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Welcome to our Inside Education Series!

Inside Education is a four-part series where we have students (present & past) talk about teachers that made a profound impact in their lives.

 

Jenny Berkedal in the 4th grade.
Jenny Berkedal in the 4th grade.

 

Mr. Waldsmith taught the only split grade-level classroom at our school, half fourth-graders and half fifth-graders. The unconventionality suited him and supported his teaching methods. Led more by his personal interests than school curriculum, Mr Waldsmith brought the outside world into the classroom. During that year, as a fourth-grader, I skinned and grilled a fish, held a rifle, interviewed a sheriff (who I was reintroduced to years later under a different circumstance!), and established my own currency. Yes, we all had money featuring our own faces. Incidentally, money DID grow on trees in Mr Waldsmith’s class and you earned it by taking on extra projects and going above and beyond the normal call of duty for a student in an incentive program called “The Money Tree”.

Mr. Waldsmith really knew how to play to students’ strengths. While my former teachers may have struggled with my lack of patience and tendency to rush through projects, Mr. Waldsmith used it to my advantage. When I finished work that the 4th graders were doing, I was allowed to jump in with the fifth graders. I’m sure we were all allowed to do so, but I definitely felt special at the time.

On the flip side, when I struggled with my multiplication facts tests, he assigned me a fifth grade mentor who dedicated time to drill me on flash cards and proctor mock quizzes. It wasn’t a big deal to have faults in his class, we supported each other. He created an atmosphere that many teachers dream of.

More than anything, Mr. Waldsmith brought his own humanity into his teaching methods. He had so many passions and interests in his life. A lover of the outdoors, he won a grant to build hiking trails behind our school and then made the students clear and maintain themselves. He brought in his freshly caught fish in the classroom. We had more guest speakers in our class than any other as he understood that the best thing to pass on to the future generation was the find passion, to find inspiration, and then to dedicate yourself to it.

 

Impact on me

Mr. Waldsmith was different than any other teacher I’ve had. He played by his own rules. He challenged us with weekly cryptoquips–one of his great joys in life. He listened to talk-radio. When my sisters and I were featured in a local newspaper article, he laminated a copy for me and wrote a loving message on the back. He wasn’t scared of showing affection to his students. He took time to have conversations with us.

When I took a fourth-grade teaching position, I often thought about Mr. Waldsmith. I even brought the “Money Tree” to my classroom! He taught me that the best curriculum you can teach is one that inspires students to be interested in the world around them. I certainly hope that I paid adequate homage to his legacy through my own teaching.

I have the laminated copy of my article on my fridge to this day, with his hand-written note on the back.

Waldsmith's fridge note
Waldsmith’s fridge note

 

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Shardul Golwalkar