A Teacher

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Teachers Can Make a World of Difference

  You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Have a “Lev Tov”


Miss Rhoades, my fifth grade teacher, changed my life.  She was a very tall slender lady who looked like a caricature in an old funny paper.  She was my first schoolteacher when I arrived in the United States, an escapee from the Holocaust.  I could not speak a word of English, was afraid of my own shadow, and had been brutalized by the Nazis and ridiculed in school by my American classmates.

My wonderful father gave me stumps of pencils that he had scraped together, which had been thrown away from the menial work that was his lot.  My clothes were sparse and shabby.  My poor mother washed the same cotton dress every night so that I would look clean.  Although I was happy to be alive, I was frightened and was unable to understand the English language.  The few single words that I was able to mimic were spoken with a heavy German accent, and I created much unexpected humor and laughter for the West Virginia students that surrounded me.

Miss Rhoades was my angel.  She silenced the ignorant pupils as much as she could.  She also stayed after school every night, and with the greatest and most sincere patience she taught me the English language.  She wrote words in big language on the board, pronounced them repeatedly, and asked me to do the same.  She drew pictures, and then pointed to them and again and again repeated the names of the objects she had drawn; every time I was able to imitate her clear and beautiful pronunciation, she would clap her hands in approval.  She would point to an object in the classroom and clearly speak the name of the word over and over until I pronounced it correctly.  She never lost her temper and was Miss Patience personified.  Her leisure time was given to me without a single complaint for the entire year that I spent in my new country.

Miss Rhoades enabled me to speak the English language by the time I entered the sixth grade in Hollidays Cove/Weirton, West Virginia.  Because of her generosity, kindness, and caring, I won the spelling bee for the grade school in which I was a student, in the first half of the second year that I was in America. She sacrificed her time and utilized her ingenuity without expecting anything for all she gave of herself to a refugee child.

She not only taught me English, she taught her class of ten year old students kindness, acceptance and discipline.

Miss Rhoades taught me that there are still good human beings on earth, that not every one is a Hitler, that there is still kindness and love in the world, that giving of oneself generously without material gain is the greatest gift that one human being can give to another.   


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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