An occasional soliloquy from author Aline D. Wolf

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Teacher Who Loved Her Students

Ellen Galinsky, a nationally known researcher of children's learning, concluded her keynote address at the American Montessori Society's national conference in Chicago this year with a quotation from a seventh grader. "On the first day of every school year I can tell what kind of a year it is going to be. I just look into the eyes of my new teacher and I can tell if he or she likes children."

I think many students can sense whether or not their teachers like them but they rarely put it into words. It is more likely that their behavior in that teacher's classroom will reflect what they sense; if they feel liked or loved they will respond to that teacher and have a more successful school year .

This quotation reminded me of a teacher our son, Charlie, had when he was seven years old in a 6-9 class in our Montessori School. Her name was Miss FitzGibbon, a beautiful tall young woman who did many interesting classroom projects. I remember observing one day when each child had on big rubber gloves as they were dissecting a frog. On another day of observation, each child was busy with Montessori materials but together were humming a classical melody. When later I asked her about this, she said "Oh that's from a Brahms symphony. I usually play it every day after lunch, but today I forgot and so the children hummed it.

Every Friday she played a different kind of music and the children danced with each other as partners as she danced with each child in turn. I couldn't help but notice how each child kept watching her hoping he or she would be the next one to dance with Miss FitzGibbon.

This teacher had the gift of making each child feel that he or she was special to her. "She really loves Harry," one parent told me. Then another, "You know she really loves Andrea Lee." One after the other, mothers kind of whispered to me that that their child was especially loved. And, of course, I knew she loved Charlie.

One day Charlie asked if he could invite Miss FitzGibbon for dinner. I agreed and she said she would love to come. Charlie wanted to set the table and be sure her place was next to his. Then he went upstairs. When the door bell rang Charlie came bounding down the front stairs and I couldn't believe what I saw. Charlie, who always had his hair in his eyes and his shirt tail hanging out, had put on his dark blue First Communion suit, white shirt and red tie, that he had worn only once before, and his hair was combed back with what must have been about half a jar of vaseline.

Charlie would do anything for Miss FitzGibbon. It was one of his best years in school!