Teachers shape the lives of young people, and are too often forgotten years later. But you know what? Their influence persists just the same.
My mother was on the phone from Windsor, telling me how the pre-school I attended decades ago was having a reunion to mark the retirement of its owner and principal caregiver, June Stevens. My mom wondered whether I wanted to attend. I thought for a moment. June Stevens…. I told my mom I didn’t really remember her.
“She cared for you for the better part of two years,” my mom said, a little miffed. Maybe she’d go in my place.
Coincidentally, my son graduated from his Montessori school last week. There are cynics who pooh-pooh the notion of “graduating” from anything at such a young age, but I witnessed the event with a lump in my throat, partially because I had such trouble remembering June Stevens.
My son has had the same teacher through his four years at Westside Montessori School. It’s located on the corner of Richmond and Maud Streets, and I’d be impressed with the place even if it wasn’t half-owned by my sister-in-law, the indefatigable Jody Shulgan. That’s because of the nurturing provided by my son’s teacher, Liz Bovey, the school’s other owner.
My son was among Westside’s original attendees. He’d just turned two, and those early drop-offs were painful. He seemed like such a fragile kid back then. Like a lot of kids, he was shy and so dependent on his mom that it was easier for me to take him to school, because he cried less.
During those first months, Liz would sometimes call us shortly after we left. “I just wanted to let you know that Myron is playing perfectly happily,” she would say, and I would actually feel my blood pressure lowering. Months later, the tears stopped, and he’d saunter into the playground, apathetic about my departure. I kind of preferred the tears.
Over the next four years, the school grew, adding teachers and classrooms while also becoming a social centre for both students and their parents. But I don’t think I grasped how fundamental the place was to my son’s development until he had his tonsils removed earlier this year. On the fourth day after his surgery he felt fine but the doctor told us not to send him to school yet because of the risk of infection, and so my healthy little boy had more solo time on his hands than he ever normally had.
I was working from home, and he came up to the dining-room table and asked me to set him up with some math problems. I scrawled out a couple pages’ worth of addition and subtraction, and he took the pages over to his spot on the kitchen island and set out running through them. I credit Liz with the concentration he showed as he worked on them.
After my son’s weekly soccer games, it’s become a tradition for him and his friends to remove their shirts and…well, they call it wrestling, but the sight resembles a mosh-pit at a Soundgarden concert, circa 1990. Every Thursday, my formerly shy boy is there among his friends, doling out suplexes and happily receiving half-nelsons—it takes only a minute’s observation to grasp how confident and happy he is. He started at Westside as an introverted little kid who had trouble speaking to anyone. And he’s graduating with the confidence of a leader. And Liz was a big part of that.
But here’s the question preoccupying me lately: Will Myron remember her 30 years from now?
I hope so. I hope he’ll remember her calm and her patience, because he’s absorbed those qualities from her. And if he doesn’t, well, perhaps that’s the peculiar tragedy of teachers like her, who shape the lives of young people, only to be forgotten later. You know what? Their influence persists just the same. And parents know it. That’s why my mom was miffed at me—because she knew how important June Stevens was to my life, even if I didn’t. And even if my son forgets Liz, three or four decades from now, his mom and I never will.