One of the most satisfying experiences of my freshman year at Berkeley High was a trip to Sacramento to protest Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed education budget cuts. There were busloads of students from Berkeley High alone and hundreds of other students from all over California. We spent the day buttonholing members of the Assembly, touring the state capitol building and demonstrating in front of it. The whole energizing experience only happened because of the determination and tireless efforts of my global studies teacher, Ms. Mistry.
Ms. Mistry did everything to make the trip possible. She raised more money than anyone thought possible and arranged for the buses, parent chaperones, and meetings with individual legislators. She even bought pizzas with her own money for everyone at the organizing meetings.
Ms. Mistry chose a classmate and me to represent Berkeley High in more formal meetings with members of the California Assembly. This opportunity made me feel, for the first time, that I had an important place in my enormous and somewhat impersonal school and could make a difference there. It also made me feel that I had a place in the world.
Ms. Mistry’s classroom was always alive with ideas. She encouraged her students to be interested in current events and politics by asking them to read newspaper articles. We talked about what we read in the paper and tried to connect it with whatever we were studying. When our topic was Asia, we read and discussed articles about protests aimed at the Olympic torch because of Chinese repression in Tibet. Later, she had us watch a documentary about other political and social issues in China. Every day, when we walked into class, we would find a question on the board for us to think and write about in our journals. “You are the leader of a country with high fertility rates. What are you going to do about health care, housing, transportation and food?” After we finished writing, we would talk about our answers. Ms. Mistry also tried to connect each topic with what we had studied earlier in the year, so that different topics became part of a larger whole.
Ms. Mistry created a comfortable atmosphere in the classroom that made for lively discussions. I never worried about coming up with the right or wrong answer, and she helped me overcome my reluctance to raise my hand and speak in front of my classmates. Ms. Mistry never lost her cool when students were disruptive. She would talk to them outside of class and then laugh off the incident and get back to the business of teaching. She had unlimited energy and devotion for her students. She would stay up all night grading papers or preparing for a field trip and come to school the next morning as enthusiastic as ever. She would eat only a bite or two of lunch—once, she told me that her lunch consisted of five almonds—because her students needed to talk to her.
Ms. Mistry rarely complained. Instead, she always worried that she wasn’t getting through to some of the students and didn’t see that she made a difference just by trying so hard and not giving up. She was always ready with a hug—with a huge one when I told her that I wanted to be a teacher.
The day before the trip to Sacramento, Ms. Mistry drove a classmate and me to a meeting in Oakland. At the meeting, we practiced talking to legislators and planned the logistics of the trip. She insisted on driving me home, even though it was well out of her way. On the freeway, she missed an exit and got lost. It was late, and I knew she had more planning to do and papers to grade, but she kept laughing and said it didn’t really matter.
It is hard for me to believe that Ms. Mistry is gone, because she was so full of life. The loss of her warmth and vitality is terrible for me and, I am sure, for everyone who knew her. It will be especially hard to go back to school later this month because I won’t be able to see her or talk to her about my classes and projects, or my worries and hopes. However, her loss makes me determined to become the kind of teacher she was, so that some part of her survives. I can still hear the sound of her voice, and I will go on hearing it for a long time.
Lucy Sundelson is a sophomore at Berkeley High School.