Monday, August 24, 2009
The Things You Say in Class
You never really know the impact of the things you say in class.
Mr. Cantor, my 10th grade French teacher (spring of 1960) at Thomas Jefferson HS in East NY Brooklyn was a truly excellent teacher. He was very different from Miss Milstein the teacher we had from the semester before, who was a legend for the terror she created – she would call us up to the board to do grammar corrections and you had better be ready.
Cantor was genial, didn't stress grammar and focused on having us read and translate works of fiction and engage in rudimentary conversation. I might have actually learned French if that hadn't been my last French class.
He rarely spoke English to us. But I have a vivid memory of him telling us we would never be considered educated if we didn't read through most of the sections of the Sunday NY Times, which would at the minimum, allow us to touch base with the major cultural and news issues of the day time.
I don't remember if I actually followed but I sometimes repeated the story to my own classes.
One of my favorite students from the 1975 class kept in touch She went on to one of the specialized NYC high schools and then to a private college upstate. Though coming from a single parent, fairly poor home, she was marked for success from the first day she entered our school in pre-k. Though there was lots of scholarship money for college, she still struggled financially.
We got together soon after she graduated. "I never forgot what you told us about buying the NY Times," she said. "Every Sunday, even in the coldest days, I would make sure to have enough money and I would trudge through the snow from my dorm to buy the Times and drag that heavy thing back to my room."