Home > Education, Friendship, Life, Love > The Child Whisperer

The Child Whisperer

The flip-side of last week’s post thankfully, is that there are many amazing teachers that devote their whole lives to educating children. These people influence who we are in the most positive of ways, for life. Children do not forget who they are. They too are remembered and cherished forever.

In the Spring of 2001, curiosity got the better of me. My quest to find the right preschool for my overly active, precocious, almost 3-year-old son, finally provided the opportunity for me to see what was really going on in the mysterious looking Victorian house that sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the busy-ness of Route 9D. Little did I know as I walked into the hallway that echoed with song and laughter, that in-between the walls of this house that was a school, magic happened.

We were met by the cheerful smile of a woman who greeted us in the same friendly way you might be greeted by a favorite aunt. She introduced herself as Diane. We later found out that she was actually the Head Teacher of the Downstairs Program and an Administrator. The Downstairs portion of the house belongs to the 3, 4 and 5-year old learners. Immediately after introducing herself, she turned her attention to her real interest; the fidgety, inquisitive, little person clutching my leg with one hand and squeezing my arm with the other. She positioned herself on bended-knee to meet my boy; to see him, face-to-face, and as soon as I witnessed this act of immense respect from an adult educator to a 3-year-old child, I knew we had just walked into a very, very special place.

There is something about looking a person in the eye when you speak to them that makes them feel like you are sincerely interested in who they are and what they have to say and she was. He could tell.

You can’t fool children. Instinctively, they know sincerity.

My Noah, thrilled to be standing on the back of a hay truck during a visit to the farm with Diane. Preschool 2001

Diane wasn’t my son’s group teacher until two years later, but being the head of the Downstairs team, her influences and interactions were intertwined with all of the children. In his second year there, at age 4, having no trouble expressing himself verbally or physically among his peers, Diane “shadowed” Noah on the playground. Being the Child Whisperer* that she is, she followed him in his play, gently helping him choose kinder words and actions when he mingled with his friends.

Friends. That’s what Diane calls all of her students.

Okay, friends, it’s time to clean up the block room or Okay friends, we are going to get ready for lunchtime circle now.  

Diane and Hannah playing with the play-dough she brought to our house.

Part of the school’s tradition was for the Downstairs’ teachers to make home visits to the children in their groups before school began in September. Twice we’ve been thrilled to welcome Diane into our home; once when my son was in her kindergarten group and again, before the start of my daughter’s first year at the Randolph School. Diane was her preschool teacher. She came bearing soft, freshly made play-dough to an unbelievably excited three-year-old fairy.

      Talk about leaving a lasting impression!

This amazing teacher does not limit her generous nature to the children in her group. My daughter was struggling with writing in the second grade while in the Upstairs portion of this glorious house that is a school and where the older kids, first through fifth graders claim their domain. After asking me how Hannah was doing one day, I mentioned this to Diane who then took it upon herself to become her pen-pal that summer. Each envelope that arrived in our mailbox contained a hand written note and then some. Sparkly-feathery, sticker-y, lovely, glittery things would come pouring out before the letter.

The smallest act of kindness has the power to leave a very big, positive impact on a person’s life.

When my son was in kindergarten and told Diane he was playing the lottery for the first time, she told him to call her at home that night to let her know if he won. Had he won, no doubt, his reaction would have paled in comparison to the excitement he was overcome with when it came time to call Diane at her house and tell her he didn’t win.

Another time my son was scheduled to be in After-school but was the only child enrolled that afternoon. After bringing that to my attention the After-school teacher asked me if it would be okay to cancel. Since I only put him in because he wanted to stay at school, I agreed. This news was a huge disappointment to my little first grader and he through a massive fit on the porch of the school. That evening after speaking with him and hearing how much he was looking forward to being in After-school, I realized I had made a grave mistake by so willingly accepting the cancellation, simply because he was the only child enrolled. The next day, I sought Diane out and explained what happened. I asked her what the school’s policy was if there was only one child enrolled in the After-school program. Her response was swift and clear.

If one child wants to come to After-school, we have After-school.  Now, she said, there’s one thing left for us to do.

With that, she called over the After-school teacher. The two of them went Upstairs, retrieved my son from class, apologized to him, hugged him and invited him to stay in After-school that day.

Truly extraordinary.

Diane seining in the Hudson River with another amazing teacher and their preschoolers. Noah, first in line, is like a sponge, soaking up everything they do and say.

Whether it’s a tender heart that needs mending, a river that begs seining or a rocket that needs launching, Diane has been soothing little souls, helping them to feel capable and confident in who they are, what they can do and who they might become since 1978 at the Randolph School.

 Don’t get your liver in a quiver she’ll tell them when they begin to fret.

5-year-old Hannah launching her rocket with Diane.

A person who can consistently touch the lives of the people she comes in contact with, both big and small and make each one of them, myself included, feel special nearly every time she interacts with them has an EXTRAORDINARY gift. Truly.

That is Diane.

My children are better people for having been taught by Diane. I’m a better person for knowing her and having the honor of “over-hearing” how she speaks with and teaches children for the past six years while I quietly work across the hall from the Great Room where she spends much of her time with her friends.

A few months ago Diane announced that this will be her last year teaching in the big house that is a school and as inevitable as it was, the news has surely saddened many. No matter where Diane goes however, her influence, kindness and ability to make everyone she meets feel special will live on in our hearts, always. She is the teacher, the colleague, the friend that changes your life in the most positive of ways.

