Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Finding the magic in teachers

I enjoy going to Starbucks and amidst the chatter of coffee drinkers and the grind of the cappuccino machine I manage to delve into a myriad of writing projects.  I also hear the laments of the customers as they wait for their morning brew.

I gather from the buzz I hear from the parents standing in the long lines at Starbucks that there is a general dissatisfaction relative to who will teach their children.  It seems that no one is happy.

There’s much to be said about playing with the cards you’re dealt with. Life is serendipitous. Many times you don’t get what you want, but you get what you need.  Disappointment strengthens, tempers and intensifies a noble soul, but never destroys it.  Disappointment is foundational to wisdom.

Let me tell you a story that plays to the point I am trying to make.  My memory is vivid about the particulars, as I have pulled circumstance from my first journal titled, “1960.” The story is about Sister Mary Dolores, my eighth-grade teacher at Saint Frances of Rome school in 1960-1961.

My first memory of her was shrouded in disappointment.  The eighth-grade boys’ class had too many kids, thus three were transferred to Sister Dolores’ coed class.  I was one of them.  I was devastated.  I didn’t realize I had been dealt a royal flush.

Dolores was from solid Irish stock; O’Brian was her family name and she wassomeone to be reckoned with.  I didn’t realize I was about to encounter a force that would govern my soul.

She would bring hell down from heaven to curb the toughest boys.  Her piercing eyes had a no-nonsense approach and could dissect the core of the toughest boys.  She gave us only one choice:  “I will teach and you will learn.”  She had a way about her.

For years I’ve struggled to conceptualize what powers she had over me.  Why does her memory continue to linger to the point that I am both exalted and haunted by her?  I can still smell the fragrance of the hand soap she used.

Sister was a relentless taskmaster who brought me to a level of academia beyond my comprehension.  She held me accountable for every transgression and showed no quarter for the slightest infraction of character.   Her mantra, “Dare to be different,” planted the seeds of individuality.  Much of what I teach my students about character development I learned from her.

I will never know what she saw in me but through her eyes I saw a reflection of someone I hoped to become.

I left the eighth grade but sister never left me.  After transitioning to high school, I never saw her again but followed her career as a teacher and eventually as a mother superior.  A million times I meant to call her and thank her for what she did for me, but I never did.

Disappointments often become fortuitous opportunities.  I am convinced that if it were not for Sister Mary Dolores, I would be a different person today.

I began to learn at a young age that adapting to circumstance and then making the most out of essence in life.  Our ability to deal with disappointment is directly proportional to our future success.

Sister Dolores is gone but left a part of her in me. Perhaps you parents can encourage your students to find the magic in all their teachers.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World