I did the math and I figured Pam has sharpened 138,720 pencils and she has written the schedule for the students to read at morning gathering 5780 times. She put on 30+ plays, numerous festivals, organized countless events, planned at least 24,000 “academic” lessons but more importantly, gave an infinite number of lessons by just being who she is.
Those of you who know her know she is a list maker and a planner. I imagine that a lot of people look at their lists and think of them as all the things they have to do, but Pam’s were lists of things that would push us both to always do a better job. We worked together for 16 years, a mere fraction of the 44 she taught, but it was an honor for me to be responsible for accomplishing things on the lists (and not on the list) and even to dream about the things we never got to put on the list. Working with Pam was the gift of a life time for me- one that I will carry and continue to learn from all my life.
Pam was a master teacher and a mentor for many teachers at the Lower School. She kept her classroom clean and orderly; she continually rotated displays and bulletin boards, and just to walk into her space was always an aesthetic treat. She helped her students understand beauty in the world through art and nature. Not only did she attend to making the physical space conducive to learning, she created an emotional tone that inspired learning. Pam’s strength was in her ability to meet each child where they were and then gauge how to move them forward. She helped children see all they could do and learn and how they could grow to be better people. She had high standards and high expectations and her students rose to them. Year after year, she worked her magic because she herself was a stellar role model. She was constantly bringing in relevant newspaper and magazine articles to initiate discussions, telling anecdotes from her own life experiences to stimulate questions, and relentlessly finding ways to connect to each child’s interests. She knew how to frame new learning in contexts kids could understand. She honored the individuality of each student by taking time to talk to them about their interests and families. And in her classroom, she made the taking care of their classroom, which involved everything from pet care to organizing art supplies, one of their jobs. It was expected that they be responsible for cleaning up after themselves. She taught the students how to write thank you notes and send condolences and congratulations. As a class, she had the students keep track of how often they remembered their Wednesday vegetables for Martha’s Table to insure that they would take all their school service jobs seriously. While she fully appreciated and celebrated the “youngness” of her students, she did not shelter them from the harsher truths of the larger world.
On top of that she knew how to be fun - always keeping that balance between structure/routine and novelty/out of the box. Pam’s social studies projects were messy and creative and proof that kids come to understand big concepts best through hands-on work. She integrated art across the subjects. Over the years, she devised an endless variety of ways to get kids hooked on books, over writer’s block, and engaged and curious about the world around them. She taught first grade for years and later third and fourth graders but she could teach any grade and make kids look forward to coming to school every day.
She became a Master teacher by attending to details that many teachers don’t even see, by working harder than most would consider physically and mentally possible, and by caring more and giving more. For Pam, a half day was 12 hours at school. I will always wish that every teacher in the country could have seen her in “action” and be forever thankful for the time I had to learn teaching by her side.
Her legacy will continue to inspire many of us forward. After all her years of giving (teaching), she certainly deserves to retire. I take solace knowing she still has plenty of things to do on her list!