What would our world be like if our children’s teachers provided warm, secure, and loving relationships with our children before implementing any learning programs? What if our children could look forward to going to school each day with enthusiasm, eager to see their caring teachers?
When I look back through my own school years, I can’t remember being attached to any teacher until I met Miss Perkins in the 7th Grade. Miss Perkins was not a young bachelorette, but rather a grandmotherly woman who never married. She showered delight and love on our class of 15 girls as if we were her own children. I realize only now that my love for literature and poetry blossomed as a result of sitting in the front row of her classroom throughout junior high and high school.
In those days my school had a policy to give blue slips and red slips to students. The blue slips were for good behaviour and scholastic achievement. The red slips….well, they were for the opposite. Of course, I only got blue slips from Miss Perkins, until the day came when I had to take home a red slip. We were learning “The Song of Hiawatha,” and when we came to the line “By the shores of Gitche Gumee” I had a fit of uncontrollable laughter. If that weren’t bad enough, the principal just then walked into our classroom and I turned into a pile of hysterical giggles. I loved Miss Perkins so much that I was not the least bit perturbed to have to write a composition as a “punishment” to accompany my red slip. After Miss Perkins read my work, she responded with utter delight to the ideas I expressed and gave me an A. From Miss Perkins, even a red slip didn’t feel like a punishment but instead another opportunity to experience her enjoyment of us. Her frequent smiles were filled with warmth, and I’m sure every girl in the class felt that she was Miss Perkins’ favourite student.
Although we had an hour of free time for lunch, in 11th Grade we chose to spend this time with Miss Perkins. We would rush to her classroom so as not to miss anything. I never cared much for the works of William Shakespeare, but reading Macbeth over sandwiches and chocolate milk was one of the highlights of my school day. Thanks to Miss Perkins, Shakespeare’s plays inspired many different discussions and much of my own writing.
That was, my goodness, about 45 years ago. Yet as I recall how Miss Perkins enjoyed having us in her classroom, I can still hear her jolly laughter.
After I graduated from high school, I met another teacher who had a profound impact on me. I had just turned 18 and had moved over 3,000 km away from home to go to college, just a couple of years after my parents divorced.
I had never heard of “sociology” before but ended up in Prof. Greenberg’s class by chance. He was tallish and thin, and had a crisp, friendly voice, welcoming us into his classroom with enthusiasm. He always wore a blue plaid jacket, and had a short, greying beard which I later learned was actually a long beard rolled and neatly tied with a rubber band under his chin so no one could see it.
I wasn’t sure why at the time, but I fell in love with sociology. Since Prof. Greenberg was almost the only teacher on faculty who taught it, I registered for every single one of his courses. By the end of my sophomore year, I had completed all my requirements for a BA in – you guessed it – sociology. I originally thought I wanted to be a social worker so I could take care of people, but after Prof. Greenberg explained how the two fields completely clashed, I followed him. (Besides, there were no social work courses in the college.) Perhaps due to Prof. Greenberg’s influence, my college had more students majoring in sociology than in any other area of study.
Prof. Greenberg’s classes were full. He loved the material. He taught with great delight, exuberance, and humour. He invited and loved our questions, and drew us into discussions about the meaning of life. We all came to class on time so we wouldn’t be left out of the action. His door was always open. I remember sitting in his little office with my list of adolescent existential questions; he spent a great deal of time answering each one patiently, honouring my place on my path of growing up and searching for answers to existence.
One day he took out pictures of his 11 children, lined them up on his desk, and playfully encouraged us to test him on their names and ages. He invited some of us – I guess those who were hungry for family – to his home for the Sabbath, to join the many students who sat around the table together with his family to enjoy singing, learning, and discussion. Sabbath was also the time when he wore his beard long and replaced the plaid jacket with traditional Sabbath clothing.
He cared about us, as well as our ideas and opinions, and he helped us to analyze one another’s thoughts and theories with similar appreciation and respect. His tests were always essay tests because the more we expressed ourselves, the better.
He was a great teacher not because of anything in particular he did, but because of who he was. We wanted to follow him, and he made learning seem like the greatest adventure in the world. He seemed to embrace life with a pure and knowing heart, and there was something magical about that.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our children had teachers like Miss Perkins and Prof. Greenberg throughout their years in school?