Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Do you have a favorite teacher? For the longest time, mine was Mr. Shneider, who taught me algebra in eighth grade. He was young (he had come to our school soon after graduating college), quite handsome (or at least that’s what I thought then), and a really good dresser (he was the first person I saw who wore cranberry and navy blue together and, boy, did it look good). But, that’s certainly not why Mr. Shneider was my favorite teacher.
Mr. Shneider loved math, so much so that you couldn’t help but love it too. I remember, one day, Mr. Shneider, angry with the class for something or other (all too human, he had a temper), dared us to come up with a better system of algebra “if we didn’t like this one.” Nuts, right? Well, I went home that afternoon and spent hours trying to improve on algebra. I failed, of course, but Mr. Shneider succeeded; he, perhaps inadvertently, made me see how beautiful and brilliant algebra is.
Mr. Shneider’s first-place standing was replaced freshman year of college by my intro-to-psychology professor. It’s because of Professor Karlins that I ended up majoring in psychology.
How many stories have you heard of teachers profoundly impacting students’ lives? Yet it stuns me that teachers are vilified today. The public views them even less favorably than it does lawyers and journalists. (Don’t get me started on that!) At a Westchester Magazine roundtable with about a dozen teachers and school administrators several months ago, it was made abundantly clear that the most valuable, most important asset any school has is its teachers. It’s by no means the fancy computers or shiny labs. Nor is it the lush green campus or the high-tech library. Those computers don’t work after-hours on lesson plans. Those labs don’t spend evenings and weekends grading tests, reading essays, or calling parents. Still, many parents and non-parents alike seem to blame teachers for all that’s wrong with our overburdened, underfunded educational system—for why Johnny can’t read or why Jimmy didn’t get into Brown. Yes, of course, there are bad teachers, as there are bad lawyers, bad journalists, bad plumbers, bad parents. But…
In this issue, we profile Roger Cappucci, a 76-year-old Bronx-born veteran who has spent more than a half-century teaching math, mostly in Scarsdale. The profile does what most good teachers do—it inspires. Hey, I was ready to go back to high school and sign up for his class.
Bet you’ve got a teacher or two who have inspired you. I’d love to hear about them. Shoot me an email at email@example.com, or, if you like pen and paper better, drop me a line at 2 Clinton Avenue, Rye, NY 10580. Perhaps I’ll find a way to share your missives with the 20,000-plus teachers who work—hard—in our county.