A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

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What teaching techniques do Mr. Morton and Miss Bernstone use in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to engage the children?

Quick answer:

Some of the specific teaching techniques that Mr. Morton and Miss Bernstone use to make the children love them and their lessons in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn relate to their energy, playfulness, and empathy.

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In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith portrays Mr. Morton and Miss Bernstone as a bright spot in the bleak schooldays of Francie and the other students. While most of the teachers are dreary and stern, Morton and Bernstone are fun and caring.

Morton possesses the energy of a “tornado.” He comes into music class happy and cheerful, which, in turn, makes his students happy, cheerful, and willing to learn music. Sometimes, Morton's bliss overtakes him and forces him to dance. It’s as if Morton is putting on a show for the children to enjoy. His playful theatrics allow him to teach the children fine music without them even realizing that they're learning about great music.

Bernstone doesn’t have the exuberance of Morton, but she is kind and compassionate. She showers the “hordes of unwashed and unwanted children” with love. Her empathy imbues her with a magical quality that entrances her pupils. On rainy days, Bernstone sketches the “poorest, meanest kid in the room.” The finished portrait reveals not the ostensible crassness of the child but the innocence and glory within them.

Another aspect of Morton's and Bernstone's appealing teaching techniques is their fashion and looks. Morton’s coattails and tie seem to emphasize his winning personality. Bernstone’s “beautiful dresses” and “sweet and tender” face appear to be a key component of her charm. Smith suggests that Bernstone’s traditional feminine attractiveness is central to her enchanting teaching techniques.

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