- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Our Collective Minds
A Kaddish for Miss P.
The other day at breakfast, the Missus and I were discussing an item in the news… a Georgia pilot program in which students as young as five would be surveyed on their teachers’ performance. The results of the surveys would be considered as part of the school’s teacher evaluation process, which means – in theory – that a cranky kindergartener could, in some small way, determine whether a teacher gets to keep her job.
These are the sorts of things that convince me that we, as a society, have lost our collective minds.
Anyone who has spent any time in school whatsoever – presumably including the geniuses who designed this pilot program – knows that five-year-olds have no business determining the career paths of the people who exercise authority over them. And middle-schoolers would probably welcome the opportunity to stick it to teachers who rubbed them the wrong way. There are plenty of situations in which the people receiving services can provide fair, disinterested, and well-reasoned evaluations of their service providers, but being a student in a public school is most definitely not one of them. The Missus and I could only shake our heads in disbelief.
It occurred to me that, with respect to the numerous teachers I had while in public school, my opinions of them while in school were considerably different from those I held years later. And it only makes sense. In school, the teacher is the source of both knowledge and discipline: the former to be absorbed, the latter under which one must necessarily chafe. Four or five decades down the road, the teachers that I remember most fondly are the ones who nurtured and developed that thirst for knowledge, even unto awakening an interest in subjects where previously there had been none. And strangely, the teachers who were tough disciplinarians with finely tuned bullshit detectors – the ones who would knock me down a peg or two and help me temper my natural cockiness with welcome humility – are among those that, in retrospect, I loved best.
I must have had a latent soft spot for teachers. After all, I ended up marrying one.
And I had plenty of good ones. A few, not so good. Several, better than good. Of course, my opinions of them generally improved with time. How much of that is due to the natural human tendency to forget unpleasantness and remember the good, and how much due to my increasing maturity, I cannot say.
One in particular always stood out in my mind: Miss Barbara Polsbie.
I first encountered Miss Polsbie in ninth-grade French class. During my high school career, I would alternate between her and the formidable Mrs. Hamburger, from whom I learned both French and German… but it was always Miss Polsbie’s classes I looked forward to. And this was strange, because Miss Polsbie was no soft touch. As a teacher, she was tough, pushing us to achieve. Tests, quizzes, essays – we had them all, in ever-increasing doses.
And yet, there was a sparkle in her eye, a sense of humor. She would recite a twisted fairy tale, crammed with spoonerisms, that began, “Tonce upon a wine…” and that would have us all rolling in the aisles of the classroom.
One time, I tested her limits of tolerance. Assigned to run the 16mm projector (this was back when, to see a movie, you would thread “film” in an intricate path through a “projector,” which would then show the images on a “screen”), I deliberately set the device to run at 16 fps instead of 24. After the interminable opening credits, the soundtrack started up in all its slow-mo glory, causing the class to roar with laughter. But when Miss P. focused her laser-like gaze on me and said “Étienne!” I knew the jig was up – there was no way this was an inadvertent error, and she knew it. She said nothing more at the time, but I was never asked to run the projector again… and the lousy attitude grade I got dinged with for the marking period was icing on the cake. Message received.
It was Miss Polsbie who took our class to New York City to see the Comédie Française on Broadway in the spring of our senior year. We enjoyed a real French pre-theatre dinner at Les Pyrenées – I had the lapin provençal, rabbit with olives – and we all had a grand old time feeling like real boulevardiers.
Some years after high school, I looked up Miss Polsbie and had a very pleasant visit with her while on a business trip to the New York area. I felt like the Prodigal Son, having gone off to university and thence to work in Sweat City at the Great Corporate Salt Mine. More like equals now and less like student and teacher, we talked about old times… and then went our separate ways.
