Articles

Teacher, I Love You

SIDNEY KATZ December 1 1951
Articles

Teacher, I Love You

SIDNEY KATZ December 1 1951

Teacher, I Love You

Articles

While most schoolteachers get an occasional apple, Jean Care gets earnest offers of marriage from some of her kindergarten pupils, at Christmas they loose an avalanche of gifts, and they’re always trying to take her home to tea. Her secret: ”1 just like being friends with children”

SIDNEY KATZ

EACH Christmas, Jean Care, a kindergarten teacher at Forest Hill Village’s South School, is embarrassed by the large number of gifts she receives. Like a freshly fallen avalanche, they are piled mountain-high on her desk and the floor space surrounding it. “It’s not right,” she says. “One person shouldn’t get so many presents.”

A few of the gifts are valuable but most of them are crude trifles fashioned by the children themselves. There was a small writing pad, bound with green and red wool, labeled, To My Lovely Lady from Richard. Crumpled up inside a brown manila envelope was a slightly worn Mother Goose handkerchief from Johnny. Later he said, “It was one of mine. Did you like it? Did you sleep with it under your pillow?” From a former pupil now in grade four came a pair of slightly used long black evening gloves. Jean Care later discovered that her young admirer, who had grown into the habit of buying a present for Miss Care as well as his current teacher each year and couldn’t afford both gifts, had taken the gloves from his mother’s bureau drawer. There was a gift from a former pupil, now a young lady of twenty-one about to graduate from university whom Jean had met downtown a few weeks earlier. “Imagine you recognizing me and remembering my name!” she wrote. Jean couldn’t understand the girl’s enthusiasm. “I just have the knack of remembering people the way others can remember prices or telephone numbers.”

The teacher who commands so much love and affection is a trim attractive brown-haired woman of thirty-nine who has taught in Forest Hill Village, a Toronto suburb, for twenty years. She claims to have no formula, no technique for establishing close and enduring relationships with children. “I just like being friends with children,” she says. “I guess I’ve never grown up.”

Her boss, principal Fred Sneath, sees her as a remarkably mature person with a rare talent for respecting and understanding toddlers. So much so that there is a constant stream of visitors to her classroom, mostly professional educators whose curiosity has been piqued by her skill. When Pearl Ramsharan of Trinidad came to Canada equipping herself to go home and open up a string of kinder-j gartens, she spent much of her time watching Jean' Care. So did Maiku Bando, a Japanese teacher, as well as other visitors from India, China and the United States. When Canadian teachers convene

in Toronto it’s almost a tradition now to “go see Jean Care.” One Ontario district inspectoi a routine prescription for young teachers who having difficulties with their pupils: “Spend

next week in Jean Care’s classroom.” Doro Jane Goulding, who conducts one of the CBC’s n successful juvenile programs, Kindergarten of Air, dedicated her last book: “To Jean Care, taught me what l know.” Sixteen-year-old Botnik, a former pupil who plans u> go to unh next year to train for work with children, “Jean will always be my ideal of a model tea' Like many another graduate of the South i kindergarten, Ruth’s choice of a career has influenced by Jean’s ability and personality.

Although Jean Care is regarded by the profeat as “a teacher’s teacher,” the kids themselves arc less enthusiastic. Recently when the class was on a twenty-mile bus trip to visit a farm ou Toronto, Jean had to stand up all the way: children were so anxious for her company that couldn’t show favoritism by sitting down b any one of them. During the course of each at least a few male toddlers earnestly propose riage to her. In one family the boy is encou», to invite his new teacher to dinner each fal, does—but he also insists that his ex-kindergt teacher come along as well. He is now in grade

An Atmosphere of Mutual Respect

Parents of Forest Hill Village, who like to bthey have the finest teachers in the provi usually point to Jean Care as Exhibit No One family, living in a crowded apartment, to move to their house in another sectior until all their children have had the adv Jean’s tutelage. Her year-end reports arc by parents for years. In a few written sums up the child’s attitudes, tendende; and weaknesses. “I wouldn’t have beli stranger could know my child so well,” told me.

