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Unforgettable Lessons

Esty Heller

As a new batch of graduates leaves school — and many school memories — behind, eight women recall exceptional educators who touched their lives forever.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016


"#1Graduate” balloons are soaring in the air, valedictorians are nervously squeaking out their speeches, students are bidding a final farewell to the battered linoleum hallways of their school. Much of what occurred in those buildings will be forgotten, but some teachers touched their students so deeply that the impact of their actions will reverberate forever. Eight women applaud their devoted educators.

There’s a story told about an elderly man who approached 19th-century poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti for his opinion on a number of art sketches. Rossetti gently informed the man that they showed very little talent. The man then pulled out a second batch, this one, he informed the artist, from a young art student.

Rossetti gushed over the new set, claiming that the youth who drew them had great potential. “Are they your son’s?” he asked. 

The elderly man sighed and said, “Those drawings are mine — drawn 40 years ago. If only I’d heard your encouragement back then! I gave up too soon.”

Teachers strive to educate their students. But while the details of a parshah or science lessons may fade over time, the impact of a smile, a word of praise, an act of kindness, can last a lifetime. 

I entered second grade with freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils, no father, and an arm encased in a purple cast. 

Recovering from complicated surgery, I was required to go for physical therapy twice a week. My mother devotedly took me to every appointment. It wasn’t easy, given the many responsibilities she was juggling since my father was niftar. 

I wasn’t the only one sporting a cast, though. Two days before school started, our dear principal Mrs. Yehudis Fasman broke her hand in a nasty fall in front of the school building. 

After one of my therapy sessions, while my mother was booking my next appointment, I glanced at the screen and spotted Mrs. Fasman’s name right there. Mrs. Fasman was seeing the same therapist as me! 

My mother approached Mrs. Fasman and asked if we could book back-to-back appointments, so that Mrs. Fasman could take me to therapy. With remarkable eagerness, she agreed. 

Mrs. Fasman became my new therapy chaperone. When I shyly joined her the first time, she made a detour. “First we go for pizza,” she said. “When I take my children to their appointments, we always stop for pizza first.” 

And pizza first it was, every Tuesday at one o’clock when we headed out of the school building together, as though I was her daughter. This arrangement continued all through second grade and into third. It continued even after Mrs. Fasman no longer needed physical therapy and I still did. 

One Tuesday she called me into her office in the morning and apologized that she wouldn’t have time to take me to the pizza shop that day. I panicked. I had grown so used to our arrangement that I never brought lunch on therapy days. But Mrs. Fasman immediately calmed me down and assured me that she had ordered a slice for me already, and it would be delivered to school in time for lunch. 

Once, when I lost my insurance card, Mrs. Fasman confronted me as to why I didn’t know the number by heart. I got a new card, and like a parent, Mrs. Fasman kept a copy. I memorized the number and remember it to this day. 

I don’t remember Mrs. Fasman as a principal. I was a little kid, and shortly after this experience our family moved and I changed schools. But I’ll never forget the astonishment on the receptionist’s face when, after months of appointments, she discovered that Mrs. Fasman wasn’t my grandmother. 

She may have been my principal, but she nurtured me like a bubby.

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