Our current profile, Rose Gilbert

June 8, 2009 by  
Filed under inspiration

Taking AP Literature with Rose Gilbert is akin to a rite of passage at Palisades High School – at least it was many years ago. Judging from my recent visit to her classroom, I sense that years later, nothing has changed at all.

Mrs. Gilbert’s classroom seems to have been frozen in time. Great classic books spew over the boxes that line her room. ¬†Faded newspaper clippings, magazine articles, pictures and posters made by current and former students still abound. Dozens of college posters lure the interest of countless students, seemingly dangling the subliminal message that if you work really, really hard, you can come here too.

Mrs. Gilbert’s pure passion for teaching hasn’t changed a bit in all of these years either. Her enthusiasm is infectious – you just can’t help falling in love with the writer’s words she presents. When I was her student in the late 70s, she would pass out pairs of toothpicks to each and every student. She told us that we’d need them, as we’d be reading so many thousands of pages that surely they would come in handy holding our eyelids apart. (Don’t worry, I never tried the toothpick trick.) More than reading book after book, Mrs. G. enabled us to really ‘peel back the onion’ and uncover sometimes controversial ¬†themes the writer presented. Ideas of racism, misogynism, crossing class lines – they were all part of the process of an on-going discussion of ideas that became the key ingredient of Mrs. G’s class. Additionally, knowing that this was one of the most challenging classes offered, bonding with fellow students became the norm. It happened to me with my friend Jan, who remains one of my closest friends still after all this time. Mrs. G called us the ‘Bobsie Twins’. Surely, she must’ve been clairvoyant.

Interestingly, Mrs. Gilbert never ‘needed’ to teach in financial terms. Her late husband Sam left her millions. She gives generously to PaliHi and UCLA, where she attended college. What a gift it must be to find your passion early in life. So many never really find their gift, and if they do, it sometimes conflicts with work and reality. Mrs. Gilbert, on the other hand, truly loves what she does. How else does a now ninety year old get up each and every morning and teach a full load, and then grade papers at night? (And did I mention that Mrs. G is on Facebook? Or that she has nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren?)

Truth be told, Rose Gilbert is a classic example of wanting what you have. Just thinking about this simple phrase – wanting what you have – can guide what you do and how you do it. No doubt Mrs. G has endured many heartbreaks – the untimely death of her daughter Maggie, the death of her husband of thirty-seven years – but she has persevered. Mrs. G wants what she has; classroom after classroom of inquisitive minds, all ready to take in her unbounded love of literature and poetry.

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