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A Natural-Born Teacher

When my son and I went to look at Mount Madonna School as a possible school for him to transfer to, we knew there were a lot of reasons that he shouldn’t go there. It was an hour’s bus ride from our house. The tuition would eat into our household budget such that we wouldn’t be able to do some of the things we’d done before. He wouldn’t have much time left in the day for being home, his favorite place to be.

But all of that lost meaning when he walked into the pre-fab building that would be his fifth-grade classroom. There he met Sri-Gyan James McCaughan—better known to his students and everyone else as simply “Sri”—who he knew would be his teacher.


Only two years ago, my son was so young and Sri was so healthy. We are so lucky to have had him in our lives.

Yes, there were superficial reasons for my son to be attracted to Sri’s classroom. Sri, like my son, was simply mad for technology, especially beautiful technology created by Apple. Sri based his entire classroom curriculum on filmmaking. He would meet the kids at the bus on the first day of school with the camera running, and the film they made was presented at the first parent meeting each year. The year my son started in Sri’s class, a couple of the kids took over the class. Sri sounded sheepish when he introduced the film at the parent meeting, but the result was clearly the work of a natural-born teacher. Rather than try to push down the conquering instincts of a few boys who were new to the school that year, he decided to nurture them. His camera hand was steady as he filmed the kids leading the class, sitting in his chair….

…OK, he did in fact stop the kid who tried to say, “And this must be my computer!” and open Sri’s beloved MacBook Pro. But that’s understandable.

The year in Sri’s classroom presented lots of challenges to my son. He ended up the year deciding to try homeschooling. But this was not to spite Sri—in fact, perhaps it was in part because of Sri. For Sri, learning was integrated into life. His classroom wasn’t a place where standards held an honored place. This made some parents very uncomfortable. But Sri seemed to know what kids needed. One day at the bus stop a parent was commiserating with me about all the hard math homework. I nodded my head knowingly.

As my son and I got into the car, I asked, “So, do you get math homework?”

“Sure,” my son answered. “I finish it at lunchtime on Mondays.”

Clearly Sri knew not to pile on busywork when it wasn’t needed. My son was focused on his creative side, and it was just fine with him to do the bare minimum in math at that time.

Sri and my son kept in touch now and then during the last couple of years. There was no question that Sri was on the invitation list for his Bar Mitzvah, and Sri accepted. But a couple of weeks before the event, I got an e-mail saying that he had “a scheduling problem.”

The scheduling problem is one that sometimes arises in the lives of people too young to be taken away from us. Sri had been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer. He was given six months, but he died today, only a few months later.

It’s the optimist’s goal to see good in these sorts of things. The pessimist’s to see the evil of the world. I don’t see either. It’s just part of the confusing nature of things that Sri would go so soon, while others who give so much less to the world linger on.

But what I do see in clear relief is that Sri’s was a life well lived. He left behind so many people who truly mourn the loss of his influence in this world. He was a lovely soul, and I am so thankful that he was part of my son’s life.

Posted in Education, Parenting.

2 Responses

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  1. Holly says

    Sydney was joined to Sri’s hip and took in every ounce of tech. training and zest for learning that Sri had to offer her. We are grateful and saddened as well.

  2. Iris Seitel says

    Well Said, Suki……..Love, Iris

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