Carolyn Silberstein knows that curiosity thrives when students start to feel comfortable.
“They need to feel the classroom is their place,” she said. “Once we’ve done that, we’re golden and we can go on to learn.”
Silberstein, who has been teaching at Temple Emanu-El Nursery School for 20 years, begins every morning with hugs and kisses. And not just a few scattered hugs and kisses—“She kisses every child hello,” said Jill Bernstein, who was Silberstein’s assistant teacher for 14 years before moving to her own classroom across the hall.
“They hold her hands, they sit on her lap, they make her things, they cuddle with her,” Bernstein said. “I would sit on her lap too—if I didn’t squash her!”
Bernstein, who had her master’s degree, chose to stay with Silberstein for many years after she could have had her own classroom.
“I had everything I needed with her,” the fellow teacher said.
Silberstein comes from a long line of educators. Her aunt and sister were both teachers. However, when she graduated with a teaching degree in 1969, she decided not to teach, choosing to instead to raise her family. When her two sons—now grown men with careers and families of their own—were done with school, Silberstein began teaching at Temple Emanu-El, where her sons had attended nursery school.
Twenty years and many students later, she is still happy with her decision.
“It gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction,” Silberstein said. “I love the children, I love the curriculum.”
Since her students are so young—ranging from 3-and-a-half to 4-years-old—her curriculum includes a little bit of everything. From sea creatures to health and safety, she tries to expose them to “exciting educational experiences.” Silberstein took her class to a firehouse to learn about people who live in their community. She took them to a petting farm to learn about animals. And for units that cannot be turned into field trips, she teaches songs.
“She has written a number of the songs that the children sing, that correspond with the subject that they’re learning,” Bernstein said.
While it’s difficult to give each child individual attention in a classroom full of young students, Silberstein finds the time for each one.
“She charmed the kids and she just lit up the classroom. She is just magical,” said Marty Bell, whose daughter, Olivia, was in Silberstein’s class two years ago. “She just instills this love of learning that’s so important because that’s what going to keep them going beyond that first class.”
Silberstein’s approach—love first, teach second—seems to be a rewarding and effective method. Students stay in touch and come back to visit their former teacher long after they’ve moved past nursery school. She recently attended a high school graduation—one of her former students was leaving for Yale.
“I think that’s why people go into teaching—so they’ll have an impact on one or two children,” said Marty Byrne, a parent of two of Silberstein’s former students. “Her impact is felt long after they’re in her class.”
“I think the whole thing keeps me young,” Silberstein said. “There’s nothing better than to be with children.”
Preschool, Temple Emanu-El Nursery School
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