An Unforgettable Teacher

Louis Lichtenstein - APW Central

By Judy Berman

The prospect of standing on a stage and acting out lines from a play were even worse than I imagined.

Just what was I thinking when I signed up for my high school’s prize-speaking contest?

Was it the lure of acting that spurred me on? The promise of easy money? It was a paltry sum, but anything that added to my feeble allowance was a plus.

I turned to Louis Lichtenstein, a history teacher, and asked him if he would help me prepare. He wasn’t my teacher, but he was someone I often turned to for advice and knew I could count on.

It’s been years since I’ve graduated from high school, but I’ve never forgotten Mr. Lichtenstein and how he encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone.

I was reminded of this incident twice – on the same day – the day before I returned to school to teach after summer break.

During pre-planning, Brevard County Public Schools’ South Area Superintendent, Dr. Mark Mullins, asked all of the teachers at our school to stand. He asked us to think of a teacher who made a difference in our lives.

Then he pointed at me and a few others and asked us to name that teacher. There have been many wonderful teachers in my life. But, without hesitation, I said: “Mr. Lichtenstein.”

Dr. Mullins noted how we were all smiling as we reminisced about our own days as students. He told us we could be that teacher for our students.

That night, at home, I read Sara Paulson’s column in “Florida Today” about a high school teacher who made a lasting impression on her.

Among her concerns prior to the start of her children’s school year were whether they’d be going to a good school this year, whether they would struggle with their workloads and how they’d get along with their peers.

Paulson wrote: “Will this be the year that one of my kids meets his or her Mr. Collins?”

Tom Collins, she explained, was a teacher who was friendly, approachable. “Kids gravitated toward him. His class had a reputation for being fun.”

Motivational - The teacher will come when the student is ready.

Again, I thought of Mr. Lichtenstein as he listened to me emote lines from “Arsenic and Old Lace” – a dark comedy that Frank Capra turned into a movie in 1944 starring Cary Grant.

At times, from where he stood, my voice was barely audible. He’d tell me to project my voice. Or, he’d suggest ways to enhance my performance.

My confidence grew as I practiced my lines. I really got into the play.

Then, the big day came when I had to act out this play before the WHOLE school. OK! Altmar-Parish-Williamstown was a small school in Oswego County, but that didn’t make me dread the outcome any less.

As I crossed over to center stage, I prayed that no one would hear my knees knocking.

My mistake was that I looked out in the audience to spot one of my friends. At that moment, I realized my English teacher was saying my lines along with me.

I froze and stammered “I forgot.” It seemed like forever before I regained my composure and finished the play.

It’s safe to say that I raced thru my lines as fast as I could so I could escape the glare of the spotlight and the audience’s attention.

My discomfort was short-lived. Despite my lousy performance, I began to think about trying out again the following year.

After graduation, after I got married and had two daughters, I went to visit Mr. Lichtenstein. As always, he was a great listener, empathetic and gave excellent advice.

He’d left teaching. But his heart was still involved in helping others. He was a counselor who worked at Farnham Crisis Center in Oswego.

When I searched for his name this week on the Internet, I learned that he died in April at the age of 91.

I recalled the students who sought him out.

Like me, their spirits were uplifted after talking with him.

Mr. Lichtenstein’s belief in me made me feel I could conquer whatever I set my mind to. We should all have a caring educator like him in our corner. I know he made a real difference in my life.


What teacher made a difference in your life? Or, in your children’s lives?

Photo: In my yearbook, a photo of Louis Lichtenstein, a history teacher at Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central Schools.

Photo: The teacher will come when the student is ready.


Link: “Momsense: Who was the teacher who changed your life?” By Sara Paulson, Florida Today.

  1. “Your voice is better than you think” shows that Mr Lichtenstein saw beyond your initial reticence to imagine the outspoken woman you have become. The banner above his blurb “Finished Products” in the yearbook reinforces that message.

    My vote for outstanding teacher is a combo, both relative and instructor: Teacher/Aunt Ruthie Longenecker. You know her from my blog posts. On one post I tagged her “The Cheater,” but I have destroyed her rap sheet a long time ago.

    You have written a lovely tribute, Judy.

  2. God rest his soul Judy-A lovely tribute to Mr. Lichtenstein. Without a second thought, and in answer to your question. Mr. Schacter! I’ve written about a couple of times. ❤
    Diana xo

      1. Thanks Judy. ❤ I mentioned it only because he impacted my life. You know, I bet you have students that feel that way about you too. 🙂
        Diana xo

  3. By having such wonderful long-lasting memories of your teacher, you’re keeping him, alive which is a lovely thing. It’s a sign of great character to be remembered so fondly after you’re gone.

    I had a French teacher I looked up to. A young, independent woman who influenced me in many ways.

    1. Carrie … I didn’t get along with my French teacher. Mrs. Pauline Manwaring was very strict. It took me years – after I graduated – to see what she wanted me to learn and that she had my best interests at heart. I wish I had had the opportunity to tell her that.

  4. Such a wonderful tribute to your teacher, Mr. Lichtenstein, Judy. Sadly, teachers like him are hard to find these days. Young people are so impressionable, the right words from a teacher can have a lasting impact, as Mr. Lichtenstein did with you. That said, the wrong words can have the opposite result. I had a Spanish teacher, while in college, who humiliated me in front of the class, on numerous occasions. I struggled from then on, because my confidence was beaten down.

