Mrs. Fine was my fifth grade teacher. She expected nothing but perfection in her students. She was wise, kind, and approved of humor but not corniness. To give you an example of the standard to which she taught, our Halloween production was a choreographed production of la Danse Macabre written in 1874 by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. It helped that we had a violin prodigy in the class who wended her way through the circle we formed as we danced while playing the piece.
Here’s what my letter to Esther Fine would say:
Dear Mrs. Fine,
Thank you for creating such wonderful opportunities to your students throughout the years. Creativity doesn’t seem to be valued as much these days but learning to integrate art with class projects, for instance making historically correct puppets when we were studying history, or creating visual aids when we studied public speaking for our knowledge fair. The scoping, outlining and public speaking skills have stood me in good stead for a lifetime.
Your measure of encouragement and discipline, tempered with kindness to any who struggled, gave your students the ability to believe in themselves and that anything is possible.
I thank you for your bravery in breaking the teacher’s strike that year, following your heart and beliefs, and coming in to teach. Though we were young and not knowledgeable about the strike itself, we were very aware of how the other faculty behaved once the strike was broken. And although we clearly understood what was going on not only in the faculty room but also in the corridors we lacked the ability to share with you our gratitude and support.
Mrs. Fine retired that year.