Visitors to Jean Care’s classroom are impressed by a number of things. The clin the room is easy and relaxed with an almos» absence of regimentation of any kind. The ch go about their tasks with the teacher in the ground. She doesn’t fawn on her pupils or them with attention. Continued on p'

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Teacher, I Love You

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“You just have to be friendly and interested and listen to what they have to say,” says Jean. At play time she romps with her children as their equal. “I’m not afraid to get mussed up,” she says. “I’m down on the floor as much as I’m on my feet.”

Jean Care speaks of her classroom methods as “progressive” but she uses the term cautiously. “Many people think progressive education stands for complete freedom of expression, even allowing the kids to smash the windows and tear down the plaster. That’s a lot of nonsense.” She believes that children have to be taught discipline, good work habits, orderliness and all the other old-fashioned virtues, but she’s convinced the old methods of strict regimentation and punishment are not the most effective ones.

In essence, as Jean sees it, the job of the kindergarten is to prepare the child for the years of formal instruction which lie ahead. He has to learn to think for himself, act independently, be able to work and play with others. She believes that children respond to encouragement better than to criticism or scolding. A child learns more easily through doing than he does through being told. Thus, whenever possible, a child should be given the actual real-life experience. When this is not possible, he should be introduced to information in an appealing way—by songs, rhymes, stories, handiwork and dramatizations.

At the South School kindergarten the children don’t line up and march into class at the sound of a bell. They enter the classroom as soon as they come to school. The first child generally gets to school about twenty minutes before the nine o’clock deadline. Jean and her assistant, Margaret Boos, have already been waiting for them for ten minutes. “It’s important that the teacher be relaxed and pleasant when the children arrive,” says Jean. “It sets the tone for the rest of the morning.” Since the children drift in a few at a time for the next twenty minutes there is time to give each one an unhurried greeting. Each child is usually bursting with information. “Baby sister has a new tooth” . . . “Daddy had an accident in his car” . . . “We have a new pet turtle” . . . Jean listens attentively and makes an appropriate comment. When a child comes late—which is not very often—Jean comforts him by saying, “Everyone has accidents once in a while.” She knows that a child is embarrassed by his lateness and, furthermore, an adult is usually the cause of it.

In putting on and taking off clothes the children are encouraged to do as much as possible for themselves. “We can do it much faster ourselves,” says Jean, “but the children aren’t learning anything by it.” She’ll patiently stay by the child, encouraging him, just as long as he’s willing to struggle with a zipper, a button, or a shoelace. According to a fellow staff member, during the heavy clothing season Jean spends half her lunch hour at this chore. Most people think it’s almost impossible to teach a five-year-old the finer points of dressing. Jean disagrees. “It’s all a question of how you show him. For instance, in showing him how to make a knot in his shoelace you should stand behind him—the same position the child is in when he ties it.”

The longest session of the day — the work period—comes first. The children set their own task, do it their own way. To give them ideas Jean will gather the group around her and say, “Shut your eyes and think for a moment what

you would like to do at work today. This morning John told us about the snowman he made in his yard; perhaps you would like to show us how you think he looks.” . . . “We mentioned the snowstorm and what happened to the houses and trees; could you make an interesting picture about that?” . . . “There is fresh clay and plasticine for the people who would like to make e snowman or you might cut out a fat one, put him on the cover of a book and tell us a story to write inside.” . . . From now on, Jean’s task is to be here there and everywhere—-giving suggestions, helping the children over difficult spots, and replenishing supplies as they are needed. She tries to see the child who is having difficulty, the one who is ready for more advanced work, the one who is able to work independently.

