Say Farewell as Tamara Jaffe Flies Away to the West Coast


Celina Saba

Ms. Jaffe pointing to her sophomore English students as they doodle on the whiteboard.

By Celina Saba, Staff Writer

This year, English teacher Tamara Jaffe is saying farewell to colleagues and students after 37 years of teaching. She is ready to move on to the next chapter of her life and will look back at her time as an educator fondly. 

“I’m excited and very happy. I feel a sense of accomplishment, like I’ve been able to participate positively in the lives of a lot of students and colleagues,” Jaffe said. “I also feel like I’ve done as much as I can up to this point. And I’m ready to try new stuff.” 

During her first year of retirement, Jaffe will return home to Portland, Oregon and shift her focus from coaching her students’ writing to establishing her own. 

“I will establish a very strong personal writing regime because I have a lot of writing that I need to complete. After that, I will probably teach at a community college, and work in a women’s prison in Oregon teaching creative writing,” Jaffe said.

When looking back at how it all started, how one year turned to 37 memorable years, Jaffe can single out one reason, one person: a teacher. More specifically, her sixth grade teacher Mr. Murphy

“I had a sixth grade teacher who went out of his way to teach me skills that I was lacking because my family moved around a lot when I was a child and I was in some pretty bad public schools. When Mr. Murphy discovered that I didn’t know my times tables, and I couldn’t speak Spanish, he kept me after school every day until I learned how to catch up with all the other kids in sixth grade on basic skills in Spanish and Math,” Jaffe said.

“He taught me other things as well, and he did that all against the wishes of my parents. He argued with my mother about my need to learn these things when she wanted me to come home, clean the house, and make dinner, and do everything that a girl is supposed to do. He wanted to teach me. I think that memory stayed with me. A teacher who was willing to stand up and fight with my parents on my behalf was a very powerful experience. 

Even with the help of Mr. Murphy, Jaffe’s decision to go into education wasn’t automatic. It was a process that followed her into college. 

“I didn’t want to leave college. I loved my college and they had a program for certification and they gave me money to do it so I did it. I never thought about it as a career, I was never headed towards a career, I was headed towards finding a way to survive in the world. I needed to have a job. I had worked in a warehouse, in a restaurant, and had many jobs that were very hard, physically demanding, and emotionally and intellectually difficult to sustain. I knew that I didn’t want to do a job that couldn’t sustain my life. So when I learned that you can do this as a real thing in the world, I went for it and I had a very exciting professor in graduate school who taught me a lot about how teaching works,” Jaffe said. 

As an educator at Niles West, Jaffe never hesitated to do what was in the best interest of the student body and tries her best to always say ‘yes’ when students ask for a special favor.  

“I coached cricket in our first years. The young men that were forming it didn’t have anyone to sponsor it because it’s difficult to find a sponsor for a club like that. There are a lot of hours and a lot of traveling. I wasn’t a good coach. I didn’t know anything about cricket, but I taught myself about cricket and the rules,” Jaffe said. “I think we should continue to support student interests. When students have the imagination to come up with an idea for a club, we should say ‘yes’ as often as possible. We should continue to listen because we don’t know the directions that students want to follow, and we don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. We have to continue being aware and open to that.”

Jaffe has also sponsored both the Seminars for Scholars and the Middle Eastern Club.

“I feel that Ms. Jaffe is the embodiment of perseverance and an inspiration to her students, especially her female students who strive to be strong and knowledgeable leaders. Having her as my teacher and sponsor for Middle Eastern Club is what pushed me to do better each time and stay determined despite setbacks we faced,” senior Yasmine Carlin said. “Her open mindedness and pure compassion is rare to find these days and her unifying perspective is what makes her Ms. Jaffe.” 

As her final days at Niles West come to an end, Jaffe recalls one of her most cherished memories.

“One of my favorite moments was a day when the library was sponsoring an Arts Week and they had people coming in to participate and perform. I sang in a trio with Mrs. [Sally] Graham and Mr. Paul Wack,” Jaffe said. “Mr. Wack played the banjo and Mrs. Graham played the guitar. That moment in the library singing was amazing. We did three part harmonies and we sang several songs but I remember this one song ‘I’ll fly away.’ Mrs. Graham is actually a professional musician and composer, so to sing with her and Mr. Wack was a real privilege and a joy.”

While Jaffe will be finishing her teaching career at West, her journey in D219 didn’t start here, but at Niles North with current fellow English teacher Mrs. Graham. 

Ms. Jaffe is one of the most brilliant, empathic teachers I have known.  I first met her almost 30 years ago when we were both at Niles North, and she has inspired me ever since.  She has that way of bringing out the best in the people around her: whether it is her students, her colleagues, or her own children, she truly believes in people,” Graham said. “Throughout the years, she has encouraged me to write songs–to teach difficult novels–to read poetry–to go kayaking!  Her warm, understanding smile, her hearty laugh, and her listening ear is a blanket of comfort in the department, and she will be sorely missed.  Thanks to Ms. Jaffe for being a brave, considerate, compassionate teacher and for inspiring students and teachers alike. Now, she’s on to more adventures on the West Coast.”

When it comes to her everyday interactions with her students, Jaffe finds the task of choosing a favorite moment an immeasurably difficult feat. 

“I’ve had many many wonderful moments when students are listening to one another and completely engaged, and excitingly working till the end of class because they’re enjoying what they’re doing. Those moments are myriads and precious,” Jaffe said.

“I’ve had Ms. Jaffe since sophomore year and hands down, she is the best English teacher. She is insanely smart, funny, educated and she makes a class go by so fast. She’s helped me a lot with my writing,” senior Hussain Khalil said. 

Before she walks the halls of Niles West for the last time, Jaffe has a few last words to say to the community. 

“I would ask the community to have compassion for their teachers cause it really is a factory job. We teach 131 to 135 students per day, five shows a day, and sometimes people forget that it’s an awful huge amount of personal relationships to foster every day, every year, year after year. I would ask everyone to be compassionate in and out of the classroom.”