Over the intervening years, I would think of Miss Polsbie ever so often. When the Missus and I honeymooned in Québec and my ability to speak French during those separatist days came in especially handy… when I took my first trip to Europe and dined at La Couronne in Brussels, carrying on reasonably fluent conversations with my colleagues and their spouses en français… when I spent one memorable night in Paris, strolling the Champs-Elysées and speaking not one word of English… and, most recently, while visiting my cousin’s family in Jerusalem, where French and Hebrew were the preferred languages for making oneself understood with his elder daughter.
* * *
Ahh, technology. The same social media tech that had allowed me to connect with countless friends and acquaintances from the Old Days delivered that nasty little piece of news, filling me with regret. I had never reconnected with Miss Polsbie, and now the opportunity was gone forever. I would never be able to tell her how she had, in her own way, influenced me in so many little ways.
The funeral was to be the next morning, with one Rabbi Ronald Brown officiating. Somehow, the knowledge that Miss Polsbie was Jewish – a fellow Red Sea Pedestrian! – had eluded me all those years. Given that I was already in the New York area and that the service would be held less than fifteen minutes away from where I was bunking in at my brother’s place, I resolved to attend… and thus it was that with a borrowed suit and tie (my brother, four years my junior, is a hair taller than me, but we are otherwise of a size these days), I showed up to pay my respects.
At the service, there was a modest crowd of friends and former colleagues, but no family: Barbara was the last of her line. Without family members and without the presence of the requisite quorum of ten Jews – a minyan – there would be no recitation of the Kaddish, the traditional mourner’s doxology. And yet…
True, Miss Polsbie had no children of her own – no biological offspring, anyway. Yet all of us who filled her classroom were, in a way, her children. Subtly or overtly, we who were her students all bear the imprint of her teaching and of her personality. By the grace of the Eternal One, I was able to represent us at her funeral… and thus on me falls the responsibility of reciting Kaddish for the appropriate period of mourning.
Farewell, B’rachah bat Miriam. You were a very special teacher, and you will be remembered.
- Image: Licensed by LikeTheDew.com at iStock.com
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
"Old Age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young." --Fred Astaire It’s finally happened to me...I’m now the Biblical threescore and ten years old. I went to bed after a great meal, wonderful evening with my ever-loving wife Jody, some funny conversation, a little mystery on the telly and woke up...well, I didn’t feel any different. I did wake up, though, which is a good thing. Aside from that, I woke up early as usual and as old men are wont to do, didn’t change my technique of putting my right leg first into my shorts, Read on →
"... if you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming ... You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe than man controls something he can't create." -- Rush Limbaugh Conflict between faith and science is as old as science itself. In 1543, Copernicus's great work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, laid the groundwork for a new model of the cosmos, with the sun, rather than the Earth, at its center. Attempting to preemptively defuse the controversy the new worldview would unleash, Copernicus's publisher anonymously attached a preface. Addressed to the pope, it stated boldly Read on →
Why do we care what happens in Ferguson, Missouri? Because on some level we recognize that if any one group or community can be officially deprived of their human and civil rights without restraint, then it can happen to any other group or neighborhood. Sea Island, Georgia is proof. Sea Island, Georgia has been turned into an exclusive neighborhood. Random visitors are turned away at a guarded gate and even residents driving off the island must pause and wait for the barricade to rise and let their vehicle pass unscratched. Presumably, pedestrians can leave unchallenged. Though, people on foot are universally Read on →
Hollywood died last week. No, not that Hollywood, not that Hollywood of a lesser kind--that Hollywood out in La La Land. Rather, it was the real Hollywood, the iconic cherub-cheeked, perpetually smiling man, who cut hair and worked magic over at Murden's Barber Shop in southwest Atlanta, Ga. for the last forty years. Even for some of the legions who know him, 'Charles Allen Lattimore, Sr.' could be the answer to a trivia question on TV's Jeopardy quiz show: 'What is Hollywood's real name?' It wasn't that Hollywood ever went out of his way to conceal his true identity, he wasn't off the Read on →