It is befitting that this weekend, Diane is presenting a workshop with a former student, who is now her young colleague and who is also bursting with similar magical qualities, at a conference in New York City entitled, In Defense of Childhood: Keeping the Joy of Learning Alive!

She’s been doing exactly that for nearly 34-years.

As my soon to be 11-year-old fairy who’s been receiving birthday and Christmas surprises from this teacher every year for almost as long as she’s been at this school would say so matter-of-factly…

 “Mom. She’s Diane!”

Is there a Diane that has positively impacted your life?

Photo Credit #1 The Randolph School

Photo Credit #2-6 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Title Credit: *Child Whisperer Thank you, Nicole for letting me borrow this description of Diane from you!

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  1. anita
    March 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Yes, Diane. She is a friend, colleague and I always learn extraordinary things from Diane.
    Being dyslexic, I didn’t have a wonderful school experience until college. There were several teachers who took me under their wings and showed me incredible kindnesses. They introduced me to the work of Vivian Paley who, among other wonderful lessons, tells us that the greatest kindness you can do as a teacher is to see, really see, each and every child. Diane does this in the most selfless and extraordinary ways, each and everyday.
    Thanks for writing this piece, Karen.

  2. March 11, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Thank you, Anita for reading & sharing the kindness that was extended to you. 🙂

  3. Nicole
    March 11, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Love this post!!!! She is truly one of the best!

  4. March 11, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Double thanks to you, Nicole!

  5. March 11, 2012 at 10:27 am

    What a beautiful tribute to Diane. She is truly a gem.

    Anita, you are so correct about the work of Paley. Everyone should read her books and share that selfless kindness with children.

    Thank you, Karen…your words are inspiring!

    • March 11, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Thank you, Ronnie! It is easy to for me to write the truth.

  6. jen
    March 11, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Oh yes, there is such a Diane in my life, and I couldn’t have put it better myself, Karen. The number of lives she has touched, both directly and indirectly, is simply staggering. And I’m so grateful that my children, my husband and I are among them.

    • March 11, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Jen ~ ditto! 🙂

  7. Anonymous
    March 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I’m at this point in my life where I can get weepy in a blink and these beautiful comments are overwhelmingly sweet.
    “Open Heart
    She told me one time she forgot herself & her heart opened up like a door with a loose latch & she tried for days to put it all back in proper order but finally she gave up & left it all jumbled up there in a pile & loved everything equally. ” (from Story People)

    I love you Dear Hearts- You fill every one of my days!! xodiane

  8. March 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    This is a very inspiring post. And Diana ever so inspiring to get to know through your writing. I wish every kid would meet a Diana. It would make a big different for so many. Thanks for sharing.

  9. March 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I wish every child had a Diane in their life too, Munchow – Thank you for reading & commenting!

  10. Debbie
    March 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks for this wonderful picture of a gifted and devoted teacher. It’s been a privilege (and FUN!) to work with her.

  11. March 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you for reading & commenting, Debbie!

  12. March 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Wow, truly, incredibly heart-warming. We had a “Diane” in our life, too-Maycee’s daycare provider from the time she was 8 months old. Her name is Mary Ann, and we still keep in touch via FB. The first time I met Mary Ann and her family, who were all involved with the kids, her littlest son came running down the hill as I was walking Maycee up in her stroller (we only lived a few blocks away), and he said, “Mom! It’s another baby!” He was so excited and crouched down to see her, smiling. Slowly, Mary Ann walked up to me, grinning from ear to ear, holding out her hand to greet us. I said, “Wow, that is so neat that your son loves the little ones!” She replied back, “Well, we’re trying to raise our boys to be good husbands and good fathers.” I was hooked, and she is doing just that. I could tell a hundred more stories as treasured as this, but she is a gem, like your Diane. A woman with a gift to love, teach, and nurture children who’s parents need her help when they can’t be there. I wrote her a song (properly entitled: Mary Ann’s Song) when I moved away 4 years ago, “When I can’t be where I’d like to be, you’re an angel to us all.” Thanks so much for sharing this dear teacher with us, Karen! XOXOXO

    • March 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      Thank God for Dianes and Mary Anns! Especially when moms can’t be there. Life’s blessing that deserve to be recognized! Thank you for sharing Mary Ann, Kasey! xoxox

  13. Elizabeth Rowland Tyler
    March 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

    What a wonderful bunch of words that accurately portray the depth of committment, skill and love that I have known Diane to consistently bless everyone she comes in contact with!. Thank you for what looks like an impossible task of combining and choosing what to say and how to say it!
    It’s really special to read about my Diane. It’s the, ‘ Liver in a quiver ‘ part, that spins my head around!

  14. March 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such kind words. It is always easiest for me to write the truth.

  15. April 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    My daughter has only been at Randolph for a bit, but I have come to deeply respect the work that Diane and Evan do. They have conversations with the kids — real, respectful, honest, interesting conversations with them. My daughter comes home with many “Diane said…” and “Evan said…” statements everyday. She comes home with so many stories everyday, that we’ve now had to institute an official “reporting time” as a regular part of our afternoon. Lovely that my child could love school this much! Thank you, Diane and Evan. You are truly brilliant teachers! We are so blessed to have the privilege of being with Diane for even these last few months!

    • June 10, 2012 at 11:53 am

      Thank you so much for reading & leaving such lovely comments, Colette!

  16. June 12, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Taking The World On With A Smile! and commented:

    In honor of the retirement of a dear friend & colleague who has touched the lives of many. Reblog from March, 2012.

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  1. May 16, 2013 at 12:09 am
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