Congratulations to Valerie Sulzinski for Winning the June 2023 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

Which school lesson had the biggest influence on your life?

Valerie shared an entertaining story about high school biology class. Enjoy her winning submission:

Valerie Sulzinski

The classroom clock said 9:22. There sat 21 students and no teacher. We were used to Mr. Goldstein’s antics; he certainly kept us on our toes. When you teach a 10th-grade biology class, I suppose you do whatever you can to engage students who probably don’t want to be there.

I looked around the classroom. There was Richard, wearing his forest-green corduroy pants and lime-green T-shirt. He had certainly lost some of his “street cred” when he vomited during the frog dissection and again when he passed out while dissecting a cow’s eyeball. But today he was back to his old cocky self, thinking he was God’s gift to women. Judy was rolling her eyes at whatever he was saying, and it was obvious she couldn’t wait for the conversation to be over.

Then there was Donna, with her Barbie doll face and perfect blond hair. Donna was special because she was beautiful not only on the outside but on the inside as well. Quite a rare combination. We started to talk about Mr. Goldstein…

“Where do you think he is?” Donna asked.

“Anybody’s guess,” I answered. “I have to say, I get a bit nervous waiting for him to show up. You never know what he’s got up his sleeve.”

Suddenly, the door banged open. Mr. Goldstein, with his slicked-back hair (I think it was a hairpiece), brightly flowered bell bottoms, and tight pink shirt made for an interesting combination you didn’t often see on a teacher in 1973.

He climbed up on top of one of the lab tables and plugged in an electric guitar, and we got Mr. Goldstein’s rendition of “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Okay, that was entertaining, but you might be wondering why he did it. Just to be “cool” with us kids? Nope. Mr. Goldstein was one of those great teachers who had an educational reason for just about everything he did.

The unit we were studying was about the sexual reproduction organs of a flower. Yup. Mr. Goldstein wanted us to remember that the pistil is the female reproductive organ of a flower. And I would venture to guess that these 50 years later, most of the students in class that day still remember the role of the pistil in a flower.

I learned an even more powerful lesson from Mr. Goldstein that day. You see, as a teacher, he was fine with embarrassing himself for the benefit of his students.

In the years that followed, I found myself teaching in many different venues… elementary school, high school, college, one-on-one private sessions… and in each one, I made sure that I taught in a manner that most benefited the student. Did I look like a fool sometimes? Certainly, but if it helped my students, I’m fine with that. I wish I could go back in time and thank Mr. Goldstein for all that he taught us, not only with regard to biology but also for the life lessons imparted.