By Hana Halff ‘21
“You’re not just teaching literature, you’re teaching life.” In a recent interview, Heschel’s newest English teacher Penny Ratcliffe expressed her enthusiasm about her teaching philosophy, evoking the above quote she attributes to her husband. Ratcliffe’s passion for inclusivity and kindness is fundamental to her teaching style, and seems to extend far beyond the classroom.
Perhaps Ratcliffe’s focus on student comfort stems from her own childhood and early career. In her lifetime, she has lived and worked in many different places. After growing up in Zimbabwe, Ratcliffe attended college in South Africa. Later, she started several businesses, which allowed her to travel around the world and eventually brought her to the United States. Ratcliffe explained that many of these experiences have helped shape her values. She said, “I might have a little more sympathy or empathy for the ‘new kid on the block,’ having been that new kid so many times and seeing my kids go through that.”
Once again, Ratcliffe has picked up her things and moved from her home in New Haven, Connecticut to New York City. She left her position teaching at Hopkins High School, a competitive secular private school, to join our pluralistic Jewish day school. While this may seem like a drastic change in environment, Ratcliffe surprisingly believes there are no real differences she can detect yet. As she said, “American teens are pretty similar around the country, I think.”
However, Ratcliffe noted that there are some values that do set Heschel apart from other schools. For instance, Hopkins had no religious affiliation. As a practicing Catholic, Ratcliffe is excited to teach at a school where faith is central. She is also especially intrigued by how warm and accepting the Heschel student body and faculty is. As we welcome the new members of our community this year, it is important we adopt Ratcliffe’s teaching philosophy and attempt to be inclusive, sympathetic, and kind to everyone we meet.