A School Changes

This is not Junior High School 52 (Inwood)

The turnaround from terrific to terrible at Inwood came about quickly, possibly the result of the demands for integration that were ripping through the nation and the city at about that time, or possibly the change was brought about by normal demographic movement in the neighborhood.  I just don’t know.  The school, the teachers and administrators were the same, as was the curriculum.  Only the school population changed.  Suddenly we had more Puerto Rican, Dominican and Black kids than we had before.  We did have some Black kids before the big change, but these earlier Black kids were the children of an elite.  Paul Robeson’s grandson was one of my students, as was Congressman Charles Rangel’s son, and these boys were academically indistinguishable from their white peers.

The new population was different, more difficult.  For one thing, many of these new students spoke only Spanish, and some were completely illiterate in their own language.  They had not been socialized to schools or what went on there, and this made it difficult for teachers to make themselves heard in class, let alone teach anything.  Teaching became less important than actual survival, and the discussions in the teachers’ cafeteria were suddenly about what worked and what didn’t in this “new” school.

Even our cafeteria was feeling the effect of the change, as budget cuts caused reductions in services.  It is amazing how much little things mattered.  The cafeteria manager was a plump German woman who saw to it that each table for four had a white tablecloth and a small vase of fresh flowers.  Each day she also prepared a delicious fruit salad.  All of that now went, and the tables were replaced by long, institutional tables with attached benches, without tablecloths or flowers, as if to signal that we were now in a different environment.

Only Mr. Weinberg, whose room was next to mine, seemed to have found a system that worked.  He was in his early thirties, a small, effeminate man, who taught history and whose passion was the piano.  I expected that he would be eaten alive by his students.  I was wrong.  His students were terrified of him, and of course, I asked him how he did it.

His system depended on work.  He said that classroom discussions had to be avoided at all cost.  That he gave his students so much written work to do in class and at home, that they didn’t have time to breathe, let alone misbehave.  When a student did misbehave, it was because he wasn’t working.  He would then get on the phone in the evening and phone the offender’s parents.  He was careful never to mention misbehavior, about which the parents didn’t really care, but when he told them that their boy or girl wasn’t doing his work, that was a different story, and brought familial thunder down on the head of the offender, and no repetition of the offense in class.

I wasn’t happy about the Weinberg solution, but  I learned from my colleague, and had few problems after that.  However, teaching without class discussions and  under the constant threat of disruption was no longer fun, and I decided to take the high school licensing exam and move on to high school, where things just had to be better.  And so they where. . . for awhile.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the “Final Solution” by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.

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5 Responses to A School Changes

  1. Abby Mandel says:

    So do you mean Mr Weinstein??? Or was their a Weinberg too who called my mother? 🙂 He also complained to my best friend Carol Blom about how I needed to study more! That worked! I studied my (then much smaller) tuchus (sp?) off for the next test and got an A.

    Abby Mandel (JHS 52 ’69, GW ’72)

  2. Alex says:

    Hi, Abby!
    Good to hear from you! Are you now writing about Inwood Jr. High? If you are, it is Weinstein, of course! As to your friend Carol Blom, was she the girl who read her material upside-down, kind of tall and plain at the time, with brown, frizzy hair, and glasses, but a super-bright kid? I think she was in my 9SP English class, along with Richard Hamburger and some others whose names I can’t remember. You have no idea what remarkable kids you were, and how much fun I had with you. I felt I was in a special corner of heaven, but I still wasn’t a very good teacher then. That would come later. Weinstein, on the other hand, had figured it all out. I don’t know how good a teacher he was (how kind, etc), but he was bright, energetic, talented (he played the piano) and effective, with wonderful classroom control. I wonder what happened to him?

    • Abby Mandel says:

