My mother, Phyllis Leah Abrams Teitelbaum, would have been 89 today. She passed away almost two years ago.
My mother was born and raised in New York City. She was a product of NY public schools, and a first gen college student. She studied Economics at Brooklyn College. After a couple of office jobs, she became a teacher. She taught in NY public schools for most of her career.
In addition to being a teacher, my mother was an artist. She painted and made jewelry. She loved wild patterns and bright colors. She recognized the centrality of creativity and the importance of nurturing self expression. She taught me to knit and encouraged me to do all sorts of crafts. She never let me use coloring books; she believed it was far more important to make our own creations than to fill in someone else’s
My mother mostly taught Social Studies, and occasionally English. She taught at several different schools during her career, including a vocational high school and a school for pregnant teens. No matter the subject matter or the school, my mother thrived on her relationships with her students.
In many of the schools where she taught, “Mrs. Teitelbaum” just didn’t roll off students’ tongues, so they called her Mrs. T.
Some were disengaged or disruptive at school. Some didn’t pass her classes. Some had hard lives, and trouble at home. Regardless, my mother was interested in their lives. They made her smile and even laugh. She felt like she was making a difference, trying to be a positive force in their lives. Most of all, she wanted to make sure they knew she was paying attention and that she cared.
Remembering my mother today, I know that she planted seeds that sprout within me. I know she would have stories to tell about her own experiences as a first gen college student and what it meant to her family. And I know she would appreciate the value of a program like First Gen College.
Like they were to her, relationships with students are also important to me. She would be pleased to know that some of the young adults involved with First Gen College now are students I first met when they were in middle school many years ago.
I think she would like the idea that we are hosting a retreat for first gen students. She understood the value of self care. She recognized how important it is to express yourself, to be creative, to be seen and heard, to connect with others, and to play.
As I remember her today, I see how clearly her legacy lives on in me. Happy birthday, Mom!