Discovering Me in Nursery: A Tribute to Mrs. Jutan

A few weeks ago, my former nursery school teacher Mrs. Cheryll Jutan, with whom I have been reunited through Facebook, asked to buy another copy of Strum and The Wild Turkeys. She had already purchased two copies for her grandchildren for the holidays, and she wanted one for herself. It was my pleasure to send her a copy with a personalized note, but I wanted to share something really meaningful in my inscription, so I went back to my report card files for inspiration.

My mother had recently handed over the folder that she had kept to house all of my grade school report cards and a few moments of recognition. I love that she kept them for nostalgia, but having now visited the words of my former teachers a few times, I am honestly amazed at what I learned about myself and them.

Many of my reports were a mix bag of some mimeographed papers, which brought back a lot of memories of getting to be the student who could take the papers to the office to have them “dittoed”- that’s 70’s speak for copied, and photocopies with handwritten comments. Many teachers wrote about my messy handwriting and a need to edit my work. Many others commented on my expressiveness and regular insightful contributions to class. Ms. Blume and Mrs. Freeborn, my Grade 2 and 3 teachers, both commented on my creative writing skills. The latter wrote, “Noa is well on her way to becoming a lovely writer.” Mrs. Tauber wrote (and I can’t believe it was allowed, even back then), “Noa has lots of enthusiasm and ideas. The carrying out of them is often haphazard.” I think I internalized this last comment because I stopped writing for a while after that Grade 4 year. I smiled at the memory of my nurturing teachers and shuttered at the scars left by others. Looking back can be both puzzling and illuminating.

The words of my first teacher are typed on a document that looks more like a letter than a report card. I had always had a particular fondness for Mrs. Jutan. I was only 3 when I started Nursery School, but I remember some aspects very clearly. There was the shell of a car in the room, and the front seats were there so we could play driver and turn the wheel. I also remember the little carpet tiles that we used for our sit spots. I also have a strong memory of her smile and encouraging ways. Besides the humour of reading that I had gained a pound and a half over that year, which is so weird to see on a school report card, I saw that I was me, even back then, and Mrs. Jutan knew it.

My Nursery report card is a telling document. My integrity and strong sense of justice was already in development. Mrs. Jutan wrote, “She is able to share and take turns and complains if others do not do so.” It seems that I had been fostering my leadership skills from a very young age. My teacher noted that, “In the play group, [Noa] is usually the leader but is able to follow well.” She adds that, “[Noa] is helpful, obedient and is well-liked by all the children. She is able to accept responsibility, praise and criticism in a mature manner for her age.” She also wrote and circled when I sent her a copy of this treasured artifact, that, “She is beginning to make up and tell her own stories.” I was a budding writer, even in Nursery school. I like to think that what my teacher wrote has stayed with me in my life and believe that I am still an, “...interested enthusiastic and outgoing [not-so-little] girl.” It was a pleasure to have been taught and guided by Mrs. Jutan.

It’s cool to become friends with a former teacher, and I have done that a few times with teachers and some former students, once they’re 18. Facebook is great for connections like that because you feel in touch in an unimposing way, and you can learn a lot about people through their posts. Mrs. Jutan was a beloved teacher at our small school, and she has made a lasting impact on me. I am so proud to be able to send her a book that is reflective of everything she wrote about me when I was only 3. Though she moved to London because her husband, Arthur, became a professor at Western, she made a lasting imprint on so many in her 15 years at the HHA (Hamilton Hebrew Academy). While some of my other teachers saw different aspects of me, Mrs. Jutan saw me, in my very essence. Even though I am significantly older, it feels really affirming when your Nursery school teacher writes to you, decades later, to remind you that, “You were a well-rounded advanced kid.” It has been said that it takes a big heart to shape little minds, but Mrs. Jutan’s big heart and welcoming nature made room for who we were to shine.