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My Second Grade Teacher

My Second Grade Teacher

By Good Gossip | Chaviva Weinfeld No Comments
  • 0
  • January 3, 2018

Second grade. I sat in the second seat, first row against the wall.
I wasn’t the smartest or the most talented child in the class, not the sweetest or the best behaved or from an important family. I was just an ordinary child. But certainly nobody would have predicted then that I would evolve into an angry, defiant, oppositional kid whose name every teacher would dread finding on her class roster.
Nobody could have known then that in the third grade, with a new baby in the house, a mother who went to work long hours leaving me in the care of babysitters, and a move to an unfamiliar school, these changes would create a monster of a child who bullied others, wreaked havoc in the classroom, and was insolent to teachers and principals.
That was a magical year of learning. Mrs. Oppenheim stretched our minds to grow past our classroom into other worlds, past, present, and even future, with stories that filled the shelves and our minds.
But even more important, Mrs. Oppenheim was the quintessential teacher. She loved her job; she loved her students; she loved me.
I left second grade, but second grade never left me.
Somehow, Mrs. Oppenheim had conveyed her love for me in ways that made me assume that she wanted to read the sporadic letters I sent her the summer second grade ended, and even years later. And when I was old enough to cross streets by myself, I checked the return address on the letters she wrote to me, and one fine day I rang her doorbell.
She was glad to see me; her smile reached her eyes, encompassed her whole face.
I don’t think Mrs. Oppenheim ever knew that in my new school I became a behavioral issue. I don’t think she knew that my mother cried because of me, that she dreaded PTA. I don’t think she knew the school worked every year not to expel me, and was beyond relieved when I left to high school. She couldn’t know that in twelfth grade, when I was rejected by a seminary, in the teacher’s room one teacher said out loud, “She deserves that rejection letter.”
Mrs. Oppenheim knew only the second-grade child she once taught and loved.
For the problem child I became, the greatest gift she gave along with her love was the belief that knowledge was the key to success. If I would always seek to learn, to know, I would find my way.
So in the coming years I made it my business to learn. Chumash and Rashi, Navi and Parshah; history and literature, writing and reading; even as I caused trouble I took notes, did my homework, and studied for tests.
I was kicked out of class regularly, sent to the principal almost weekly. I was reprimanded and punished. But I made up all the notes I missed while being scolded in the principal’s office or punished with detentions and suspensions.
My academic achievements didn’t go unnoticed by teachers and principals, and some valiantly tried to channel my energies positively; but at that time they didn’t have a message I could listen to, and I was unready to find meaning in messages that seemed unclear.
Along with my academic smarts, I was good at sports and a dancer which helped assure that I had friends despite my behavior issues. And I finally did make it to a seminary, accepted by the skin of my teeth at the last minute, and went on from there to the rest of my life.
In my wish to give to others what Mrs. Oppenheim had given me, I became a teacher. I loved my students; in addition, I tried to convey to them that if they learn they will be able to achieve what they want.
No child wants to be a troublemaker. There isn’t a child who’s happy with his status of bully, of class clown, of problem. There isn’t a child who enjoys walking into school not knowing if this will be the day he finally destroys himself.
And there isn’t a child who can’t benefit from a teacher saying, “You are special. You can do it. I know you can.”
In second grade, that was Mrs. Oppenheim’s message to me. It was the message I passed on when teaching elementary school and high school, through the years of raising my own children, through the years of mentoring at-risk children, and then through the years as a school psychologist.
The funny thing?
When I meet former classmates and we reminisce about Mrs. Oppenheim, I realize that she gave each and every member of our second-grade class the exact same message.