It’s been more than two months since my last post! To help make up for that gap, here’s a story so good, I think it’s movie material…
Almost 40 years later, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein still remembers the feeling of community in “4T,” Paul Tamburello’s fourth grade class at Pierce School in Brookline, Massachusetts. “He knew all of us, and had high expectations for us,” Jeff says. “He was really good about letting us know that he saw what we were doing, whether it was doing well or misbehaving.”
Though he graduated from 4T in 1974, Jeff kept coming back to visit his old teacher, even throughout high school and college. During these visits, Jeff recalls, “He would always say, ‘What do you remember from 4T?’ Then he would use that information to think about how to approach the class.” This commitment to continual improvement inspired Jeff, who began working at Pierce – first as a recess aide, and then, after graduation from Stanford, as an apprentice teacher to Tamburello for two years, beginning in 1987.
On the experience of having Jeff back in his classroom as an aspiring teacher, Paul Tamburello writes:
I was used to training student teachers but none with whom I had this kind of history. I hesitated. Was my work good enough, rigorous enough, to keep him engaged? I knew Jeff held me in high regard, maybe even considered me a role model. It’s a long fall from a pedestal to the solid, hard earth. Finally, I took the advice I gave my students. Don’t be afraid to try, maybe even fail.
There were days I shook my head and grinned in wonder. Jeff’s initiative was taking our relationship into rich uncharted territory. This was giving the term “student teacher” a whole new dimension. It would give us things to talk about for years to come.
By our second year of co-teaching, it was, “Jeff and I expect you to…” or “Mr. Tamburello and I expect you to…” as we ran the classroom. Jeff may be the only kid in America who got a post-graduate degree in fourth grade. It was the richest experience of my 34-year career.
In 1992, Jeff finally had his own classroom: he began teaching Social Studies and English at Brown Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts — only five miles away from Pierce School. Mr. Tamburello continued to guide his student of now 18 years:
“I would emulate a lot of the things I learned from his classroom, including his sense of discipline, and the positive environment he established.” Jeff adds, “Now, when I would go back to visit, he would still be trying new things, and this would give me more homework to do as a teacher.”
Jeff’s memoir about these experiences, On My Teacher’s Shoulders, was published in 2012. On his decision to write a book about Mr. Tamburello, Jeff says, “A big motivation was to honor the different, but related types of impact he played on me over the course of 30 years. It was not a static relationship: each time [I came back] there was something different that I had to learn and he had to teach me. I feel very fortunate that he had the strength and humility to let me know what he was gaining each of those different times. That helped me understand the reciprocity of shared important experiences.”
Many of us are fortunate to have had teachers who’ve shaped us for the better, including what kind of teachers we are and aspire to be. I also love how this story highlights the lifelong learning and cameraderie that can grow between teacher and student — and how the distinctions between these roles can blur in exciting, unexpected ways.
Have you kept in touch with a teacher long after leaving his or her class? Have you returned to teach at a school you attended?