Between 1959 and today, 13 different U.S. presidents have taken office; astronauts have gone from being the first known living beings to return to Earth after going into space, to putting a rover on Mars; people have gone from using Western Electric’s pink “Princess” telephone to using iPhones the size of their palm.
A lot has happened in the past 62 years, which made the 2022 reunion between a teacher and her student from 1959 all the more surreal for the two Jewish parties.
On Aug. 2, Rose Glassberg, 92, a former English teacher at the now-closed Germantown High School, met with her former student Elaine Waxman, 80, for the first time in more than six decades. The last time they saw each other was at Waxman’s 12th grade graduation.
“It was very moving,” Glassberg said of the reunion. “Apparently, I did a few things right because she enjoyed my class.”
“She was an amazing teacher,” Waxman said. “She taught me everything I know about English.”
Waxman learned that Glassberg was a resident at Lions Gate Continuing Care Retirement Community in Voorhees Township, New Jersey through the community’s newsletter.
“At Lions Gate, we often write stories about our residents in our newsletter that we distribute throughout the community. We were fortunate that Elaine happened to read it and recognize Rose as her teacher from 62 years ago,” said Lions Gate Chief Operating Officer Meredith Becker, who helped set up the meeting.
As the two shared tea and pastries, Waxman told Glassberg that she was the reason she went on to become a teacher, teaching elementary school in North Philadelphia and setting up the library at Kenderton School.
“My good teachers were the ones who influenced me to teach,” Waxman said.
Despite Waxman’s love for English and grammar today, she was not always a star student, despite English being her favorite subject. She sat toward the back of Glassberg’s classroom, where Glassberg would visit to ensure all of her students were paying attention.
“I’m glad she came to the back of the class because I was invariably talking to my neighbor,” Waxman said.
On Waxman’s report card, which she brought to the reunion, she was given a mark from one to three for behavior, with three being the most disruptive. The talkative pupil was consistently given a three.
“Until the very end, and then she gave me a two,” Waxman said.
Glassberg was a no-nonsense teacher; she made up for her short stature by standing upon or sitting on the edge of desks. Her love of literature ran deep, and she believed that college students shouldn’t be the only ones reading the classics. Glassberg taught the Shakespearean standards: “As You Like It,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Macbeth” and “Hamlet.”
But Glassberg’s rigidity came from a place of love for education. The child of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Glassberg was raised with the value of education.
“My mother used to send us off to school every day saying, ‘You’re so lucky to be able to go to school,’” Glassberg said. “That, I remember.”
With little money, the family was evicted from its North Philadelphia home when Glassberg was a child. They relocated to West Philadelphia, where Glassberg graduated from Overbrook High School.
When her older brother graduated from Central High School in 1937, he earned a scholarship to attend college, but the principal took away the scholarship, saying that because the family was on welfare, the young high school graduate was not destined for college.
Glassberg defied the odds after graduating high school. She attended West Chester University, which, in the 1940s, had an annual tuition of $110. Her mother took out a loan, and Glassberg got an allowance of 50 cents an hour working on campus. She commuted from home for the first year-and-a-half before living on campus.
Though Glassberg recalls little antisemitism growing up, with only a few students from nearby parochial schools shouting the occasional slur on her commute to high school, she remembers a university student proclaiming that because of her strong Christian faith, she could not be friends with a Jewish student.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Glassberg went on to get her master’s at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. After 11 years of teaching at Germantown High School, she taught English at Glassboro State Teachers College, which later became Rowan University. She earned her doctorate at Temple University in 1972, becoming a full professor a year later.
Though Glassberg taught hundreds of students over her career, her influence is reflected in Waxman, whose love for English is exemplified in the dozens of books she keeps in her home, with stacks nearly touching the ceiling.
“I look up to Rose,” Waxman said. “I wish I could teach like she did.”