I enrolled in graduate school at Duquesne University in spring 1998 to begin work on my Master’s degree in English Education. I was excited to get into the classroom and work with students. My internship was at Baldwin High School where I was a student myself. It was surreal giving my sister a hall pass and teaching a friend of our family, who we would see socially on the weekends. While the internship was awesome, student teaching was the real deal.
I won’t forget the day I walked into the graduate offices and was given my student teaching placement. In script handwriting it said “Barbara Schomer, Mt Lebanon High School”. While I didn’t know the woman, I knew the school. Mt Lebanon is one of the top public high schools on the east coast, and I was excited to get into such a prestigious school. My grades were near perfect, my professors lauded me each week, and now I was going to Lebo.
In late Spring I went to meet Barb Schomer. She was a short, older woman who demanded respect and was a solidly important part of the English faculty. I remember the box of novels she handed me to read over the summer and her showing me “my desk” in the corner near hers. We talked for quite a bit and I was under the impression that she was one of the more rigorous cooperating teachers in our program, but I was use to working with these sorts of educators. Student teaching began day one with students and I stayed until late December. Barb started our relationship as the pedagogist and me as the clerical mind. I helped keep things organized, took attendance, kept us both sane. She said she loved that about me. She told me that at home Barb’s husband, Bru, took on that role and it was nice to have me around. Her former student teacher was a performer with a background in theatre. Barb would hand her the lesson plan and the woman would do it. That was just enough. Then I came along with a background in literature and a strong pedagogical presence. By the semester’s end, our relationship shifted. I continued my clerical organization but segued them smoothly into my relationship teaching the students and building a family in the classroom. I finished that semester winning Duquesne’s Student Teacher of the Year Award and that had everything to do with Barb.
I learned so much from this woman. I learned to always have things planned out “in case you get hit by a truck” as she would say. Have plans more than a week out. Always praise students before critiquing them, always help them genuinely get better in whatever you’re teaching, balance the line between teacher and friend.
I left Duquesne, Mt Lebanon and Pittsburgh in the summer of 1999 and for the first few years I reconnected with Barb and Bru over holidays. I remember when we took Claire to dinner and they were able to enjoy this new little girl throwing her cheerios across the table at them. They laughed and her and enjoyed her as their own grandchild. By now Barb retired and Bru still taught science nearby. Barb, always an outdoors women, spent more and more time volunteering around the world and living in their West Virginian cabin. She even made it out to AZ to visit friends where I was able to spend an evening with her.
In 2010, Barb was diagnosed with Cancer. Her and Bru quickly moved to Centreville, VA so Barb could be treated at Georgetown University Hospital’s cancer center. We continued our relationship via email She was able to visit her cabin and take short walks in nature. By spring she was able to make a trip to Las Vegas to visit family and I was happy to hear her traveling and getting by. By fall she’d been to Florida and was doing well. When she could not get out as much I printed and framed a photo she liked of mine that I shot in the Coconino National Forest this past March. In early fall Barb traveled to PA for a family reunion, and I wish I were there so I too could talk to her once more.
I was not there. I was teaching in Arizona where my own students tell me what I mean to them. They share their dreams, hopes, fears, and loves with me. They listen to my words of wisdom passed down from Barb. I had the honor of passing on Barb’s wisdom to both Joe Abbruscato and Lindsey Costley, my own two student teachers, and I live my teaching life in the shadowing grace of a giant of a woman who will always be missed by me and never forgotten, as today Barbara succumbed to her Cancer with Bru and her daughter’s at her side. She is peacefully walking the trails of nature, caving to the depths of infinity and watching over all of us. Thank you, Barb, I love you.