Self-help underlies all these activities. At the beginning of the year Jean carefully shows where all the materials are kept. Everything is within easy reach. Routines are carefully explained: for example, if he wants

to paint the youngster has to get his paints, three brushes, water, put on a rubber apron. When he is finished he replaces his equipment, takes off the apron, cleans the brushes, places the painting up to dry. If a youngster forgets the routine Jean tells him. “Georgie painted yesterday. Ask him how he went about it.” Jean feels that often children learn better from children. And besides, a spirit of co-operation is being fostered.

When children won’t participate in an activity Jean is on the lookout for an underlying cause. Once an alert child from a wealthy home said he was through with {tainting. “But your last painting was wonderful,” exclaimed Jean. “I bet your mother was proud of it.” The child’s mouth tightened. “Her?” he said bitterly. “She threw it out. Said we had enough junk hanging around the house. What’s the use of trying?” After making a mental note to speak to the parents Jean said she would like one of his paintings to hang in the classroom. Another child, a girl, refused to paint, claiming it bored her. What emerged after a few minutes’ conversation was that her reluctance was due, not to boredom, but to a lack of self-confidence. “But I wouldn’t know how to turn on the tap to get the water,” she protested, and; “But I wouldn’t know how to clean the dirty brushes.” Given a little bit of extra help and encouragement she was soon painting eagerly.

Jean feels that a teacher who pretends to be infallible is a handicap to her pupils. “If the youngsters think you’re perfect they’re afraid to try new things for fear of making a mistake,” she says. Accordingly, Jean makes it her business to tell the class whenever she makes a mistake, spills or breaks anything or doesn’t know the answer to a question.

A regular feature each morning is “telling time.” Seated on the floor in a group around the piano, any child is free to get up and show the group any of their possessions or discuss matters of interest. All kinds of things have been brought to school including pet dogs, cats, tadpoles, books, dolls,

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records and a litter of wild rabbits, j Sometimes family secrets are aired, j One little girl said, “My mom is going i to have a baby but she’s not telling j daddy. She’s saving it for a surprise!” j One little boy got up, opened his mouth and pointed to the gap in his upper i row. “I lost my tooth,” he said. “I left the tooth at home but I brought the hole to show you.”

“Telling time” is an invaluable time to add to the children's knowledge of the community in which they live. December, for example, is the month for celebrating Chanukah—the Jewish festival of lights, as well as Christmas. Jewish children will bring to class traditional objects used to celebrate the festival—menora Its (a ceremonial candelabrum), dreidcls (a kind of top) and orange candles. Jean, who is Gentile, will read the story of Chanukah and play traditional Chanukah tunes on the piano, like the Dreidd Song. At the appropriate time of year other Jewish festivals are discussed, like Purim. Passover and Succos the harvest festival. To many Gentile children this is the first formal introduction to Jewish life.

Jean Care believes a classroom can be anywhere. Last October tin' children decided they would like a Hallowe’en Jack O’Lantern. They discussed how much they could afford to pay for a ¡ pumpkin, the best place to buy it, and how to get it home. After saving their | pennies for two weeks they set out one morning for Longo’s fruit store on Spadina Road, a few blocks from the school. A previously selected committee of four negotiated the deal with the proprietor. Then, loading their prize on a wagon which they had brought along, they took turns pulling it back to the school. Other expeditions made by the class include visiting a farm, buying a bird, going to a neighborhood grocery to buy fruit juice and cookies, visiting the post office, the railway station, and a nearby garden to see a nest of robins. Jean keeps j tab on her brood when in crowded places by having them all hang on to a long piece of heavy clothesline.

Jean believes the teacher must study each child as an individual. Accordingly, she starts in May to get acquainted with her September class. Parents are called in for a half-hour pre-registration interview during which all kinds of questions are asked about the child’s home, background and behavior. After all the parents have been interviewed the children are invited to spend a day at school in the month of June. This preview session helps allay a great many fears. “Very few children now cry when they’re brought to school in September,” says Jean. “In the days gone by the floors were literally flowing with tears.

