LOS ANGELES – Rose “Mama G” Gilbert dons a red plastic fire helmet and excitedly begins lecturing on George Orwell’s novel “1984.”
Gilbert’s helmet really isn’t necessary. It takes only a minute or two for her to get excited about just about anything.
Her Advanced Placement English literature students soon feel the heat as Gilbert connects current events to themes in the book — government surveillance, conformity and sexuality.
With her energy, it’s easy to forget that she’s old enough to be the great-great-grandmother of her Palisades Charter High School students.
Gilbert is 88.
“You can’t stop her when she is on a roll,” says Elieka Salamipour, a 17-year-old senior.
Gilbert is the oldest teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Two other female teachers, both 87, also work full-time in the district, the second-largest in the nation where there is no mandatory retirement age.
Gilbert doesn’t have to work — her husband left her millions when he died. But she loves it too much to quit.
Mama G’s energy is infectious, said Masha Elakovic, a 17-year-old senior who’s had Gilbert the past two years. “She comes in, she is really pumped up,” Elakovic said.
Gilbert has been known to collect 10-page essays from a class with two dozen or more students and have them graded the next day.
Every morning, Gilbert lifts weights and does yoga. Weekends are filled with UCLA basketball and football games and visiting with the grandkids.
Asked when she will stop teaching, Gilbert pauses.“When I’m tired,” she finally says. “I’m not tired. I have more energy than a kid.”
Photo: Damian Dovarganes