The first full-time teaching position I had was at Ironton Elementary School, in Ironton, Pennsylvania.
After receiving my Masters in Elementary Ed, I was the full-time aide to an autistic student my first year out of grad school and the next year I got my own classroom.
I taught 6th grade in a self-contained classroom, and I was a new team member with two very well established and experienced teachers and teammates: Jane Frederick and Mark Stoisits (pronounced Stoy-sits).
Both of them had been teaching for a long time, and I was twenty-four, brand spanking new and totally clueless.
Jane was the mom of our team.
She held everything together. She was the one who was on top of everything. She didn’t let us forget anything and she took the reins on projects and she was funny and warm and she basically either made shit happen or made sure shit didn’t happen.
She was my mentor and my role model and we also shared the same birthday.
She was like my teacher/older sister/role model/mentor.
Jane died a few years ago after a long battle with lung cancer. That’s a story for another time.
Jane was very well respected and I’m sure every parent hoped their kid either got her for their 6th grade teacher or the other teacher on our team — Mark.
Or Mr. Stoisits.
Mr. Stoisits had also been around a long time and he was the teacher all the boys wanted.
He was The Penn State Teacher. His room was covered with all things Penn State.
A lot of teachers have something they are known for.
When I was a teaching I accidentally became the Hello Kitty teacher.
This wasn’t until a few years later when I moved back to Connecticut. I was teaching 4th grade and wore a Hello Kitty clip in my hair to school one day, and that was all it took. Kids started giving me Hello Kitty stuff and before too long my classroom was overrun with all things Hello Kitty.
But Mr. Stoisits didn’t come to be the Penn State teacher accidentally.
He fucking loved Penn State. He was a fanatic.
On another note, parents are leery of first year teachers.
They don’t know anything about them, they are young, they aren’t experienced, etc.
My first year I had a boy in my class who wanted Mr. Stoisits to be his teacher REALLY BADLY.
He was very disappointed to find out he got me instead.
I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but I remember exactly what he looked like.
Anyway, Mr. Stoisits was friends with his mom.
On the second day of school, he pulled me aside in the hallway.
He told me he had a conversation with my disappointed student who was crushed to find out he got “the new teacher” and not Mr. Stoisits.
When her son came home from school after that first day, his mom asked him how it went.
This is what he said:
“Mom, I was really sad that I didn’t get Mr. Stoisits this year. But it’s okay.
Because my teacher’s a total babe.”
And from that point on, for the three years I taught at Ironton, Mr. Stoisits called me Babe.
People who never heard that story must have wondered what the hell was going on between the two of us.
At some point in his teaching career, Mr. Stoisits’s name had been mispronounced.
Someone called him Mr. Stotis.
So he called me Babe, and I called him Mr. Stotis.
He would randomly pop across the hallway into my room, disrupt my class by saying something random or funny, and then turn around and go back to his room.
He always smelled of the same aftershave, and every day at recess, he’d go just off the school grounds and walk up and down the road so he could smoke his cigar.
He once had a student mispronounce the Table of Contents as the Table of Continents, and that is how we referred to it from then on, and how I still refer to it to this day.
The day OJ Simpson was being chased down the highway in his white bronco we crammed three classes into Mr. Stotis’s room and watched it on a tv he rolled into his classroom on a big cart.
I have no idea why we watched it. But I remember it so clearly.
Mr. Stoisits was a down-to-earth, unfiltered, old-school, fun dude.
And yesterday, at the age of 73, he died.
He contracted COVID-19, and he put up a good fight.
But it wasn’t enough.
The vaccine arrived just a little too late for him.
I haven’t seen Mr. Stoisits since the last day I walked out of Ironton Elementary School on my last day of teaching there.
That was almost thirty years ago.
But he was a big part of the best years of my teaching career.
No other place I taught ever compared to those first three years of teaching.
Mr. Stotis, I hope you are up there smokin’ a big old stogy, that you’re watching the Penn State football team kick some ass on a never-ending loop, and that you and Jane are sitting around, shooting the shit, and swapping stories about the good old days at Ironton.
One day I’ll be up there joining you.
Thanks for being a part of my life and for being a favorite teacher for hundreds of kids.
You’ll be missed.
But you’ll definitely never be forgotten.