Who Was Your Favorite Teacher?
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Who Was Your Favorite Teacher?

Four Jewish Atlantans remember the educators who understood, inspired and encouraged them.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Eric Miller’s mother was his best teacher.

I grew up in Atlanta, on Jody Lane, around Toco Hills. I started at the Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy) from first through third grades, when I was diagnosed with a learning disability. Much of the credit goes to Ms. Falack, who first spotted the problem. But it sent me on a long trail of tutors and school programs, leading me to Margaret Harris and Briar Vista elementary schools.

There are many teachers who deserve my gratitude. But my most consistent mentor and advocate has always been my mother. A teacher herself, she was the most diligent and the most persistent in getting me to graduate from high school and college.

After teachers, tutors and mentors, and learning just as much from my peers, I encountered my first mid-life crisis. In the summer of 1997, I left Atlanta to study with Rav Binny Freedman at the Isralight institute in the Old City of Jerusalem. He became my guide as we dove headfirst into Torah and Jewish philosophy. Through the stories he told and the books we read, he showed me a path of self-reflection and purpose. He gave meaning to life and to Torah. I was 34. I thought it was too late for an epiphany. I was wrong.
– Eric Miller

Erica Bercovitch was encouraged to think by her Western Civ teacher.

I grew up in central New Jersey in a little town called Iselin, where the Turnpike and Parkway and Routes 1 and 9 meet. Inspired by Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher), I became a teacher. Now I tutor and I really enjoy it. When I’m not tutoring, I am either knitting or reading.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful teachers and picking one was extremely difficult. The winner for me was Mr. Evan, who taught ninth grade Western Civ at Iselin Junior High. Mr. Evan was great at bad Dad jokes and always made us laugh. He also made us think. He never told us what we should think or his point of view. He taught us the information and allowed us to draw our own conclusion. When we learned about world religions, he refused to tell us his until we finished the unit. He also taught me how to learn. Some learn by sight, some through hearing. Mr. Evan used both methods, and as an added bonus, he made us rewrite our notes two times each night. But, don’t groan! I had a terrible professor in college, and guess whose notes I used? Of course, the notes of Mr. Evans, who went on to become a school principal. I really hope he knows how much he influenced us!
-Erica Bercovitch

Mordechai Gerchikov’s favorite teachers in Leningrad and Maryland reflected their school systems.

I went to elementary school in Leningrad (currently Saint Petersburg), Soviet Union. My favorite teacher was Nadejna Vladimirovna. In the structured Soviet school system, there were strict rules. She was firm, but fair and kind. As a result, I wanted to please her and do my best. We sat in pairs in neat straight rows, raising our hand only half way with the elbow resting on the other arm, and stood when teachers entered. Very few students made side conversations. I remember her calm demeanor and kind eyes.

My family immigrated to Maryland in 1979. The Jewish Federation gave my family English lessons and sent me to camp where I improved the English I knew from Russia, before I started Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. My favorite subject in high school was language arts with Mrs. Wizkasky, who took me under her wing. I guess one could call her warm and fuzzy.

I went to grad school at Adelphi University, where I studied English as a Second Language. I am now a world literature teacher at Clarkston High School, for students who come from other countries. I enjoy reading, learning Talmud, outdoor camping and taking nature walks.
-Mordechai Gerchikov

Meredith Schwartz blossomed when her drama teacher treated her as an adult.

I’m a stay-at-home mom and part-time caterer. My husband Jeremy and I have a 2 ½- year-old son and a 7-week-old daughter. My family moved to Atlanta when I was little, and I’ve lived in and around the city for most of my life, despite attempts to establish my life elsewhere. Atlanta keeps drawing me back, and we love it.

I’ve been to several schools and had many good teachers. My best, most memorable, and funniest teacher was Steve Young, who came to my fine arts magnet high school when I was 16. Mr. Young (now I call him Steve) taught drama, but his education was in film. By the middle of my junior year, I had taken every drama class, and I convinced our administrator to let me study independently with Steve and apply for grants to establish a film department. I also worked outside of school as a production assistant at Steve’s small independent film company. He treated me like an adult and supported my self-confidence in a way other adults had not. We keep up to date about our families through our Facebook friendship, and, hopefully, after corona, when my life is no longer dominated by tiny children, our family will meet him, and I’ll see him again, 20 years later.
-Meredith Schwartz

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