Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Raiding the Archives 5 - Why Teaching Matters

Now that August has segued painfully into September, all eyes turn toward the coming school year. I thought I'd share the first long-form piece I ever published in the London Free Press. It's from way back in 2000, and I wrote it after I heard my kindergarten teacher had passed away.

Today, my wife is getting her own kindergarten class ready for her new students' arrival next week. Any time anyone doubts just how precious a teacher can be in a child's life, I think of this piece, and the impact my own kindergarten teacher had on my own life.

Originally published Wednesday, April 26, 2000, in the London Free Press.

Learning about life and fingerpaints

The best teacher I ever had was my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Peligal. Like many teachers of her generation, she was a surrogate mother figure to all her charges.

She didn't teach lessons, per se. She set an example for all of us to follow. In doing so, she gently taught us the fundamental lessons we would continue to leverage for the rest of our lives.

She was so influential on my young life that for years after, I would visit her in her classroom after finishing my elementary school classes in the adjoining section of the school.

Somehow, seeing her in the increasingly small-scaled room made everything seem right in my increasingly complex world.

When I first received the news that she had died earlier this year, I reflected on how nine months spent playing blocks and finger painting with a woman over a quarter-century ago would continue to shape my now-very different life.

As trivial as the kindergartener's - and by association, the kindergarten teacher's - existence may seem, that first educational step helped me bridge the gap between Mom at home and a bunch of strange kids I'd never met in an overwhelmingly big place known as school. I grew up a lot that year.

As it was, I was a pretty sick kid and spent a good chunk of that year in the hospital. My return to the classroom was always a joyous event. Mrs. Peligal always took extra time to ensure I had everything I needed, and that I felt comfy being back with my classmates.

She used my absences as an opportunity to teach my friends about compassion and generosity. Living alone in a hospital was hard for a five-year-old to understand. But Mrs. Peligal made it seem easier with her regular care packages and calls. In that regard, among others, she was more than just a teacher.

I lost track of her after I got into high school. Typical for a teenager, I was too old and too busy to fully appreciate the lessons learned that year. She retired and moved far away. Life went on.

News of her passing made me regret that I never called or wrote to tell her how much I appreciated all she had done for me.

Only after I got married - to a kindergarten teacher - and had kids of my own did I begin to truly appreciate the lessons learned in that classroom and how relevant they are no matter how old we are.

Share. Say please and thank you. Appreciate what you have, not what you don't. Take the time to smell the flowers. Smile at someone. Draw a picture when the urge strikes you. Tell your Mom she looks pretty today. Take a nap when you're tired. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

These little rules of life seemed simple at the time, and they still do. Deceptively so.

Our five-year-old son now spends his days in his own brightly-decorated Kindergarten class. When we drop him off at school in the morning, I sometimes pop into the classroom to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that made me feel so secure so long ago.

Time and distance have removed me from that first classroom, but I can still see Mrs. Peligal welcoming us all back, making us once again feel that all is right with the world.

Thank you, Mrs. Peligal. May your lessons always be heeded no matter how far-removed we are from your classroom.

Carmi Levy is a London resident. He still colours outside the lines and builds Lego towers with his two young children.



Kate said...

Nicely written. I wish that I remembered my kindergarten teacher.

Amelia said...

I don't remember my own kindergarten teacher, but there is something magical about entering a kindergarten when you're an adult. I look at the children and wonder what they will be like when they are older. Who will impact on there lives? Is there the next Mel Gibson in here? The next Prime Minister? A wonderful inventor?

I know my own children have been fortunate enough to have all been taught by the same kindergarten teacher, so in a way that has made the experience so much more personal for them, myself and the teacher.

That first year in the school system is crucial in establishing a positive and supportive environment in which to learn and grow.

carmilevy said...

Kindergarten's one of those things we don't appreciate until much later in life. It only dawned on me when I saw my own child go through it. And I felt like I needed to capture it in writing lest the magical moment end up lost.

My wife teaches kindergarten, and was lucky enough to have taught our daughter. Our youngest has another year to go. Every time I read the story about my own kindergarten teacher, I think of how lucky our kids are to have her as theirs. I think there are lots of similarly-themed stories yet to be written, and I look forward to adding them to my archive.

Beverly said...

Carmi, I guess you will get this comment, even though it is on a post written so long ago.

Thank you for pointing me to it. When I was in university, I started out majoring in English and French, and then I switched to elementary ed. One of my high school friends, when she heard that I was going to be teaching young children, really thought I would be wasting my talents.

G-d bless the kindergarten teachers. I never would take the courses to put it on my certificate, because I knew I didn't have what it takes to work with the five year old. By the time they pass through K and enter first grade, they've learned those things that you mention, and they're ready to learn academics.

The sad thing is now, in the US, that; kindergarteners are expected to know so much before they even enter K.