CRI Focus Areas

A Teachers Influence


In 1967 at the age of 20, I began my career as a teacher, working out of a one room classroom with a multi-aged class. In the past half century plus, I have taught regular education, remedial, gifted and special education, primary, intermediate middle and secondary students, private, parochial and public schools, rural, urban and suburban communities, adult education, undergraduate and graduate classes, and in addition to being a teacher and substitute teacher, I have served as a head teacher, department head, curriculum coordinator, principal, special education director, assistant superintendent and occasionally (for a fortunately fleeting time) as a superintendent. Now in my twilight years, I look back at the changes I have made and the people I have positively affected with pride. The relationship between teachers and students can be life changing, and in an era of common core, test mania and “race to the top,” this also needs to be kept in mind. How do role models and heroes influence personal development and the future? Who have I influenced, and who has influenced me? But before I tell you that, I need to tell you about a eighteen year old teenager I knew named Murray. Murray lived in the South Bronx in New York City. He was fascinated by cars and auto repair, going to New York Giant Games and enjoying the great outdoors, a rare commodity in the South Bronx. He had a hero, an actor named Steve McQueen.  He caught all of Steve McQueen’s movies, and loved them, especially ones’ where the actor had a chance to ride a motorcycle. He was especially fond of the TV series that McQueen starred in; “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Murray was the son of poor Polish-Jewish immigrants, and his step-father was a holocaust survivor. Education was valued in their house, and one of his brothers became a chemist, and the other became an accountant. Murray was different, and had no interest in going to college. He asked his mother if he could move to Texas, and follow in the footsteps of his hero, Steve McQueen.  Needless to say, his Bronx mother was not pleased that her son “wanted to be a cowboy.” She alternately pleaded, begged and scolded him to change his mind, to no avail. Still, in the back of her mind she knew he was becoming a man, and that in the end she could not stop him, and that he could move where he wanted when he wanted, with or without her permission. With this in mind, crafty woman that she was, Murray’s Mom made “a deal.” If he could get his reputedly stupid cousin to successful learn to read and stay in school, he could do what he wanted. Murray’s mother knew he liked kids. She secretly thought she had come up with a “Mission Impossible,” another show he liked, because the cousin in question was, according to the school, virtually un-teachable! In the end, she thought, Murray would give up, stay in New York, and get a “real job,”- maybe be a social worker, or a teacher. Not an accountant, but at least he wouldn’t starve, or end up fighting Apaches on the Texas frontier! Murray’s cousin lived far, far away in a borough called Brooklyn. This was Dodger territory. It was not a safe place, especially for a Bronx lad who rooted for the Giants, and occasionally also supported the hated New York Yankees. His Brooklyn cousin’s father was hospitalized and in poor health, and the boy’s mother went to work very early in the morning and came home after he went to bed. The cousin made his own breakfast and lunch, and a nearby corner store was paid weekly to provide his supper. Murray’s cousin, also a first generation American, was growing up wild. He didn’t listen to his teachers, hated school and played hooky whenever he got the chance. In fourth grade he couldn’t read, and made little effort to learn. Remedial teachers, school psychologists and social workers were unable to connect, and a 600 school- the place in New York City they would send incorrigibles- was considered as a future placement. That is, IF they could get him to go. Three times a week Murray would take the subway from the South Bronx to the far off Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, changing trains twice, and then took the same trains back. Murray brought comic books down to teach his cousin to read, starting with Bugs Bunny and Little Lulu, and eventually working up to the “Illustrated Classics.” Tutoring was interspersed with street games like box ball and stickball, to let both boys have an opportunity to burn off energy and to bond. To the amazement of all, the cousin eventually learned to read, and then learned to love to read! Murray recently died, and is buried in his beloved adopted home State of Texas. To the surprise of everyone he had achieved the goal his mother had set, and had moved to the Lone Star State before anyone could set any additional conditions. Like his hero, he did become a process server, and did quite well, and also established a successful auto repair business, and raised a family.    The question remains-Why did Murray, who had never taken one teacher education course in his life, succeed when seasoned professional educators failed? For one thing, his younger cousin’s teachers believed he was unmotivated, unkempt and disorganized, and came from a home they thought provided little support or intellectual stimulation. The word was out about Murray’s cousin, and everyone in the teacher’s room knew of his background and deficiencies. Murray did not care about any of these factors, and had no presumption that his cousin could not learn. In addition, Murray personalized the instruction, liked his cousin and related well to him, and was committed to succeed in teaching him to read. Murray had no interest in pedagogy, but in this instance, his one and only teaching assignment, he demonstrated the true highest standards of the education profession.  After his mother passed, Murray lost touch with the family, and never knew that the illiterate cousin he worked with way back in the fifties learned to like learning, and miraculously went off to college. Before recently retiring to Delaware, Murray’s cousin would also leave his native New York and relocate in Maine. There the cousin would become a teacher and school administrator, and eventually earn his Doctorate in Education. I will never forget my Cousin Murray; a fan of Steve McQueen, whose desire to become a cowboy made him the teacher who most influenced my teaching and my life.         Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:Table Normal; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:Calibri,sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Times New Roman; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:Times New Roman; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

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