In Praise of Two Hampden Elementary Teachers

by Alexander E Hooke

WHEN telling others about our four-year-old daughter attending pre-kindergarten at Hampden Elementary, my wife and I were offered some of the following bits of wisdom. "Did you buy her a gun? She'll need it to defend herself." "A public school? But how will she ever get into an Ivy League college, now?" "She'll be pregnant in ten years."
Apparently we were seen as either ignorant of or indifferent to our child's future. We did not know that the constant fears drummed up by the evening news were to be taken as gospel truth. We did not know that only those pricey private schools guarantee a pre-K child a life of moral virtue and professional success.
But our gloomy prophets and local TV anchors did not know of Ms. Joyce Rosen and her assistant, Mrs. Mary Smith. For thirteen years they have teamed up to teach over 500 of Baltimore's pre-K children. For thirteen years they have greeted each student with a handshake and a "Hello, [name], I'm glad you're here today." And they bid each child goodbye with a hug or a sweet treat. Taking a walk along 36th Street with Ms. Rosen and Mrs. Smith, one is astonished how they are stopped by so many young people letting them know how things are going or wishing their former mentors well.
These former students remember how devoted Ms. Rosen and Mrs. Smith were to their own beginnings in education. Patience, encouragement. and attentiveness were some of the virtues these two educators showed in helping Baltimore's four-year-olds learn the alphabet, numbers, shapes, rhymes, songs, new words and sounds.
These former students recall how pre-K with Ms. Rosen and Mrs. Smith was not a euphemism for play time. For them pre-K included walks to the Falls Road library, where Miss Vicki would read them stories and sign them up for library cards. For them pre-K meant trips to classical concerts, ventures to the SPCA or zoo, or daily rehearsals of skits and songs to be performed for parents in the year-end assembly.
Our daughter has been one of the beneficiaries of this teaching team. Her curiosity, concentration and confidence grew immeasurably during the nine months she spent with them. Her ability to talk and play with others, reenact at home the lessons from school, and identify similarities and differences among things and ideas all reflect a personal and intellectual maturity we could not have anticipated.
No doubt skeptics will remind us about violence in public schools, prospects for Ivy League, and other tidbits from the TV news flashes in order to diminish the enriching experiences of our daughter and the 500-plus other children who have been under the the tutelage of Hampden Elementary's Ms. Rosen and Mrs. Smith.
As a teacher myself, I am aware of the uncertain effects one has on students. Yet we need to remind the skeptics of their own ignorance. To educate, as the word's roots indicate, is to "lead out." It is to bring out some of the hidden talents and tap some of potential strengths every child has.
That our daughter and her classmates learned and discovered so much about themselves and each other in the last year can be attributed only in part to the work of their parents and relatives. Their growth must also be credited to the work of Ms. Joyce Rosen and Mrs. Mary Smith-the educators.

Dr. Hooke teaches philosophy at Villa Julie College.

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This story was published on September 4, 1997.