Latest update: January 16th, 2012
I had just picked up my son from his first day of school, when this beautiful woman smiled at me, then at my children, and continued on her way. A flood of wonderful memories washed over me; this woman had been my first grade teacher. Now nearly a quarter of a century later, I still remember her and she remembered me. I remember where I sat in her class, and some of the things she had done, like bringing in eggs in an incubator so we could watch them hatch. I recall sitting in her class wanting to be just like her. She was a sweet, gentle, loving teacher who made each of her students feel special.
If we are lucky, during our lives, we will be graced by the presence of a few great teachers. These individuals shape our lives for the better because of the special way they choose to impart the lessons they want us to learn. A great teacher has many faces. She or he can be a teacher or professor in the classroom, but often is a relative, acquaintance, co-worker or neighbor. It makes no difference who they are, or what their profession is, but excellent teachers all have something in common: they infuse us with principles and understandings, hopes and dreams. And through these teachings, we are forever changed.
What makes a great school teacher? Extensive comprehension of a subject matter; passion, a kind approach, and a love of learning. In addition, knowledge of curriculum standards, methods of proper, effective discipline and classroom management techniques. But most importantly, a great teacher must have a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of his or her students.
There is no question that great teachers love to teach. They don’t take these jobs for the money, stature, or honor; they teach because it brings them an unbelievable feeling of satisfaction, knowing they are contributing positively to the futures of others.
Great teachers also understand that the mismatched, dirty-clothed child is the one who most needs the extra hug; that the child most difficult to have patience with, is the one most in need of help and love. Great teachers also understand the student who keeps calling out may be doing so because it is the only time she is being heard and requires a listening ear rather than a trip to the principal’s office. Great teachers also understand that just because a student is dressed to perfection every day, does not mean that her emotional needs are met. Great teachers know that given the right tools every student can succeed.
Working in the field of special education, I get to spend time in many different classrooms. This year, I spend many hours working in Morah N.’s classroom and there is so much I have learned from her. Her passion for teaching is incredible. She comes prepared with exciting materials, songs and crafts. However, what impresses me most is that despite my many hours in her classroom, I have no idea if she favors any one student over another. Each student, no matter what their last name, the type of home they come from, how prestigious they are in the community or how they are dressed, is treated lovingly and respectfully. And the students that need the extra hug-receive one.
The power of a teacher’s unwavering faith in her students is priceless. Without teachers, there would be no doctors, lawyers, scientist, or other teachers. They are the source of inspiration that passes from person to person.
Her name was Mrs. Fallon. Like many teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, Moshe made it difficult. He sat slumped in his front row-seat. He didn’t play with the other children, his clothes were messy and he constantly looked like he needed a bath. But looking through his records from previous years Mrs. Fallon was surprised to see what Moshe’s first grade teacher wrote: “Moshe is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.”
His second grade teacher wrote, “Moshe is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”
His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”
Moshe’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Moshe is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.”
By now, Mrs. Fallon felt terrible, but wasn’t sure what to do.
Chanukah came and all the students brought in presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and fine paper – except for Moshe’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a grocery bag.
Mrs. Fallon took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when they saw a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume.
She stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.
Moshe stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Fallon today you smelled just like my Mommy used to.” After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, and writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children.
Mrs. Fallon paid particular attention to Moshe. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded.
By the end of the year, Moshe was one of the top students in the class.
A year later, she found a note under her door. It was from Moshe and it said that she was the best teacher he ever had. Six years went by before she got another note from Moshe. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had. A few years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Fallon that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had.
A few more years passed and yet another letter came. This time it said that after college, he decided to stay in school – and that she was still the best teacher he ever had. Only this time the note was signed, Moshe F. Feigin, MD.
The story doesn’t end there. You see there was yet another letter that spring. Moshe said he’d met a girl and was soon to be married and was asking her to come be part of the wedding. He explained that his father had passed away and he really didn’t have much family. Of course Mrs. Fallon said she would come.
She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. She made sure she was wearing the perfume that Moshe remembered his mother wearing on their last Chanukah together. At the chuppah, Dr. Feigin whispered in Mrs. Fallon’s ear, “Thank you for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.”
Mrs. Fallon, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Moshe, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t really know how to teach until I met you.”
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
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