For Mr. Hollander, Ms. Vit, and Linda by
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One of my granddaughter’s favorite teachers

The only teacher I remember before fifth grade was the frightening Miss Cartwright. Third grade in her classroom was my worst nightmare. Already a shy student who rarely volunteered answers, I did everything I could to avoid her noticing me. She actually paddled students in 1950s suburbia. Although I don’t remember her hitting a girl, I kept my head down and remained vigilant. If she could paddle Johnny McCormick every morning before he misbehaved to remind him to obey all of her rules, my main goal was to make no mistakes, follow all of the rules, and never call attention to myself.

A favorite teacher lives forever in our hearts.

In fifth grade, Martin Hollander entered my life and became my favorite teacher. Unlike any other teacher I had encountered up to then, he was a guy. I remember him as being friendly, mellow, and very approachable. I could raise my hand to ask a question and allow myself to relax and focus more on what we were learning and less on what might happen if I made a mistake.

What was especially appealing in the height of the Cold War was that Mr. Hollander claimed our class was a democracy. His students could vote on what they wanted to study. He encouraged us to express our opinions on a wide range of topics and listened to the naïve ramblings of ten-year-olds with respect and seriousness. Looking back, it is likely he was also a bit unseasoned and at the beginning of his teaching career. He went on to become a respected administrator in the school district. But when I was lucky to have landed in his class, he was someone who truly loved his teaching job.

Of course, Mr. Hollander discovered that fifth graders were not really ready to set the course of their educations and were prone to break the rules they had voted into place when he left the room. Thus, at some point, he took our democracy away and became a benevolent dictator. Still, I have to thank him for showing me that school could be a fun and exciting place in which it was safe to raise my hand and share my ideas.

I can’t end this without giving a shout out to Ms. Vitantonio, the elementary school teacher all three of my children were lucky to have. They all were very different students and yet they all adored her and felt cared for in return. Ms. Vit was very approachable and open to talking to me as a parent. She was also very pretty and likely my son’s first crush. What was special about her was her ability to adapt her teaching to a wide variety of students and meet their unique needs and personalities.

As a former teacher and early childhood school administer, I came to see that great teachers, favorite teachers, have something in common. They are able to convey their love and acceptance of children as unique individuals. The teachers I worked with at Cherry Preschool were dedicated, devoted to their work, empathic, and talented. My three Evanston-based grandchildren were lucky to have had some favorites among them. Teachers of young children are often not remembered by their students, but one of my granddaughters, who has recently graduated from high school, has such a strong bond with several of her preschool teachers that she still talks about them. Her special love is for Linda, who will be moving to Belize soon. The featured image is of her with Linda in preschool. This summer, she visited Linda and they took a final picture together.

With Linda 14 years later

A favorite teacher lives forever in our hearts.

 

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    “A favorite teacher lives forever in our hearts”. That is SO true, Laurie. Your 3rd grade teacher sounds so awful! I’m happy to hear that your 5th grade teacher was a dream.

    I had a first grade teacher like your 3rd grade teacher. We had an unruly boy our class – she made him sit in the waste basket and chew chalk! As I think back on him, I’m sure he had ADHD, which is why he couldn’t sit still, but of course, that wasn’t a diagnosis yet. You’ve made me think of several teachers who made a difference in my life, one was a 5th grade teacher who went on to become a school administrator in Detroit, I remember running into him while he was leading a group of students through the DIA years later (I was visiting with my mother). We had a fond reunion. Another, I had for 7th and 8th grade math. He was an excellent teacher, but had hemophilia, so was often quite sick and missed a lot of school. Still, he was beloved by all his students.

    Thank you also for sharing your own children’s and grandchildren’s favorite teachers. They do make such a difference.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      OMG, Betsy. Your first grade teacher was also awful. Do you think it was more accepted in the Detroit area then elsewhere? What we both learned, even though we were punished, was to remain vigilant.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Laurie, I’m not sure it was just in the Detroit area. I think it might have been indicative of the era (and I read that somewhere in the Midwest – maybe Indiana?- corporal punishment has made a comeback. Can you imagine?)
        Besides, this teacher was just mean. I was never punished the way that little Joey was, but I remember being singled out for verbal abuse (and we are talking more than 60 years ago), if I didn’t understand something I would crinkle one side of my nose. She made a sarcastic remark about that, “There goes Betsy Sarason again”, then made a grotesque face to embarrass me. And I was her best student! It clearly left a deep hurt in me.

        • Laurie Levy says:

          Verbal abuse and cruelty can be just as bad as paddling. One of my granddaughters, who is very anxious and has learning issues, had a 3rd grade teacher she still singles out as being very mean. She threw away her (expensive) water bottle because she was tired of my granddaughter keeping it with her all day. She also forced her to navigate crowded halls at the end of the day when she had a classroom aide whose job it was to walk her out of the building a few minutes early. It was part of her IEP, but this teacher thought she could force my granddaughter to toughen up. Needless to say, I had to come in to find my granddaughter sobbing on the stairs because never emerged from the building.

  2. Suzy says:

    Wow, Miss Cartwright sounds dreadful. My daughter Sabrina had a scary teacher like that in second grade, although I don’t think she actually hit anybody. Thank goodness Mr. Hollander came along two years later and showed you what a great teacher could be. Funny that he tried to make your class a democracy but had to take it away because the kids were breaking their own rules.

    Your last line is so true.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I’m sorry Sabrina had a scary teacher. I had hoped people who became teachers did it because they loved working with kids. In the era in which I had Miss Cartwright, teaching was one of the few professions open to educated women.

  3. Wonderful Laurie hearing about your favorite teachers, and how sweet that all you three kids had Ms Vit!

  4. Marian says:

    I’m so glad you finally had a good teacher but disappointed that it took until 5th grade. Paddling? Yikes! I’d heard about it, and the kids in Catholic school were subject to these indignities, but not in our public schools. I’m so glad that your own kids and your granddaughter had good experiences with their teachers. It makes a difference in their lives.

  5. Susan Bennet says:

    From the worst to the best of teachers — you appear to have experienced it all, Laurie. Ms. C. sounds absolutely disturbed and would probably be booted out of the profession now. She reminds me of a memorably witchy nun from my early Sunday School days. Scary.

    Clearly your experience as a student informed, positively, your career as a teacher and administrator. Teaching is angels’ work. Thanks for this story, and for your contributions in education.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Great pictures! Education is such an import part of our lives, and the teachers can make or break us. You know the value of teaching children and have made a career of making that a positive experience.

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