with your studies—Rutgers and Cornell – wow! Being a professional software developer sounds exciting and challenging. I know you are very successful  and  I am glad that you are happy!

When I left Livingston I moved to Connecticut where I taught math in a junior high school and earned a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Connecticut. While there, I met the man I married.  I took some time off from teaching to have a family and raise our three children.  We are living in Ohio where I have been a professor of math education at Kent State University since 1989. I love teaching students and teachers –how to teach math. My passion for teaching has never lessened… I still approach my work as I did way back in the 1970s.

Thank you so much for taking time to write to me. Your kind words mean more than you could ever know!  You will always be a special person to me and I wish you much happiness and joy in your life! Remember me to your family.

With affection,

“Miss LaRusso” J  ~Gen Davis

The impact of a great teacher lasts a lifetime. Did you have a teacher who inspired you?

9 thoughts on “Reconnecting After Forty Years”

  1. Hi Marc,
    That is such a wonderful story about Miss LaRusso.
    Now I really believe in the Internet.
    I certainly remember what a great teacher she is.
    I also remember your second grade teacher, Miss Gatley.
    She was a great teacher too.
    I really like this story.
    Thanks for letting know about it and how to find it.
    Mom

  2. Great stuff Marc,

    I got here by way of your movie review and came away with a great story….very inspirational!

    Keep those reviews coming!

    Best,
    Sam

  3. This story made my day! You’re fortunate to have had a Miss LaRusso in your life. I, too, had several teachers that had lasting impact. And my mom was that kind of High School English teacher. Still gets tons of holiday cards (and Harry & David fruit baskets!) from former students to this day. Thanks for sharing this with us. Very inspiring.

  4. Mr Paul Swenson was a great teacher and a great coach. He inspired me to always try my best and work hard. Harriet Beim and Joan Robertson were also wonderful mentors and teachers. Yes, a good teacher can make a real difference in your life. I also remember my worst teacher ! Mr Holland at Harrison School. He is dead !

  5. This was so very nice to read. Actually made me a little teary. Yes, there were many including those mentioned by John.

    There was a Mr. Kohan at Mt. Pleasant Jr. High that I have tried to find with no success. I still owe him an apology after all these years.

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