Reflections on Outstanding Educators
June is a time of passage. It’s a time to leave college and enter the world of work or graduate school. It’s also a time to reminisce and reflect. When I taught at the College of Staten Island in New York years ago, I always felt nostalgic in June. Students had left, corridors were quiet and another academic year had gone. Memories of outstanding students, interesting conversations, controversial issues and brilliant books lingered. What had I learned this year from the students? What had they learned from me? How had we all grown?
To me, the mark of a great teacher is one who transmits passion, emotion, commitment, belief and knowledge. I remember Mrs. Levy in the third grade at PS67 in the Bronx. She taught me to become an excellent reader, to understand and digest what I read. I remember Mr. Strom and Mr. Bernstein in middle school; they loved science and social studies respectively and conveyed it to their students. I remember Ms. O’Hare who had us memorize “In Flanders Fields” and “Daffodils,” poems I love and recite to this day.
At Music and Art High School, Mr. Cooper, an English teacher instilled the discipline of always looking up words we didn’t know by carrying a small pocket dictionary with us everywhere. Mr. Isadore Russ taught us violin: “make your fingers little hammers; press down hard on those strings and make them sing,” he would admonish us. We did and I do to this day, hearing his words still and understanding his love for music. Mr. Ira Marienhoff, a stern and brilliant historian, would make you stand up when you spoke in class. Students learned to think carefully before they spoke. We also learned to analyze history and current affairs keenly. He was the Arista advisor, an honor society for students with 90 and above GPAs. I’ll never forget his compassion for me as I found my grades slipping just a bit when my mother died in the 11th grade. Marienhoff put his arm around me and reassured me that I could continue to strive and make it. And I did. I remember all this so many years later.
Education Update decided four years ago to honor outstanding teachers in New York City, those who inspire and shape the lives of young people. We organized an awards breakfast at the Harvard Club and received such an outpouring of appreciation and humility that we have continued the tradition. This year, Jill Levy, President of the Council for Supervisors and Administrators, suggested I include administrators in our recognition ceremony. Thus, 2006 marks the first time that we are including administrators as well as teachers who have taught, loved and shared their inspiration with students throughout the city.
The photos and stories that appear in our centerfold reflect the hard work of 21 individuals who were nominated by their supervisors and voted on by Education Update’s Advisory Council. We asked these educators to share their best practices so that we can all benefit from their success. Their pragmatic advice appears on page 6.
What a wonderful culmination of a school year to the 21 educators we call “Outstanding Educators of the Year 2006.” Kudos to you all and may you bask in your success this summer knowing that you will always be remembered by your students the way I remember my teachers of a half century ago.#