Often the first days of school are not easy ones for both parents and children. Separation can he painful. “But it’s . a lesson that has to be learned,” says Jean, “unless the parents intend to go on living forever.” Jean frowns on the practice of some parents who insist on accompanying their children to school even though they only live a short distance away. “But she’s so little,” says the parent. To which Jean will sometimes reply, “Don’t you think you’re keeping her little?” Jean admits traffic is a real hazard hut that you | can’t go on sheltering a child indefij nitely. The wisest procedure for home and school is to teach the child how to behave on the street when on his own. She recommends that parents take their child on practice walks to school for several days before opening

Even the most nervous mother c m be helped to cut the apron strings. One small girl cried her eyes out because her mother wouldn’t let her corne to

school alone just like the rest of the kids. After a long talk it was agreed the mother would accompany the child only three quarters of the way. When the child showed she could look after herself that distance was gradually decreased, until at the end of two weeks she was able to come all the way herself. “It meant a lot to the girl,” says Jean. “Kids hate to be different.”

Sometimes, during the early days, a child flatly refuses to stay at school. How you deal with that situation depends entirely on the individual child. When one, a healthy and well-adjusted boy, clung desperately to his father’s legs at the school door, Jean lifted him bodily and carried him into the classroom. “It doesn’t take long for the average child to become happily absorbed in the school program,” says Jean. No such drastic methods were used on a girl who cried and shrieked when her mother was about to leave her during the first day of school. She was a thin child who had been painfully ill for several months during her third year. With good reason she had developed a deep-set fear of nurses and doctors, and when she saw a nurse walking through the corridor she concluded the school was some kind of hospital. During the week it took to dispel that illusion her mother was permitted to sit in class with her.

Many children have hidden fears, some imparted to them by parents, others conjured up by a lively imagination. Jean believes it’s important to bring these fears to light and deal with them before they can do the child real harm. One girl refused to accompany the class to the high-school auditorium next door to see a movie. She finally admitted she was afraid. Afraid of what? As nearly as the teacher could discover she was terrified not by the movie but by the trip next door which involved walking through a basement. “I’ll walk with you holding your hand and you tell me what frightens you,” said Jean. As they approached a bank of lockers with metal screen doors, the child clutched Jean and shrieked. “There they are—the cages full of fierce tigers!” Jean told her she was mistaken and took her over to examine one of the lockers’ contents—nothing more threatening than an overcoat and a pair of overshoes. “She loved the movies after that,” says Jean.

When a storm comes, Jean seats her children around the piano and works the thunder into a song and story. At one point they sit quietly waiting for the thunder to burst and then sing:

The thunder is rolling,

Rolling and rumbling,

Rumbling and tumbling,

High in the sky.

Most children can be taught to accept storms calmly, if not to actually enjoy them.

To learn more about her children Jean spends a good deal of time quietly jotting down her observations on small cards. At storytelling time she’ll notice the questions asked. (“It indicates the child’s powers of observation, intelligence and reasoning.”) One child cocks his head from side to side. (“Hearing may be defective and he’s straining to listen.”) A little girl sits listlessly, paying no attention to the story. (“She was probably kept up late last night by her older sister with whom she shares a room.”) A blond boy fusses and fidgets, disturbing his neighbors. (“He’s that way every time his mother is out of town. She’s away half the time.”) Often she’ll follow up these observations by conferring with parents.

No activity is too unimportant to be observed carefully. Jean has learned

a great deal from watching her children walk down the flight of stairs to the basement on the way to the washroom each morning. Some will skip down lightly, confidently, others will nervously clutch to the bannister, a few will cautiously put both feet on each step. The four-year-olds in the class generally have more difficulty because of poorer muscular co-ordination; so do the older children who live in bungalows and haven’t had any practice in step-walking. On the other hand, extreme caution and hesitancy may be due to a general lack of self-confidence. Jean unobtrusively arranges for the poor step-walkers to be at the end of the line, then teaches them how to navigate the descent one step at a time without hanging on. “It’s only a matter of a few weeks before they’re skipping down,” she says.

