Fourth Grade Teacher
Know Your Pelicans
What is your favorite thing about Packer?
Besides the stained glass windows on the south side of the Chapel on late afternoons in May and June, I love the cycle of each school year, and it never bores me. Students and teachers start in September as relative strangers, getting to know one another as we begin working together. As a teacher you consider the hand you've been dealt — the extroverts, the shy ones, the "humorists," the needier students, the class leaders, etc. — and you stir the mix and observe the results.
One lovely aspect of working so long at Packer is that every year I have some of the younger siblings of past students, and resume relationships with Packer parents I'm already fond of. Every year I get to walk a new set of 9- and 10-year-olds and a new associate teacher through many wonderful Fourth Grade traditions — Ashokan, Brooklyn 1774 (formerly known as the Colonial Faire), the International Fair, my debate program, and the Tiny Lincolns project — experiences that are entirely new to them even if affectionately familiar to me. A class personality forms and each class is different, a product of 23 individual student characters, two teachers, and unique circumstance: that's the class that went to Ashokan in December rather than October, or that's the class that wrote a musical, etc. When it starts to "work," and it always does, expectations are clear, responsibility is shared more evenly between teachers and students, and the whole distinctive, hilarious conglomeration rolls along like a well-oiled machine. And then suddenly it's the end of the year. We say goodbye on that last day of school, knowing that this particular group of 25 will very likely never be together in one place again. They all run out to deliriously greet summer vacation, and the classroom is silent and empty. And then three months later you get to start again with a truly empty desk. Teaching is one of the few jobs where you can absolutely "start over" once a year. I love this cycle, and for me, it never gets old.
Describe a favorite or memorable moment in your classroom at Packer.
I've done an annual study of Abraham Lincoln with my students for the past twenty years. One of the texts we use repeatedly is Russell Freedman's Lincoln: A Photobiography, an illustrated biography of Abraham Lincoln, which won the 1988 Newbery Medal — the first nonfiction winner in 30 years. About 15 years ago, one of the class parents who knew Russell Freedman told him about my class study, and he agreed to come visit and speak to the students about Lincoln. Freedman was more or less retired and he moved rather slowly, and I think he expected the students to be "cute" but unsophisticated in their understanding of Lincoln. To Freedman's astonishment and my immense pride, the students were able to answer every single question he posed, in detail. He warmly congratulated them on their study, and inscribed a copy of the book to that class. I still have it! There's a special kind of delight and pride that teachers often feel in their students' accomplishments, and this was a such a moment.
Name a book/artwork/piece of music that changed your life and explain how.
Where to start? F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise still seems to me the most wonderful, passionate, romantic description of college and life at age 20, even though I went to Haverford and not Princeton. I often reread parts of this novel when I think of that time of my life. Stoner by John Williams is one of my favorite novels about teaching, even though it's about a university professor in Missouri in the 1930s. Lynda Barry is the cartoonist who I think best captures the joy and sadness of childhood; get a copy of The Greatest of Marlys, which was just republished.
Perhaps the moment I best remember as "life changing" took place when I was in 7th Grade. A friend and I took the train from Scarsdale into New York City by ourselves to see a double feature at the Elgin (now the Joyce Theater), an old repertory film theater that showed nothing but "classic" and foreign films. We saw a double feature of Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and Jules et Jim. The films were black and white, and subtitled rather than dubbed. I believe these were the first foreign films I had ever seen. I fell in love with beautiful Jeanne Moreau, as well as with the music of Georges Delerue who scored most of Truffaut's films. My friend and I raced out of the theater when the films ended, on fire with excitement about the global world of cinema which we had never realized existed in our midst. And the rest is history...
What is something that most Packer people wouldn't know about you?
There are a few things. My junior year at the University of Edinburgh was one of the two best years of my life. I first saw the Grateful Dead in 1969 when Pigpen was still alive. And in Fifth Grade I performed as Tom Sawyer, singing and dancing in a class musical which toured three local elementary schools. Alas, I have not a single photograph or Super 8 film to prove this or help me remember it.