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Teaching is hard, and I’m grateful to my teachers

Teachers and students from Jewish People’s School enjoy a day at Mount Royal Park in this photo from the Jewish Public Library Archives, circa 1940-1950.

Recently, a column in a local newspaper discussing gifts to teachers challenged my notions of propriety. The columnist was referring to gifts given to teachers and the necessary thank-you note back from those overworked exemplars. Chanukah is coming, and gift-giving is on my mind.

I worried that I had not given my children’s teachers gifts, nor had I written proper thank-you notes when I received notes or gifts from students. So my world got confusing and overloaded, especially since I don’t want to buy in to the enormous cycle of gift-giving and the attendant commercialization of the holidays.

Mostly, I am challenged by the idea of showing gratitude to our educators and question the proper boundaries of that.

I accept that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to our own teachers. But I don’t believe in giving teachers gifts, most of which are useless. We do owe these teachers some form of recognition. I say this not because I am an educator, but because I can readily acknowledge my own enrichment and debt to my professors.

Previously, I wrote about my own path to teaching. But now I’ll elaborate on how two teachers changed my life, although, I admit, I never thanked them properly. Alta Jablow and Dorothy Hammond of Brooklyn College were remarkable women. They opened my eyes to a world of human diversity and significance, and in the process set me on a path to my present life and career.


Let me set the stage: I was in my second year of college, busy with boring required courses. Much to the dismay of my parents, mid-semester, I’d had enough and quit school. I registered at a renowned secretarial school. (I know – what was I thinking?) Obviously, I didn’t last long there. What to do? Guided by my cousin the professor, I went back to college and registered for a philosophy and anthropology course. The philosophy was taught by a man who thought women didn’t belong in his classroom. Imagine me there. But the anthropology was taught by Hammond. And so began a wonderful segment of my life. Both Hammond and Jablow enriched my world, taught me what a real education could achieve and opened my mind to the study of humanity.

When I entered college, I never thought I would teach, I never understood the significance of teaching, and I never wanted to go back to school. But here I am, decades later, fulfilled, gratified, and still in school. So I must first thank my teachers – all of them.

Teaching is not an easy profession, although many look to the supposed time off in the summer and rank it as being easy for mothers. It’s not. And it’s not just for women. Significantly, most teachers I know also work in the summer preparing and writing.

Taking one’s place in front of a classroom and spending time with inquiring minds is one of the hardest jobs, no matter what the level or age of the students. It is – or should be – a humbling job. Teachers should incur challenges, develop curiosity and grow understanding.  Teaching means sharing, listening and learning. It’s not a one-way process. An honest educator knows that they don’t have all the answers, and that in fact, they don’t even have all the questions. The multiple roads we travel as we learn and teach must be fluid and many-sided. Questions are to be encouraged as thoughtful individuals develop their own approaches and styles. This is not easy.

I was fortunate. I had many such experiences with some great teachers. I tried to emulate them in my own classrooms. Maybe that’s the best way to indicate my own gratitude.