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Mrs. “L” - Our Belle

Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble.

When Paul McCartney penned these words for the 1965 Rubber Soul album, he didn’t know a lick of French. He’d asked a friend to translate “these are words that go together well,” and come up with something sort of close, he later said. Though not a perfect translation, he liked the sound of the elegant langue française and the meaning of the words. Then he added a chorus of “I love you, I love you, I LOVE you…” and it became, to all the world, a perfect Beatles song.

And Beatles songs are just one of the many things that make our very own Elaine Lipchitz - Mrs. L - so lovable to the many teachers, students and parents she’s impacted so profoundly over the 18 years she’s been at Dallas International School. She is retiring this year - after four momentous decades of teaching overall - and so this week’s faculty profile is all about her. The friendships she has built, the lessons she has shared, the inspiration she has imparted to so many colleagues, and the legacy of patience and resilience she leaves as she sets out on a marvelous new phase of life.

“How many students have I worked with over the years? I have no idea - but I suppose you could do the math and add it all up. I just know it’s a lot - and I hope I’ve had an impact on each and every one of them,” she says. Sharing that she continually runs into students who are now in high school (or even graduated) whom she taught in kindergarten, she says, “They always remember my name, but if I can’t recall theirs, it’s always ‘Honey’ or ‘Sweetheart’ because I know I called them that. They will all remember that.”

The native of Brooklyn, New York - who moved with her husband to settle in Dallas and raise a family - knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age. “My parents emigrated from Europe after the war and didn’t speak any English,” she says. “So I thought I could teach them and over time I did,” she adds. Her parents, both Holocaust survivors, knew that education - in any language - holds the key to success in life for everyone. And this lesson stuck with Elaine.

Armed with a teaching degree from Brooklyn College and a young family now in Dallas, she set out to share her love for learning with younger students - Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. “They are the ones you can impact the most,” she believes. “You learn over time that it takes a lot of patience and structure, but you have to make learning fun, too! In my classes, we sing and dance and play quite a bit. The kids stay engaged.”

Her fellow teachers at the Churchill Way campus point to those qualities as the same virtues Elaine has shared with them the most. Many also see perseverance, resilience and determination as traits that make her both a good teacher and a great mentor. “She takes everything life can send her way as a gift and an opportunity for growth and learning,” said one. “She sees almost everything as a chance to play another Beatles song!”

And so she does, using Beatles classics like “Yellow Submarine” to teach about colors. Or “Eight Days a Week” to teach counting. Or “Michelle” to show the lyrical subtleties of the French language. Or "Strawberry Fields" as a way to "Who knows?" she asks. "I just really like that song. and I think John and Paul and George and Ringo would get a kick out of what we’re doing with their songs,” she says with a slight giggle. “And the students love it - I hear my old students still singing them all the time."

All of which seems normal and natural for someone who grew up a child of the ‘60s in New York, where the British Invasion launched the Beatles upon America in 1964. They performed at Shea Stadium to crowds that roared, according to reports, like jet engines, and then took America by storm on the weekly Ed Sullivan show. “I remember all of that like it was yesterday,” Elaine says. “Hey, there’s another one of my favorites - ‘Yesterday’.”

She describes her home as a Beatles museum, with walls lined with vintage record albums her husband - who has recently taken ill - has gathered over the years. After all, music is seen by many as one of life’s best-known cures for just about anything. “When I’m not at home, I know the house just dances with music,” she says. “You almost can’t go in because the music is so loud at times,” she shares with a grin.

And though much of the music is now a half-century old, Elaine firmly believes that all things old may become new again. And some things - like Beatles music - will never grow old. “I did use a Rolling Stones song in class once, but I got a note back from some parents saying they were a Beatles family only and no Stones please.”

While she has embraced the changes that have come to education over time, she still proudly points to the file cabinet in her classroom. “Technology has changed everything, but I'm old-school," she says. "I used to write out report cards by hand and it seemed just so much more personal. These days, kids are using smartphones and iPads, which they can do so much more with. And then Covid came along and changed everything even more,” she adds, sharing how some youngsters, having been home with only parents during the pandemic, talk to teachers more like adults. “Now that they're back in classrooms, they are definitely getting more into socializing, playing more with each other.”

It is early on a Tuesday in Room 110 of the Churchill campus and as the sunshine rises above the playground, a group of former GS students, led by their teacher, descends on Mrs. L’s classroom, where she is reading "Charlotte's Web" to her current crop of bright-eyed boys and girls. One by one the new group approaches her and delivers a pretty, orange flower, while the larger group sings a song of thanks in tribute. After the flowers, the group shares special poems and another song. And finally they extend warm best wishes to a teacher they’ll likely never forget. “That really brought it all home to me that I’m retiring,” she says after they’ve gone. “It will remain a part of me long after I’ve left and I'll never forget any of it.”

So what does the sprite Elaine plan to do in the brave new world ahead? She’ll spend lots of time with her husband, of course, but also plans to visit her daughter in Boston. “I’m looking forward to staying in touch with friends and doing more things like reading, water aerobics and simply relaxing - and enjoying music, it goes without saying. Lots of my friends have predicted that I’ll have a miserable retirement because I don’t play cards,” she says with a laugh. "I'll show them."

But Elaine has left plenty of cards to play for her friends and colleagues at DIS. “Be cheerful and positive every day and never forget that doing what we do here is such a gift. Be firm, be focused and be fun,” she says. “Oh, and sing and dance and play music!”

Mrs. L, Our Belle

Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble.

We love you, we love you, we LOVE you!