Así recuerda una exalumna al Dr. Feiling

The warning bell would ring throughout the second patio, shrill and metallic, and you
could feel butterflies in your stomach. Running and laughter would wane, but never too
quickly. Somewhat asthmatically, the din of recess would fade away, mixed with your
realization that serious business was about to begin when the second bell rang and you
had better be in line, at your appointed place, arms parallel to body, hair band straight,
socks pulled up knee high, shoe laces tied, and, above all, mouth shut. You also
learned to take in the scrutinizing eyes of the teachers on duty, flitting about the patio,
silently warning you that no transgressions would be permitted. If you happened to be
one of the unfortunate souls either too slow or too adventurous not to move in
synchrony with the iron-like routine, you ended up against the wall, after being pulled
out of line for some unpardonable violation of the rules of conduct, chewing gum being
the worst of all. All eyes would descend upon you then, while you stood, flustered and
breathless, against the cold and rugged surface of the weather-beaten patio wall, grey
with dust residues and moss, wishing for the earth to split open under your feet. If, on
the contrary, everything went well, you followed your first period teacher to your room in
silence, in a straight line, keeping an armʼs length with the student before you, and no
shuffling. And so, afternoon classes began.

I remember Mr. Feiling. I remember him heading the procession to our second floor
classroom, right above the kindergarten rooms which reeked with the odor of sawdust
and water-- an infernal concoction Don Alfredo, the custodian, had engineered, in a
stroke of genius, to offset the dire consequences of “accidents” suffered by the four -
year- olds who, terrified of the kindergarten teacher, often leaked their discontent. If it
was winter, Don Alfredo made sure the pump-operated kerosene heaters heralded our
entrance to the classroom. The result was a blend of kerosene vapors and rancid
sawdust which we stoically bore, as true soldiers, simply because it was history class
for the 6th grade and Mr. Feiling was teaching it. Mr. Feiling was probably in his early
forties then and towered over us at 6 feet plus--or so it seemed to a twelve-year-old
looking upward. He walked with a limp which everyone noticed but no one openly
discussed-- there were rumors of a war wound, of military service in India, of a previous
full life in Great Britain. His limp was an integral part of him just as his broad cheeks, his
kind eyes, his large forehead, or his incipiently receding hairline carefully combed
backward, sleek and tight. And so was his light green-grey suit which he always wore
unbuttoned, with slacks a trifle too loose for his gaunt, awkward legs that joined at the
knees and fanned outwards, his carefully tailored slackʼs cuffs swaying like sails in the
wind. He never struggled to keep his pace, but it was with effort that he achieved a
smooth walking tempo, much like a long-legged, wounded bird slightly rocks sideways
and makes up for balance by flapping its wings. You stood next to your assigned seat
and waited. “Good afternoon, class.” “Good afternoon, Mr. Feiling,” the class would
answer in chorus. “Sit down.” History books were thumped on scratched wooden
desks, three ring binders were clasped and unclasped time and again, last-minute
homework answers were dished out in hushed tones while someone desperately
scribbled in the last row and, with a furious rustle of papers passed on to the front, the
class began. Mr. Feiling was different, almost sacrilegious by the 60ʼs educational
standards. He encouraged you to write on the margins of the history book as he
unravelled mysteries from the past and explained or elaborated on the lesson in the text
- this was an exceptional expectation, at a time when the rest of the teachers demanded
you returned the book to school unblemished under threats of penalties if the pages
contained any writing at all. He made you listen attentively for additional details to the
text in the book. As a result, you were encouraged to develop simultaneous reading
and listening skills and to pick up speed in writing information while following the
forward movement of the lesson. He made you take down notes on a separate sheet of
paper at the same time you entered your margin notations, if the information he was
giving you was well over the scope of the lesson, but he wouldnʼt tell you what to write
or dictate to you verbatim what was relevant: it was for you to discriminate what was
important from what was not. He awakened your common sense, your critical thinking,
your ability to prioritize, your comprehension and your powers of retention. And all
along, he poked at your reasoning skills, establishing bridges between cause- effect
with interpolations of quasi- socratic teaching, using question-answer to keep us alert
and in the moment. In short, you could say you had already, at age twelve, been
exposed to college level teaching and could proudly affirm you were doing just fine. He
was the precursor of a simple and effective type of testing which developed your
listening-comprehension skills and fast thinking habits in addition to being
comprehensive and economically sound, since it saved the teacher correction time. He
would compose a list of one hundred questions which he would read to you and your
job was to give short answers while enumerating them on clean sheet of paper--never
mind if you had to scratch what you wrote or if your handwriting wasnʼt perfect. This
made you recall the information, not simply recognize it. Above all, the most significant
merit of this amazingly rare teacher was his uncanny ability to throw you right in the
middle of a story and to ignite your imagination and your fascination for things past:
exotic stories about Ariadne, Icarus and Daedalus, the Minotaur of Crete, Ciro, Julius
Caesar, Egypt and the Pharaohs, and the Rosetta Stone. In his hands, they all became
alive and were made to be exquisitely intriguing. Because he made history intensely
personal and relevant to you, you were always left hungry for more.

I can still see him pacing from back to front of the classroom, with his awkward gait,
around the corner desk to the right and then to the window...and back again, book open,
steady voice, a blend of childrenʼs imagination and history. His message still beckons to
you, throughout the reaches of time, telling you that thereʼs always a better song to sing.

Itʼs up to you to listen for it.

Thank you, Mr. Feiling.

Adriana Misuracca Rubin
Boston, Massachusetts. February 2011