Journalism, she taught
As a child, I always had a precocious interest in current events - thanks to bedside talks with my ailing grandfather about the perils of Communism and Israel's plight. In sixth grade, I even created a news agency in my parents' attic.
But it was Margery Kashman, my high school English teacher, who taught me most of what I know about the craft of journalism, and who shaped the course of my professional life.
When I enrolled as a high school sophomore in her elective journalism class at G.W. Hewlett High School on Long Island, I didn't understand the difference between a lead paragraph and a lead pencil.
Mrs. Kashman taught me how to ask objective questions and write the most important stuff first.
She was encouraging yet honest about my mediocre early stories, and as proud as a parent when I won some local journalism awards as a high school senior.
Just as important, she taught me about ethics and questioning authority - whether it be a high school principal or a US senator.
When the class ended, I signed up for the high school newspaper, the Spectrum - based in a cramped office with a single wooden desk and some wire baskets.
I've moved on to bigger newsrooms in the years since, but I've never found a journalism teacher quite as skilled as Mrs. Kashman.
I still mail her a batch of stories once a year and have been back a couple times to thank her. She's still advising the student newspaper despite perennial mutterings about stepping down - too many late nights, she says, stuck in a school computer lab, proofreading the paper with moody teens.
For their sake, I hope she never leaves.