Inwood Junior High School was very different from Frederick Douglass Junior High School. When I met with Dr. Hanauer in his office and told him some of my stories about my old school, he explained that in his school there really was to be no corporal punishment, period. Fine with me, I answered. I had no problem with that.
The ethnic composition of this school was also quite different from what I had grown used to. Just as the student body at Frederick Douglas had been composed of African Americans, the student body at Junior High 52 (Inwood’s official Board of Ed name) was composed almost entirely of the children of the German-Jewish immigrant community living in Washington Heights, Inwood and up on Cabrini Boulevard. In those days, the area around Dyckman Street and north of Dyckman was mostly Irish, and the Irish kids attended St. Elizabeth’s (unless they’d been expelled, and then they joined us), while there were very few Puerto Rican and almost no African-Americans in the student body. Teaching at Inwood Junior High, and working with the kids there, quickly became one of the highlights of my professional life. That is not to say there were no problems, but to work with the bright kids I had in my 9th Grade SP (the accelerated track) was an incredible experience. There was almost nothing I asked them to do that they weren’t willing and able, even eager, to do.
My supervisors were Dr. Milton Loeb Hanauer, Dr. Milton Finkelstein, his assistant principal, and Mr. Robert Griffenberg, the supervisor of the English department. Hanauer and Finkelstein both had law degrees, but during the Great Depression, because of the combination of economic conditions and traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in the legal firms at that time, found no employment in the legal profession, and went into education, a path taken by many young Jews of that time with law degrees. As mentioned before, Hanauer was a chess master, spoke French, and had been a French teacher. Finkelstein was a somewhat weaker chess master
and a student of history. He earned additional income by translating high school and college textbooks into baby-talk for junior high schools. I don’t think Griffenberg played chess. He was just a nice family man who followed the rules and saw to it that others did the same.
Each Monday morning, when I came into school, I had to leave my lesson plan book in Griffenberg’s office. He was supposed to check and sign the lesson plans. Soon, I noticed that he didn’t really bother reading them before signing them, and I began submitting off-color jokes for his signature, and he accommodated. Things were rather relaxed.
In those days it was also difficult for the Board of Education to hire women physical education teachers, so male teachers taught girl gym classes. One of our two gym teachers was a Mr. Polakoff, a man in his late forties, with thinning hair which he pomaded down, an advancing forehead and glasses. He was a nice enough man, and there were no complaints about him, but the only way he could get to the gym was through the girls’ locker room. So, as he zoomed through their locker rooms, with the girls in various states of undress, he’d yell, “Close your eyes, girls! I’m coming through!” Schools in those days really were different.