      Thank you for your reply. I have lots of info for you.
      Richard Hamburger was in the class of 1967 in 9SP1 with Harvey Berger, Jules Frankel, Eric Gross, Linda Hanauer, Ronin Jocober, Sandy Jacoby, Gaby Kleinman, Shirley Kohn, Ellen Levy, Bruce Maier, Michael Rosenbam, Sheldon Rosenthal , Steven Schrage and others. I have the yearbook in front of me and that was just a sampling. I see that you were their home room teacher. I was in 7SPE3 that year. Those students, because they were in the two year SP, went on to graduate HS in 1971 with my husband Mark Hirsch and so some of these names are still being discussed in this house. He said he could find out about half those names above. And by the way, Sandy Jacoby is now a Prof of industrial relations OR economic history at Berkely or somewhere in the U of Ca system.
      I was a goody goody except in Mr Weinstein’s class because he demanded so much from us and that was scary for me at age 11. I think you read him exactly right. He did have great control of the class, but it wasn’t in a good way. As a teacher of 30+ yrs myself at the community college level, I do not believe that teachers should control by instilling fear. In my case, his method backfired and I closed down in his class for the most part.
      You are not going to believe this, but I have a list of the teachers that I had at 52. Just for fun…do you remember any of them? Math-Mrs Strauss, Mrs Tsakanikas, Mr Pressman. English-Mr Gordon, Mrs Collins, Mr Rich. Soc St-Mr Weinstein, Mr Handsome Fisher, Mrs Lowe. Science-Mr Felsenfeld, Mr Kinsley, Mr Levinson. Art-Mrs Honest. The principal was Hanuer, and the Asst Principals were Berka, and Capsum at the time I graduated in 1969. I only remember Finkelstein but I guess he had left?
      Regarding Carol Blom. She was always in my class and so it is doubtful that you had her as a student because she would have had the same teachers as me. But she was about 5’5″, frizzy dark hair but no glasses. She was, in my opinion, a genius and as my best friend since age 3, I thought I knew everything about her. I do not remember her reading upside down, but perhaps she did. You may have heard about her from Mr Weinstein. She was his “model” student, which he reminded us constantly. She went on to Bronx High School of Science without me and then unfortunately she was in a car accident on 95 in Conn and died when we were 19.
      I do not know how Sara Lurie found your blog, but I have written to her and will either get an answer, or she will write to you. You will also hear from my husband Mark Hirsch (JHS 52, ’68, GW ’71).
      Mark and I met the day the molotov cocktail (or so we thought that’s what it was) went off at about 10am, on April 18, 1970 at GW. We know the date because Mark saved the article from the Post. The annnouncement came over the loudspeaker to get out of the school. I was scared out of my mind, and knew that a white girl couldn’t take the subway home on that day to 155th and RSD alone. I was running as fast as I could out of school and hopped the first city bus I saw. Mark was already on the bus and standing next to me so calm, cool and collected, while I shook uncontrollably. He was a junior (older and wiser in my mind) and knew all about the Parent’s table and why the riots were happening. He really calmed me down and became my “hero”. Without the GW riots of 1970, I would probably be married to someone else right now!
      Also, I never would have joined Facebook had it not been for my desire to connect with my “gang” of 30+ friends from that era at G Dubs. Going through such troubled times while in high school, I believe was responsible for cementing this group of friends that are still quite close 40 years later.
      I want to thank you for your website. Mark and I really enjoyed reading your blogs about GW and of course the famous teacher strike of my 9th grade. I was one of those students who broke into the school with Mrs Sonia Ginsburg the librarian and Mr…little Jewish guy who taught history (oh what is his name…Levine??) and actually had classes for a few days? maybe a week? during that time. Oh, I wish my memory was better on that one.

      Abby Mandel

  3. Alex says:

    And don’t worry about the spelling of “tuchus.” You probably got it right, but as I don’t care too much about spelling now-a-days, I’m not going to mark it down if you got it wrong. How did Sara ever find my blog?

  4. Alex says:

    Greetings, again, Abby!
    I had sent you an e-mail at what I thought was your address, but the message bounced; so here it is instead. I will reply to some of your other comments a bit later. I’m really enjoying this!

    Dear Abby,
    Thank you for your encouraging comments on what has transmuted into a vanity blog.
    What took you so long to get married? There’s a story there!
    To tell the truth, my memory isn’t what it once was, and I’ve now forgotten more than I ever knew. But those years at George Washington were exciting. Your friend, Sara, was indeed a “nice girl.” I saw her as being bright, articulate, and emotionally engaged, although I disliked her mother, whom I regarded as an opportunistic, irresponsible nitwit who was partially responsible for GW’s race to the bottom.
    Your experience with the bathrooms at GW reminded me of the fact that I was once interviewed for a job as an assistant principal in a suburban high school with a drug problem. It seems that drugs were being sold in the students’ bathroom. What should be done? I suggested that they simply lock the teachers’ bathrooms, forcing staff to use the same bathroom as the kids. Of course, I never got the job.
    The violence was occurring all over the school, but as I try to limit each day’s post to 500 words or so, it is often difficult to include material that belongs, because germane, but which is excluded because of my artificial limit. Blogs are supposed to be best when the entries run from 120 to 200 words, and I already considerably exceed those boundaries.
    I would write more about GW, but it would have to be about the period after you had left, and would be mostly about how unhappy I became with the leadership of the school, how stupid my colleagues were, how great its student body, and what a saintly teacher I was. Not really fun reading (besides being mostly untrue), although it was a genre quite popular with the public, which has made the career of several “educators” (think H. Kohl) after ultra brief careers in public schools.
    As to remembering your husband. . . I’d be lying if I said I did. It is possible that he was someone I vaguely remember, but it’s been just too many years, and too many students under the bridge.
    Good to hear from you!
    Alex

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