Timeless Lessons

Sam GelfandBy: Sam Gelfand

The school year recently started. Although school is all about learning and growing (and lots of homework), students (like me) often have a different perspective. School can be tedious, homework is never ending, and some teachers can be taskmasters. Despite what can be seen as an overwhelmingly negative experience, there are some people that make school worthwhile. I’d like to tell you about one of those people.

Mr. Sal is a little bit different. Luckily, so am I.

Eric J. Salomonsson was born sometime in the 1960’s, although he really should’ve grown up in the 1930’s. He listens to big band music in class, hates computers with a passion (for some reason one of the school higher-ups decided it would be a good idea to give him a MacBook for class; it’s been rather entertaining watching him attempt to use it), and has a passion for classic American cars. Perhaps the most impressive sign that he needs a Delorean time machine is his “stuff collection” that lines his classroom. A world map from the late 1930’s is pinned to the back wall, hubcaps from 1950’s Corvettes and Impalas are mounted next to the clock, relics like Coca-Cola cans made from tin and antique matchbooks sit on shelves, and the rest of the room is lined with posters from old TV shows and movies.

Just as important to him as time is place. A native of Worcester, MA, his room has pictures of downtown Worcester and an old Red Sox flier featuring Carl Yastrzemski. Even more impressive is his devotion to his Swedish heritage. He legally changed his last name from the Americanized Salom to the original Swedish spelling of Salomonsson. He is fluent in both Swedish and German. When his two passions combine, he is a renowned expert; he has written several books and theses about the Swedish population of Worcester.

Mr. Sal and I are very much alike. We are both overwhelmingly sarcastic, we love cars, we’re fascinated by history, and our lives are dominated by our particular obsessions. It’s no wonder, then, that we connected almost instantly.

Sam Gelfand and Mr. Sal

I’ve never had a teacher that has understood me like Mr. Sal has. He understands that I learn differently, and that although I may be sketching during his lectures, I’m paying more attention than the person next to me. He understands that I excel at creative projects and have difficulty with homework, and will give extensions and extra credit as such. He puts up with (and occasionally enjoys) my various in-class antics, such as accidentally starting a cult in his classroom last year (it’s a long story). Just as importantly, I understand how Mr. Sal thinks and teaches; taking notes is a breeze (when I do take notes) because I can finish his sentences for him.

All students, regardless of having disabilities, should be able to connect with a teacher like I have at least once. To someone with disabilities, such as myself, our student-teacher relationship is invaluable. Mr. Sal has taught me history for the past three years, but he taught me something you can’t put in a lesson plan: to be accepting of others and not to judge a book by its cover (especially when it’s reading one in the middle of your class).

Sam Gelfand is 17 years old and was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was just three. Since then, he has worked through many therapies and programs to make his diagnosis as transparent as possible and to better manage life in a complicated world.

At 12, for his Bar Mitzvah project, he started a campaign to speak about Asperger’s awareness; since then, he has become a sought-after speaker with a national tour. He speaks to faculties, students, corporations, religious and community organizations, and is the South Florida Youth Ambassador for Autism Speaks. 

Sam is a student at The North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida, where he is a member of the Debate Team, Chief Sports Editor of the school newspaper, and announcer for the Varsity Baseball and Football teams and the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League. He enjoys writing comedy, drawing and playing the drums.

Sam aims to attend college to study Broadcast Journalism.

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1 Comment

Filed under Disabilities Trends

One response to “Timeless Lessons

  1. Shelley Richman Cohen

    Fabulous article that reminds everyone that a good teacher can teach anyone. Every teacher in-service day should start with reading this article.
    Sam’s Mr. Sal understands differentiated teaching probably without having been taught that methodology. Yay Mr. Sal! The world would be a better place if there were more teachers like him.

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