When I first met Ms. Foxworth, just 18 months ago, I was taken aback by her manner. She was quiet — very quiet. New Orleanians are known for many things, but being quiet is not one of them. Yet here was this woman talking so quietly I could barely hear her.
My confidence was a little shaky. This would be my daughter’s first public school teacher? Could this woman handle a room full of rambunctious pre-kindergarten children?
Another parent reassured me: “She’s great,” I was told. “They call her the Child Whisperer.”
Very quickly I learned how ungrounded my misgivings were. Without raising her voice, Ms. Foxworth commanded the attention and respect of every child in her class. Maintaining order amongst four-year-olds is no easy task, but she managed to make it look as natural as breathing. I was in awe of her.
Ms. Foxworth also welcomed me into her classroom. The kids were doing an International Baccalaureate unit on plants, and I came in to share a lesson on wheat. It went so well that I came back six more times throughout the course of that school year, to share seasonal celebrations with the children, often tying them into the larger curriculum. At every juncture Ms. Foxworth gave me encouragement and appreciation.
She even participated in the activities. One year ago today we planted a “light garden” for Candlemas.
My daughter’s moved on to kindergarten now, but when I saw Ms. Foxworth last week, she asked if I couldn’t come in to her class again and share a lesson with her new crop of students.
As it turns out, that was the last chance I’ll ever have to speak with her. Over the recent two-day snow outage, news came that Ms. Foxworth had passed away.
I didn’t really know Ms. Foxworth all that well, but I do know a few things.
She was a veteran teacher, at the pre-K level for two decades, and her experience clearly showed. These days there are a lot of Teach for America kids in local schools, but there is no substitute for long years of experience.
I will also say this: She wasn’t paid or respected nearly enough. I hasten to add that I was never privy to her salary information, nor was I ever aware of anyone disrespecting her. However, I know that as a rule we do not pay teachers highly in our country, and we do not accord them the deep respect that other cultures do. Let’s face it: In America respect and salary are often correlated, and teachers are not at the top of either list, but they should be. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of American society.
It makes me sad to know that Ms. Foxworth is no longer with us, that I’ll never see a child run up to hug her again. What truly breaks my heart is the knowledge that we, the American people, could have done better by her while she was alive. Some things are inevitable, but how we treat our teachers is not. Sorry to get political, but I feel this is an important point, something we must insist on at every turn.
The best way to honor a great teacher is to uplift the teaching profession.
Ms. Foxworth’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to our entire community. Ms. Foxworth didn’t just teach our kids. She taught us all by her example.
As another parent put it, she “embodied the power of gentle, calm silence.” It’s an ideal to which I still aspire. Even if you never met her, I think we can all still learn from her.
See also a far more eloquent tribute from Joie d’Eve. It’s funny how we hit the same themes.