When I was in the 4th grade, my teacher died. It was the first time I experienced a death in my life and I didn’t know how to take it. I don’t know how the class was told or who told us, but I remember going outside and standing in a row with my classmates on the playground. All of the other classes were out there while someone was making a speech. Everyone was looking at us. The whole school was looking at us. One girl in my class was openly sobbing. The rest of us just looked around trying to understand that our teacher was not coming back. It didn’t feel real.
She was in a car accident. A head-on collision. Back then, seat-belts were not mandatory like they are now. I don’t know if someone told me she went through the windshield or if my 4th grade mind imagined it. I imagined a windshield going through her chest. It was shocking.
My teacher was Jewish. I remember her teaching us the Menorah song. I still remember several lines to that song as well as the tune. I liked that song. I think she taught us a lot about the Jewish culture even though I don’t remember specifics. Maybe that’s why I’m interested in Jewish stories, culture, and the Holocaust to this day.
But, the work she gave us was difficult. It was the most difficult I had experienced in my young life and I felt stress for the first time. I didn’t think I could pass the class because I wasn’t grasping the material fast enough. In a way, it was a relief when we were given a permanent substitute teacher. The stress went away and the curriculum was easier.
Now that I’m an adult, I understand why the original curriculum was hard. She wanted us to be smart. She expected excellence from us. It was for our own good.
I may not remember all my grade school teachers, but I do remember her. I think I got more out of her class than I realized.