Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Best PD Ever: A Day With Former Students 37 Years Later

Sept. 10, 2016
 Every teacher should be so lucky to see how the lives of their students turn out even if 37 years later.  I had the immense pleasure yesterday of spending an entire afternoon with 5 students from my 5th and 6th grade class from 1978/79 at the home of Deborah, one of the students who graciously hosted the event at her lovely home in East New York in a newly developed area right behind the Gateway Mall off Erskine St.

I hadn't seen Debbie in all these years but recognized her instantly.

Debbie had been only in my 5th grade class while the rest had me for both years - I looped with them. I guess about 60-75% of the kids suffered me for 2 years. How did they manage to survive a teacher who ignored data, took them on too many trips instead of doing test prep and generally wanted them to have some fun in school. And they said yesterday that the most memorable times were those trips and other activities.

To hear them say I wasn't boring was the best evaluation I could have ever received.

I also learned that the stairway outside my room was "kissing" territory. And the gals learned who Herbie, the only guy there, had a crush on back then. (I won't tell).

This was a followup to a reunion back in February 2016 that I wrote about: Where a Group of My Former Students Pass the Highest Stakes Test of All - Life

I can't think of a better professional development experience for a teacher or even a retired teacher. Hearing about their lives as students and parents and work and so many other issues was enlightening.

They are all approaching 50. One has fairly young children. Three are grandparents. One became a grand parent at the age of 36. I heard amazing stories of perseverance in the face of the crack culture of the times, teen pregnancy and raising a child as a teen while working and going to school. Another a widow who lost her love while she had young children. Heroic.

Some brought their kids and one brought a grandchild. Another one still lives across the street from the school and keeps an eye on her grandchild who goes there where she sent her own kids. Three generations at PS 147.

Ahhh, the old soon to be lamented concept of a neighborhood school where most local kids attend and mingle and for better or worse manage to get an education.

Most of them work in areas connected to health care - as secretaries or admin assistants or hospital administrators.  One is back in school for a masters in health admin. Most own a home of condo. Many found spouses or partners from the neighborhood. When one of the gals couldn't attend the others pleaded with her to bring her wife next time.

Oh, what stories and memories of growing up in the projects in Williamsburg on Bushwick Ave, of what was then considered one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. Most of them either still live in the neighborhood or have roots there. They all attended the zoned middle school, which was considered a horror story at the time (while the kids in the top class were funneled away from that school to the one MS in the district where the top students were sent.) I tried to explain some of this to them yesterday - the tracking and sorting based solely on reading scores. Almost all of them attended Eastern District, the local high school or another high school in the area.  Some dropped out at one point before finding their way back.

Some of them told how their parents when they were born had given them a Spanish name and the hospital ignored them and they have lived under the way the person in the hospital named them.

They talked about a dangerous but real community, a spirit they felt growing up in those projects. One who still lives there told me how the drug culture had lessened but the hipster gentrifiers had ironically brought some of that drug culture back. 

We are planning another one as they search for more students from those classes. The principal of PS 147 told me a few months ago she would love to host some alumni.

The February reunion and my poor attempt at a selfie


  1. Wonderful! Too bad the powers that be can't realize this is the mark of a good teacher.

  2. I hate to politicize such a marvelous posting, but I couldn't help thinking about Trump's ugly appeal to blacks and their hopeless poverty etc. Your students' experience talks to the richness of culture and community in the face of hardship. And, Norm, despite being a frequent critic of yours and Unity slug, I never doubted for a moment that you were a marvelous teacher, and this post only reinforces that belief.

    1. I hate to disagree with you once again UNity slug. I was not a marvelous teacher. I could name 20 teachers I worked with at 2 schools who were truly marvelous teachers. I had too many flaws to list. These kids were too young to see them. I was very good at relating to and taking care of them and making them feel reasonably safe by creating a homey environment. As for actually teaching them stuff and monitoring their progress and addressing certain academic issues not so great. But maybe the two skills are not compatible.


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