Carole Horne was my second and third grade teacher in the early 1960’s. During that same time, Miss Horne served as the first and second grade teacher for my kid sister, Michele. All of the students called her Miss Horne. Miss Horne was single and remained single throughout life. Miss Horne is now well into her eighties and is in the last stage of her life. Carole Horne is dying.
Unlike her big brother, Michele keeps in touch with her childhood connections. Recently, Michele sent Miss Horne an “I’m Thinking of You” card. A short time after, Michele received a most lovely note from a couple who was assisting in providing palliative care to Carole during her final months or weeks of life.
I learned about the “I’m Thinking of You” card as well as the lovely note last week, while speaking to my sister by phone while I was between flights in Minneapolis. As my sister was reading the lovely note to me, she quickly sensed an ominous silence on my part. “You’re crying, aren’t you”? She asked. “Yes,” I managed to respond.
My crying was not over Carole Horne’s dying. My crying was over my sister’s care and concern; my crying was over the fact that my sister took the time to send a card to Carole Horne. Despite what my sister wrote in that card to Miss Horne, the card delivered the following message: You made an impact on me early on in my life. Because of that impact, I will never forget you.
Much energy and acrimony has been expended on the recent vote for Secretary of Education. However important this vote is, we all too often lose focus on the real role of the teacher. “Why Johnny can’t read or write” is a perennial question that will remain with us as long as there are Johnnies, teachers and schools. Depending on the zeitgeist, the blame shifts from the teacher and the education system to Johnny and his parents and his home life… if there is one.
Perhaps the wrong question is being asked. Instead of asking whether or not teachers are actually teaching, perhaps society should be asking whether or not teachers are actually touching. Perhaps society should be asking whether or not teachers, along with our education system are impacting upon our youth. Personally, I believe that the vast majority of six year-olds through eighteen year-olds in our culture are quite capable of learning and absorbing information. At the same time, I fear that so many of those same six year-olds through eighteen year-olds are not being impacted upon.
It was a Talmud professor who was far from being fluent in English – and not any professor teaching homiletics or practical rabbinics – who showed me the mechanics that went into delivering a D’var Torah and the most effective way of speaking before a congregation. It was in all likelihood the least popular professor on faculty who kept track of me when I was between pulpits and made that phone call to me over ten years ago, when Tiferet Israel of Dallas was in the offing.
Perhaps the Internet is onto something. When presenting us with security questions, it asks: who was your favorite teacher? I pray that that are more students than I realize, who attended the same Jewish Day School that I attended, who will answer “Miss Horne” when entering the name of their favorite teacher. I also pray that when Carole Horne meets her maker, she receives the very best heaven has to offer. Because of the way she impacted on her students, Carole Horne deserves the very best.