Come, Skip to My Lou

While such achievements sound trivial to many adults they’re of earthshaking importance to the youngsters themselves. Like an adult, the child doesn’t like to feel inferior to those around him. One day a little girl ran into Jean’s arms, crying because she couldn’t learn to skip like the others. The reason was obvious: she had extremely flat feet. “No reason to feel badly,” said Jean encouragingly. “It will take you longer—but you can learn.” When such problems arise Jean often takes the entire group into her confidence so they might help—rather than ridicule—their fellow classmate. For a few minutes each day the handicapped child practiced the simple skipping exercise Jean showed her while the rest of the children sat in a circle clapping in rhythm for her. Finally, one morning, the girl came bursting into the classroom, shouting triumphantly, “I can skip! I can skip!” The children gathered in a circle, spontaneously, singing and clapping, as she proceeded to prove it. They were sharing her victory. For the next month the heroine was given first turn

in every skipping game which was played.

During her twenty years in kindergarten Jean has been hugged, kissed, pinched, scratched, hit, bitten and kicked. “There’s no such thing as a routine way of handling children,” she says. “I’ve had over two thousand pupils and every one of them has been different.”

She recalls Bobby, whose IQ score was so high it caused a sensation among the psychologists. At five he could play a complicated version of double solitaire as well as chess, work out advanced arithmetic problems, read scientific books and carry on a learned discussion about the solar system. But he hadn’t the slightest notion of how to play or how to get along with other children. Apart from his superior intelligence, this was due to the fact that a two-year illness had kept him at home away from other children. In the classroom he would insist on sitting in the corner all day, reading. “The games you play here are childish,” he told Jean. “1 don’t want any part of them.” Bobby’s father, a professional man, told me a poor teacher might have reacted to his son in two ways, both harmful. She might have pushed him, trying to get him to graduate from high school at nine or ten, or, by the use of harsh discipline, tried to get him to do as he was told.

Jean did neither. She had several talks with him. She agreed that perhaps many of the things the other children were doing were uninteresting to him. On the other hand, she pointed out there were many things he was not very good at. So they struck a bargain. Bobby agreed he would go to manual training, gymnasium, and play certain games of benefit to him. But when the activity seemed too babyish he would be permitted to read his books. “The agreement was made and Bobby stuck to it,” says his father. “He felt his teacher understood him and accepted his point of view.” Bobby was to spend two years in Jean’s class. By the end

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of that time he was a changed boy: while still retaining his intellectual interests he could play with other children, take a kidding, fight back if anyone encroached on his rights. He had done so well that when school opened in the fall he was placed in grade two.

Lying is not uncommon among fiveyear-olds. At this age Jean feels most of the time they’re not telling real lies —it’s just their highly active imagination at work. The kindergarten child, with no difficulty whatsoever, can imagine himself to be an oak tree, a Siamese cat, or a four-motored longrange bomber. Jean feels many of the deliberate lies children tell are due to adult attitudes. A child who breaks a dish or spills some paint and is deeply worried over the consequences is almost certain to lie himself out of his predicament. In spite of the fact that it sometimes takes a great deal of self-control, Jean tries never to be cross with a child over a mishap. “Once the fear is removed lying becomes less common,” she says.

White Horses in Straw Hat

When a youngster steals, many a distraught parent is certain his child is fated to be an incorrigible criminal. Jean takes a less serious view. Children have to be taught what belongs to them and what doesn’t. Furthermore, even if they do know, they sometimes act impulsively since their powers of self-control are improperly developed. When a child in his enthusiasm takes home school equipment like plasticine or scissors, Jean explains that it belongs to the school, that it’s for everyone to play with. Occasionally, when one of the children misses some private treasure, Jean will tell the class, “Barbara’s mother gave her that ring as a special present and she’s going to feel very badly if it doesn’t come back.” She asks, “Could it have walked away by itself? Someone must have helped it disappear. Perhaps by tomorrow it will find its way back.” Generally the missing object shows up.

