Joyce Grand experienced a lot of change during her 37 years at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School — not only in its transition from a small school to a large lower, middle and high school, but also in its progress academically and technologically. Still, one thing remained constant: the sense of belonging.
“I’ve loved all the experiences I’ve had,” she said about her years teaching third, fourth and fifth grade. “I felt right away this was a family and a good fit for me.”
To her colleagues, Grand is more than the “quintessential teacher,” she’s a Beth Tfiloh ambassador and cheerleader, eager to spread positivity to others.
As a member of the synagogue whose family has been active in the Beth Tfiloh community for generations, she brought with her an “extra special feeling of community,” principal Nina Wand said. “It was home for her in every way, and that was always great.”
When Grand started teaching in 1980, she was a new mother. As her career at BT continued, she became a grandmother. Such personal experience informed the students and their families, as well as her inclination to treat people in a loving, maternal manner.
Zipora Schorr, BT’s director of education, noted Grand’s enthusiasm. “She never seems tired, she never seems burnt out, she never seems as though this is something that she’s done dozens of times before,” Schorr said. “Every year is a new year, and every child is the first child she’s ever taught. You meet her and know that you’re in the presence of someone who loves what she does.”
Grand shared her passion for teaching and love of learning with her students. They laughed together, solved problems together, created together and imagined together.
“They just become a part of my family,” she said. “I have a good time!”
“It takes a village” is an expression that was especially true during Grand’s career, as she received a lot of support from parents and administrators. Although she was responsible for her students’ academic success and self-confidence, the “family team” played a large role.
“We are here to help all kinds of learning styles and to provide whatever the needs are for a child to meet success, to provide enrichment when needed, to provide support when needed, to enable every child to be successful,” she said.
Grand’s belief that all of her children could be successful is what truly made her special.
“Not every child is the same and not every child has the same level of talent, but she tries to unlock that which is unique about each child,” Schorr said.
Each year represented a fresh start, and Grand was constantly adapting to new technology, curricula and teaching styles. The Lower School adopted the Responsive Classroom approach, geared toward academic, social and emotional success.
“It is about the whole child,” said Grand, who, along with the other teachers in the Lower School, began and
ended each day with a meeting. The meetings allowed teachers and students to share stories about their weekend, have in-depth conversations and learn about each other’s families.
“Sometimes that’s the place where you can work out problems,” said Grand, “and sometimes it’s the place where we can feel good with each other about something great that happened or celebrate each other.”
There were no lazy mornings in Grand’s classroom. As soon as she greeted her students, they would tell her a story about something exciting that happened the night before or ask her questions. She would then post an activity on the board for them to complete while getting settled.
“Starting the morning with pledging the flag, singing ‘Hatikvah’ and just being together — it’s a great start to the day,” she said. “It feels good!”
Togetherness followed Grand through her career, as both a team player and mentor.
“She’s had new Judaic partners — young women who were just beginning to teach,” Wand said. “She would mentor them and sort of get them adjusted to the school.”
Cheering others on, supporting them and helping them reach their full potential is what Grand is about. Beth Tfiloh was more than her workplace, it was her second home.
“That’s what kept me here, that feeling of family and the support that I got,” she said.
It’s the same feeling that encouraged families to return to the school for generations and brought graduated seniors to her classroom years later to thank her for teaching them as children.
Of all she’s accomplished as a teacher, Grand values her ability to impact others the most. If she can look at former students and know she’s made a difference in their lives, then she knows she’s been successful. “That makes me feel great,” she said. “Just to feel like I’ve been a part of it, of the journey.”
Though she’ll no longer be in a classroom, she’ll still be part of the BT community.
“I can’t leave this family,” she said. “If there are other ways I can contribute, I will.”
Kirstyn F. Flood is a journalism major at the University of Maryland and a Mid-Atlantic Media intern.