Lessons From Fifth Grade

A short reflection on a great teacher

Although I was never enrolled in her class, the best teacher I have ever encountered taught me an enormous amount.  She was my daughter's fifth-grade teacher and I know that my child became a better person by being in Lisa's class.  However, I was unprepared for the impact that this very extraordinary woman's lessons would have upon my own life.

My daughter and I both learned the following:

1)  Character is important.  A vital part of being excellent is being good.

2)  Do your homework and show up ready to think.

3)  The first person to whom you are accountable is yourself.

4)   Failure is not the part where you fall down, but the part where you choose not to get back up.

5)  Part of intelligence is knowing what to ignore.

6)  Nobody was ever well-served by being kept from the truth.

7)  Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.

8)  It's not supposed to be easy. 

9)  Showing respect is a sign of strength. 

10)  Education is a continual process.   It is not a degree or a designation but a path.

So, today, on her birthday and in honor of the upcoming end of this school year and the bright, new horizon that is next year, I would like to thank Lisa for her consistent efforts to expect her students atto face every battle with wit, courage, intelligence and wisdom.  I would like to express my appreciation for her help in transforming a quiet, compliant child into an independent thinker and someone who knows her worth.

I do not know how Lisa does it.  She spends a year immersed in the powerful experience of transforming minds and then passes those children along to someone else's care.  It is an accelerated version of the parental role.  So, as a parent, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the magnanimity and grace with which she has handled this task.

 Lisa, you have been a gift to our community and, on this anniversary of the day you were born, I wish for you the gift of knowing the enormity of the difference you have made in the lives of Reston families.


Barbara Pelzner May 24, 2011 at 01:24 PM
What a wonderful tribute. Thanks for sharing this.
Justine van Engen May 24, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Barbara, Thank you for reading. Lisa is a fabulous teacher and I know that she has transformed the educational experiences of a huge number of students.
Sheila Allen May 24, 2011 at 04:11 PM
These are kind words and I'm sure they are well deserved. Is there a reason that you did not give her full name? I doubt that her former students know her only by her first name.
Justine van Engen May 24, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Sheila, That is a really good question especially when paired with the fact that I used an actual photo of her. There is a reason I did not give her name and that is because, with the exception of my name, Mr. Simon's and my editor's, I have never given anybody's full name in one of my columns. I don't assume that the subjects want me putting their names on the internet (even when I'm saying something nice). I can also tell you that your full name is REALLY long and her students mainly know her by a vastly shortened version.
Aalliiee Marie May 24, 2011 at 07:10 PM
She was my fifth grade science teacher for a brief period until I left FEES to be homeschooled. Although she wasn't my "main" teacher, I would have to say that, even in that short amount of time, she has made a more-than-slight impact on me. Did Scout partake in the crawl-through Wormhole project?
Justine van Engen May 24, 2011 at 08:41 PM
Aalliiee, I am so glad to hear that you were her student! That is wonderful! I asked Scout about "the crawl-through Wormhole project" and she didn't remember anything like that. What is it?
Aalliiee Marie May 24, 2011 at 10:30 PM
Well, actually, I think that the last time that said project was created was in Spring 2006 (missed it by a year!), because of the increased pressure of the numerous 5th grade SOLs. Basically, the 5th grade "GT" (as it was called back then) classes would turn her room into a replica of a giant wormhole. Then, each of the other classes in the entire school would tour through the wormhole, while her students would take a day off to sit in the wormhole and present student and class-made Powerpoints, videos and "interactive reports" to everyone else. I got to tour twice, in 3rd and 4th grade, and the only other project that I have found to be even close to comparable to the Wormhole was the Google Earth project that my history class did this spring. Actually, since Henry is only a year younger than me, he probably got to tour in 3rd grade. And Henry and Scout probably both know or have known my mom (in a "non-stalker" sort of way, don't worry), because she's the assistant librarian at Forest Edge. Just saying!
Justine van Engen May 24, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I think your mom might have told Scout that she reads Patch. I remember hearing about that. Promise me you'll look out for Henry when he gets to SLHS, won't you?
Aalliiee Marie May 25, 2011 at 12:01 AM
I will certainly do so! I have to say that I'm a little jealous of your kids.....being an only child can be SO lonely sometimes! And are you sure that, in your most recent article, you're not actually talking about OUR master bathroom??
hilarie malmberg May 25, 2011 at 12:49 AM
AM is my daughter and I have the privilege of being her Mom. I love Lisa for how she inspired AM's love of Science and inquiry. I firmly believe, Lisa is the reason AM entered the SLHS Science Fair on her own without any support. When she discovered Science Fair was not required of her, she remained undaunted. We need more inspirational teachers like Lisa. Lisa and I first met when I recognized one of the books we had both read, "The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died, but Teacher You Went Right On" , a commentary on teaching and the need to incorporate the art and the science of teaching). Although I am only a library assistant (read "clerical support staff part time"), I love helping the teachers and students at my school find the library resources they need. I love how we at our school have the opportunity to make children lives better every single school day. I see that in many of our school staff and PTA, and I love them for it. Thanks to Lisa, to AM for speaking out and to all education workers who love and support kids and their families. One of the mantras, I learned when I was an aspiring Special Education Teacher was "If the the child isn't learning, the teacher isn't teaching". We need to give teachers like Lisa and those who aspire to be like her the tools and support to do their job. I firmly believe, that most dedicated teachers are in teaching for the love of it--not for the merit pay. Most who are quickly leave the classroom.
Justine van Engen May 25, 2011 at 12:53 AM
You are always welcome to come on over. It will give you an opportunity to bathe any spare Hobbits you know and to appreciate the peace and quiet of an only child's life.
Justine van Engen May 25, 2011 at 12:57 AM
You've got a wonderful daughter and I appreciate her courage and insight. She's a delight. Thank you for your comments about Lisa, Forest Edge, teaching and learning. All of these were accurate and thought-provoking. Now, eat your Wheaties and get some rest because my youngest child will be at Forest Edge in just a few short years and she's going to wear you all out!
Bert Katz May 25, 2011 at 11:11 AM
Hilarie, congratulations to you and your hubby and of course to AM...you have certainly done a great job of raising a smart, well-articulate child who stands behind her beliefs. Best, Bert


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