L’Dor V’Dor: Three Generations in Education
I should have seen the generational signs.
All the indications were there.
My mother was a New York City school aide working two hours a day for $1.75 an hour in the 1970s. Today, I am an adjunct instructor teaching marketing communications at a major university. My daughter is a credentialed elementary school teacher currently educating 18 pre-kindergarten children in an all-day New York State-supported program.
We three have a connection to students and learning. What we saw in our family’s rearview mirror couldn’t have been any clearer: the route of our individual “education journeys” from their beginnings until today.
For my mom, working with students was a chance to be employed part-time in a local junior high school. She covered lunch periods for many children including “educables” and “trainables” (I’m cringing as I use the labels for youngsters with special needs during that era). She was a natural in all the auxiliary things – lunch duty, bus duty, etc., and, in a different time, would have had the chance to study and become an excellent teacher for this community.
For me, it was two paths to teaching from two very different communities – the Business and Technology Division at the Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York and volunteering for Hadassah.
Early in my marketing career, I spoke to a room filled with seniors from my alma mater, ending the session with the chairperson of the department inviting me to come and teach the prerequisite advertising and promotion course as an adjunct instructor. I agreed and haven’t left in over 30 years.
Later, in my parenting life, I facilitated “Training Wheels/Al Galgalim,” Hadassah’s Jewish family education program, created in 1994 to give the parents and grandparents of young children a way they could discover, together, the joys of being Jewish.
The program supported early childhood education about Jewish holidays via music, crafts and Shabbat. In this and later a sister program called “Wheeling On” for older children, I not just facilitated but included my children. It benefited not just me and my family, but many other local families. We got positive results while often being elbow-deep in glitter and grape juice.
My daughter’s future as a teacher was vividly predicted by an elementary school reading teacher who witnessed her patience and understanding as, even at an early age, she helped her peers. The veteran teacher felt my child would make a wonderful educator. Despite the accusation of “mom bias,” believe me, she is.
Every day, I think about the teaching environment I have heard of and seen, pre- and post-lockdown for COVID-19, and consider what it was like for our family trio of teachers in school, both in person and virtually.
My mother lived to see the impact of COVID-19 but had retired long before we knew how to spell “pandemic.” I suspect she wouldn’t have had a job during this period, so I have to rely on my memories.
Her greatest work hazard was when she was “sideswiped” in the halls or main office by teachers who wanted to discuss my and my brother’s progress in math or social studies.
Her greatest achievement (in my 12-year-old eyes) was being the lunchroom lady with whom the seventh-grade boys talked – ironically, the same boys I was interested in speaking with.
And her greatest gift? Being at “my school” but always giving me space to be the uncomfortable adolescent I was.
My path, which has led me to teach advertising and promotion to hundreds of business students, changed on March 13, 2020, just before COVID took over our lives. I met my students in person as the class had just completed their midterm exams. I suggested that we stay calm, that I was hopeful we would remain with in-person class sessions.
The next time I saw them was on a computer screen a short time later due to the New York State lockdown. I worked nightly to bring our class to remote learning while presenting weekly synchronous lectures at 9 AM on Friday mornings. This unexpected semester, concluding with the May 2020 final exam, wasn’t just about covering the marketing concepts within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. It was a semester steeped in emotional connections, too. I reached out via email to remind all students that the college was there to support them and wrote personal emails to be sure students who had fallen off the radar were healthy and safe. Unlike a normal semester, our first COVID-19 semester made the student-teacher experience a lot more serious than explaining what makes an ad, an ad.
My daughter taught online during the lockdown period, as well, but returned to in-person teaching for the pre-kindergarten class of 2021-2022. Many of the children hadn’t had a chance to socialize with others their own age, so along with their academics — sight words, math concepts and STEM investigations — she dried tears, taught the meaning of friendship and could be heard asking, “Is that a good choice you’re making?”, all of which she does to this day.
And while I continue to teach asynchronous online courses and “meet” my students via photos and discussion boards, my daughter continues to bring home stories of children sharing, chasing leprechauns and setting butterflies free after they emerge from cocoons.
There is an ice-breaker assignment I ask students to complete during the first week of our online semester. In it, I ask them about their majors, what they like to do and their music, book or food preferences. I ask them about COVID-19 and its past and current impact. The answers give me a glimpse into their lives and what they want for their future. Like my mother and daughter, I am privileged to know these students, if only for a short while, and to help imbue their educational experience with purpose, kindness and meaning.