Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Melammed and Her Worth


Many jokes are made about the teachers in our universe. We Jews are not left out in this endeavor.  It is one of many characteristics with which we can compete with the majority of humanity.  We will cite only a few of the sarcasms that are directed at the educators in our society:  “Schwantz Melammed” (tail teacher, connotation: incompetent educator); “Das arme Dorfschulmeisterlein” (the impoverished village teacher); “A professor dreamt he was lecturing to his classes, when he woke up it was true.”  “Professor, Brot Fresser” (Professor, devours bread - meaning his talents are eating). “Susan the preacher, the kindergarten teacher”. We have devalued the teaching profession and the teacher with it.

We must acknowledge that there are teachers who entered the field of educator for faulty reasons.  There is the young person who uses his talents to dominate, to aggrandize, to indoctrinate negatively to the detriment of the student.  He may be incompetent and dislike what he does.  He may have an aversion to children and their normal behaviors.  He may be impatient and expect instant results and make every day a boring drudgery for his students.  The majority of our educators, however, want to have eager and perceptive learners whose life will be enhanced through the knowledge that is presented to them.

A good teacher can inspire and disseminate knowledge, wisdom, morality, , and change, can improve young lives, bring enlightenment, give courage to the shy and empower children and assist them in meeting their potential.  The teacher can be an inspiration,  a guiding light and much, much more. Implanting the seeds of knowledge into learners can bring a great deal of insight and learning into both young and old.  The teacher has the opportunity to turn flawed thinking into positive directions.  There is so much that a healthy and sincere teacher can achieve and give to his or her learners.

There are many teachers that have brought knowledge and new inventions into our world from the beginning of time. Without them we would have no electric light, no electronics, no modern medicines that have prevented and cured diseases, no practical transportation, no understanding of the universe, etc.

Here I will describe one teacher who brought kindness, light and understanding into  the lives of children in an impoverished small American town. Miss Rhoades, as she was known by her fifth grade pupils, was a tall, very thin woman whose face showed far too many worry lines for her possibly not quite forty year old existence. Her young students were happy to engage in the topics she so ably presented and her teachings were well taken. Her wide smile grew when she saw an understanding had been achieved and a fact or a concept had been learned.

Her newest student was a ten year old immigrant who could not speak a word of English. The child “Gretchen” had escaped Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.. This girl wore a washed out cotton dress daily, did not have the penny loafers that the other youngsters had, and did not fit into the group in the classroom.  She was ridiculed by her classmates.  Miss Rhoades was determined to change this.  She spent time after her schedule to tutor Gretchen without reimbursement and without fanfare.  It was difficult to teach the girl learn the English language, a laborious task.  The most complicated concepts were those that could not be pointed out with words.  One such example was “either, or”,  since you could not point to an object and pronounce it while pointing at the concrete item.  She was observed and heard explaining the either/or phrase over and over and over, again and again.  When these two meanings finally were understood, Miss Rhoades had the brightest smile that can possibly be imagined.  This was accompanied by a  clapping of her hands to show her delight and approval of her young charge.

To Miss Rhoades, the “eisches chaye” (woman of worth), her accolade was the accomplishment of her student.  Her love shone through the good deeds that she gave to others!  This wonderful teacher's “lev tov” (good heart) will never be forgotten by the girl whose life she changed!


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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