Jean Care never consciously chose to make a career of kindergarten teaching-she just naturally drifted into it. “Perhaps it’s because I had grandparents, cousins and aunts who were teachers,” she says. The only child of a Toronto couple flier father was an accountant), she frequently begged her mother to get “a whole bunch of babies.” She was told that if she counted twenty white horses with straw hats any wish she made would come true. It took six months to spot the twenty horses and she was disappointed when she still remained an only child. To compensate she collected dolls, looked after all the children in the neighborhood. At public school ske was followed around by many of the younger children who used to show her the insects and butterflies they had collected. Before she knew it she had organized a nature-study group and was taking them out on walks in the woods every Saturday morning. At high school she played the piano for a woman who gave dancing lessons to children; in the summer she served as a volunteer worker at the Bolton Girls’ Camp near Toronto. Later, for three seasons, she was camp mother at a famous boys’ camp in Algonquin Park. Jean thinks she may have inherited her ability from her father, with whom she shares an eight - room house in Toronto’s east end. “Dad gets on a streetcar,” she says, “and in a minute or two he’s got a strange child on his knee, telling him a story.” When Jean graduated from the Toronto Normal School in 1931 she went to work for

the Forest Hill Village Board of Education and has been there ever since. Her present salary is four thousand dollars a year. When she receives a degree she is now working on she will be eligible for $5300 a year.

She has never ceased trying to add to her knowledge. After the children are gone at 3.30 p.m. Jean sits at her desk in her deserted classroom, preparing for the next day or reading professional books and periodicals. Occasionally she used to forget herself and work right through the supper hour. It was then that principal Fred Sneath told Bill Campbell the caretaker to chase her home every night at five and lock the doors. When she does finally leave she carries with her a huge wicker basket piled high with papers, books and play materials. Tn the evening she’s likely to be found leading a discussion of the kindergarten parents’ study group, addressing a group of teachers in Niagara Falls, or going to a professional meeting.

Her mid-term and summer holidays are just as hectic. She’s traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, Asheville, N.C., and Cleveland, Ohio, to study the local school systems. She’s taken courses at the National College of Education in Evanston, 111.; she’s given courses to groups of kindergarten teachers under provincial auspices at Ottawa and Winnipeg. When principal Fred Sneath chides her for working instead of holidaying in her free time she replies, “But it is a holiday!”

During the school year she also finds time to pack up her children and stage demonstrations in front of groups of teachers. Such assignments are dreaded by most teachers since it’s hard to get five - year - olds to concentrate under such circumstances. Jean, apparently, has the problem licked. Before starting a demonstration in the teaching of singing at the King Edward School, Toronto, she said to her youngsters, “Better have a good look at the room and the people here because we’re going to be very busy later on.” For the next five minutes she played a lively tune on the piano while the youngsters skipped around, gawking at the assembly of teachers. Then they sat down for the next twenty minutes without once looking up. Surprised by such concentration one of the teachers remarked, “I bet she’s only taken her best-behaved pupils!” She was wrong.

At performances of the Toronto Children Players, a theatre group, which are attended by eleven hundred children during the school year, Jean Care plays the piano during intermission and keeps a watchful eye on the kids the rest of the time. “She has the knack of spotting trouble before it happens,” says Dorothy Jane (Moulding, one of the directors. Occasionally a child is swept up by the action of the play and leaves his seat with the intention of climbing up on the stage. Jean invariably intercepts them. When the play takes a tragic turn Jean notices the youthful spectators who have broken down into tears, takes them to the back of the hall and quietly assures them that everything will turn out all right, then conducts them back to their seat again.

Perhaps the highest compliment paid Jean Care came from one of her former associates at the South School. She was commenting on the fact that many teachers are forever bewailing their lack of equipment: they claim they could

do wonders with their classes if only they had more materials to work with.

“Jean’s not like that,” said a teacher. “Put her in a bare cement basement with a group of toddlers and they’ll have the time of their lives. That’s because she loves her kids and they love her.” -fa