61, Convent Avenue, part two, life changing
I returned to Music and Art High School as an observer volunteer. Lou Simon, then the chair of the Department, had applied for a half year sabbatical and everyone thought Dr Paul Reich would get the temporary chairmanship. If he got the position, he would not be supervising a student teacher. But it was not to be.
Someone else in the department had more seniority. They grieved Dr Reich’s appointment; won and Dr Reich returned to teaching AP English and remained dept assistant.
And one of the first things he did was speak to me. He told me I deserved the placement. The school was making an exception and I would the second of two students teachers that year.
But he still could not stand listening to my voice, so, I would work with a good friend of his, Seymour Mauer.
It was a miracle; a Christmas miracle. My spring job tarring roofs, my 20 credits that spring semester, my busy hectic life was saved.
And I was to start and teach immediately.
And I was bad, really, really bad.
Kind, patient Seymour had me teaching four freshman ELA lessons a day. He believed in more being more. But for me it was less than zero. I started poorly in from the first period, sat with Seymour during our common free second period; made adjustments and
…got worst, period after period; period after period. By day’s end I was horrible. And more pressure -besides proving Dr Reich and other naysayers “right” (after all I was the first CCNY student to get a M&A placement in over ten years) was coming.
James Shields was my CCNY Education professor. Student teaching was a six credit course at that time. A grade of lower than an ‘A’ would lead me to losing my BA/MA Fellowship. I was in deep trouble.
Mr Shields would do 3 observations and in that first month of student teaching he gave me a generous ‘C’ for my first lesson.
I continued to struggle in my High School classrooms and a month later, after real hard work with Seymour, I reached a B-.
And then, I don’t know how or why, it-teaching-all fell into place. I was good, very good. So good that when Seymour was called for jury duty in early May, I taught all his classes and not the legal substitute teacher. I had arrived in spades.
And then they had to dismiss Dr Paul Reich’s student teacher from Columbia University for trying to ‘date’ some of his older female students. All the firs, including myself doubts, defeated.
Things felt great; I was succeeding. And then Prof Shields came for by last observation. Super surprised, he said my lesson was ‘one of the best he had seen’.
As we sat in the teachers’ lounge with only myself and Prof Shields at the front table and Dr Reich sitting by himself at the far back table, he gave me my course grade. It was the behind June.
The conversation with Shields was short with the praise and very disappointing: the C and the B- and the A+ averaged out in Prof Shields’ view as a “B”. I had no chance to speak or state how I felt about the grade.
Seymour was still on jury duty; Lou Simon was on Sabbatical. I had no one to argue that my unusual growth as a teacher should be granted an “A” for the six credit course. Covering a teacher 5 periods a day; going to classes at night; performing well, all were breezed over. And then, Dr Reich said from the back, “excuse me Prof Shields, can I have a word?..Charles, can you wait outside?”
Ten minutes later Prof Shields exited the lounge, saw me in the hallway and said succinctly without emotion, “the grade is an “A”.
I walked in the lounge and standing at the door Dr Reich said,
“I need to apologise to you….I was wrong; you deserved the original placement and you should not have been made to feel like a ‘second choice.’
“But I still cannot bear to listen to your voice. You deserved this “A” for all you have accomplished. And will accomplish.”
Dr Reich’s standing for me; Seymour’s trusting me to grow; Lou Simon’s making an exception for two student teaching placements; all changed my life.
But Dr Reich…he was a man of truth and integrity. He admitted an error and spoke for me. He was literally a ‘father to the fatherless. Me.
That is my teaching life, my life changing moment.
I will always love him and Seymour and Lou. All ways.