    1. Jill … No teacher should do what yours did to you. I wasn’t every teacher’s cup of tea. That’s why it’s a pleasure to remember the outstanding ones. I never had Mr. Lichtenstein for a class, but I could tell he really had his students engaged in his history classes. 😉

  5. A lovely tribute to your teacher! I know my daughters both had teachers who inspired them, and the officiant at our younger daughter’s recent wedding was the college professor who had directed her and her husband in “Streetcar.” She also recently wrote a letter to her former high school English teacher to tell him how his classes influenced her. (She teaches English now.)

    “Arsenic and Old Lace” is one of our favorite family movies. My younger daughter has made all of her friends watch it at least once. 🙂

    1. Merril … Your younger daughter has great taste. “Arsenic and Old Lace” is also a family favorite of ours. I love that she wrote a letter to her former high school English teacher. I wish I had done this for the teachers I admired. 😉

  6. My favorite teacher was Frankye Lane in 6th grade. She coached me every afternoon to prepare for a school-wide spelling bee. I came in as runner up, but Mrs. Lane instilled confidence and gave me the wonderful feeling of being believed in. We kept in touch for many years, far into my adulthood. I am still delighted I could tell her before she died about her impact on my life.

    1. Doran … I wish that I’d kept in touch with quite a few of my teachers. I know how delighted I am when a student goes out of his/her way to say hello and tell me how much I meant to them. 😉

  7. Judy, this post covered so many memories with me! As teachers, when we remember the teachers who were wonderful, or a Jill described, awful, it carries a different weight with us and hits closer to home than it probably does with non-teachers.
    This last trip when I was with my mom, a new resident had moved into the facility and was sitting on the patio. It was my h.s. history teacher and also my drivers’ education teacher. I recognized him and said hello. He blinked and smiled and then called me by name. He said he’d heard I drove from Colorado to southeastern Kansas every month to visit my mom, and then he slapped his knee and proclaimed that, see, he’d done a very good job teaching me to drive.
    It was later that I learned he has advanced dementia, quickly progressing, and usually he didn’t even recognize his adult children, but his memories from 40 years ago, when he was teaching, were his pride and joy.

  8. how lucky that you had a mr. l. in your life. if everyone had someone to look up to, the world would be a better place.

  9. Such an amazing story Judy . I am reading your post this morning whilst my husband , my dog and my oldest friends, Lynne and Chris ( who are staying for the weekend ) are sleeping and have tears in my eyes .
    Like you, I had a wonderful teacher called Miss Killpatrick who was my English teacher . She praised my essays like no other and would read them out in class . My chest would swell with pride . Unfortunately she was the only teacher who had such an influence over me and I so wish I’d have listened to her when she pushed me to do well in my studies because I left high school without any qualifications and trained to be a hairdresser …not a good move .
    Writing has been my hobby for many years and I often think of Miss Killpatrick and wonder what she would think of my stories now .

    1. Have you tried to get in touch with Miss Killpatrick? Our youngest daughter found one of her favorite teachers on Facebook and they are now FB friends. 😉 I’m glad you loved my story.

  10. Teachers have a great impact on their students, and it was nice reading about your supportive teacher. My favourite teacher was maths one. I hated (and still hate) maths, but I liked Mr Maths more than any other. I learnt to separate him from the subject he taught – not a great idea, I later found out 🙂

  11. That’s really lovely Judy! Good to hear about the great teachers! 🙂 Your story of learning to speak in that play reminds me so much of an experience I had playing the Dragon in Shakespeare’s George And The Dragon. I had teacher very like you have described Mr. Lichtenstein, in fact he wore spectacles like his in that picture too! He was history obsessed (main History Teacher for the school) and a little eccentric to say the least – but never the less well loved by his pupils. Like you I was not a confident speaker at all, and it was strange he gave such a powerful role to a very quiet girl. But teachers like that, know what they are doing, they seem to see the potential in a child much more than anyone else does. I got a lot of verbal bullying for weeks during those rehearsals from boys who were seething with jealousy that a mere girl had got the meaty part, they called me dragon face and reassured me I wouldn’t need a mask to play that part. Nice boys! 😉 But by the end of our first performance, I had boys coming up to me in the playground to tell me how good I was as the dragon. NOBODY, I really mean, NOBODY ever told me at school I was good at anything, because most times I was useless at everything. He not only gave me confidence, but made me feel a bit more normal for a little while.

    So I can imagine how you feel at remembering Mr Lichtenstein, those teachers had a lot to do with the positive side of our little selves blooming – and look at us now!! 😀 I would imagine my teacher has also died, he was not far from retirement in 1979. That year feels a long time ago! I have tried to look him up, but no luck, he doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere on the internet. Anyway, beautiful people, and beautiful memories are treasured in the mind forever. 🙂
    Thanks for your heart-warming story and reminding me again of mine!

    1. Suzy … I’m glad my story reminded you of the wonderful teacher who played such an important role in your life. Doubly glad that those awful boys said something nice about your performance. 😉

  12. Mr. Leo Nolan, Northside Elementary School in Levittown, N.Y., sixth grade. He taught us to think for ourselves, every day. Five years ago, all of the kids from that class started trading Facebook notes because it was time for the 35th high school reunion. And everybody gave credit to Mr. Nolan for shaping us as the independent individuals we’d become. There were lawyers and doctors and … me. And Leo the Lion, Mr. Nolan, came into the conversation and said he remembered our class as a special year for him, too, an 80-something year old man thrilled to be reconnected with former students. Yes, Mr. Leo Nolan is my favorite, Judy. Thank you for this excellent post.

  13. Judy yet another great tribute to an amazing educator. My favourite teacher in high school taught us Asian Social studies he was all about treating us like young adults, I loved his passion for different cultures, he made learning fun. Teachers are amazing when they can leave such great memories.

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