Inner City Diary
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Every school needs a Mrs. Rosenfeld
May 19, 2002
It was Friday night, just before closing time at Valu Village. Virginia and I were browsing through the used books for good deals. Most of my life consists of unresolved realities. Sometimes I enjoy the fictional resolution found between the covers of a good spy novel or courtroom thriller.

Moving to the next aisle of books, I bumped into a third grade teacher from John M King Elementary School. Maybe it’s just old stereotypes, but I was surprised to see a teacher in a thrift shop – especially on a Friday night.

Anyway, two of our three boys spent a good year with this teacher. After saying hello, I notice that he’s checking the books on the shelf against a list of recommended books for third grade kids. He says he prefers buying them in used book stores. That way he gets more books for more kids – for less money.

As we talked, it was evident that he remembered my kids and wanted to know how they were doing. This was not just a polite question. He was really interested. Back in third grade, I already respected his work as a teacher. He was part of a group of teachers who went above and beyond the call of duty. Anyone poking fun at inner-city public schools would quickly be shamed by the dedication and success of this group of teachers.

I thought back to my grade school days at “Public School 131” in New York City. I’ve forgotten lots about the schoolyard scraps and frequent visits to the principal’s office. I can’t really remember the layout of the school, but there is one thing – or person – I will never forget. My fourth grade experience with Mrs. Rosenfeld.

I had come into fourth grade, as many do, more concerned about having fun with friends than learning from the teacher. Mrs. Rosenfeld didn’t give a rip about my interests. She was passionate about penmanship, a slave-driver with spelling and merciless with math.

Besides all that, she taught me lots about controlling my bladder. It didn’t matter if you really needed to hit the can. If your biological needs didn’t fit with the timing of her lessons, you had to sit in silent pain until it was convenient for her to allow you a trip to the bathroom. Not everyone could get away with that. I remember one poor substitute teacher who tried to enforce the same routine in later years. I got up and peed in the wastebasket. But I would never have tried that with Mrs. Rosenfeld.

She was probably all of four foot eleven, but she had us more scared than most cops. It was no wonder I wanted a few days off. But my parents always seemed to side with her. Maybe that’s why she looked closer at the note from my parents indicating that I would be missing school for a few days.

The note wasn’t really from my parents. I had decided to try my hand at counterfeiting and forgery. Mrs. Rosenfeld detected that something was amiss and called my parents. I was busted. The “trial” was quick. If it had been an option, I would have pled for federal “time” rather than the “time” which awaited me at home. I’ve still done lots of stupid things in life, but that was my last attempt at forgery.

Sure, I had a few loser teachers in my years in New York schools. There was a science teacher and gym teacher who decided to supplement their teaching wages by dealing drugs. There were a few slackers and a few incompetents that couldn’t figure their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone teach a bunch of rowdy kids. But most of my teachers were great folk who did all they could to ensure our success in school and in life.

Here in Winnipeg, I saw lots of great teachers at John M. King School. There were some good “old school” teachers who knew enough about the difference between success and failure to assure parents that their kids were learning. Kids also had fun learning dance, music, and art. Several teachers focused on developing athletic programs and tournaments – way beyond school hours and requirements.

Some of these great teachers were stereotypically “nice,” working strictly “by the book.” Others were gruff with kids as well as administration, but their non-conventional ways of teaching challenged kids who are quicker to hide behind their “rights” than accept their responsibilities. Many arrived early and stayed late. Each contributed invaluably to the education of our kids. A former principal in the school was a great ally and personal encouragement in developing my work in the community.

If it really takes a village to raise a child, every village should have a few Mrs. Rosenfelds.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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