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.”
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. http://www.nigelhuang.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Daily-Motivational-Quotes-The-teacher-will-come-when-the-student-is-ready.jpg
Link: “Momsense: Who was the teacher who changed your life?” By Sara Paulson, Florida Today. http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2015/08/11/momsense-teacher-changed-life/31452153/