It was the end of 1959. Eisenhower was still President and I was 8 years old. My third grade teacher was Miss Spar, pictured with my class below. I have absolutely no memory of her. If she is still alive today, she is at least in her 80s. In the class picture I am the little guy on the far right standing with my hand in my pocket. I was the shortest kid in all my grade school classes and, therefore, first in line. That probably wasn’t so bad since I got to a stand next to Miss Spar while walking down the hallway.
Also below is my report card from Miss Spar’s class, 3-2. I know that at some point the class designations at PS 201 were supposed to reflect intelligence, which meant that I wasn’t in the smartest class, 3-1. I don’t feel so bad about that since several kids in this photo turned out to be doctors and professors. By fifth and sixth grade I ended up in the “smart” class. I entered junior high in the two “SP” program and chose to skip 8th grade, which was probably a huge mistake. I ended up graduating Bowne HS at the age of 16, still first on line in the processional march and socially immature.
Not only do I not remember the lovely Miss Spar, but I don’t remember who I was at the age of 8. For that I have to depend on Miss Spar’s report card comments:
Social Behavior – “Andrew works and plays beautifully with other children. He is considerate, dependable, and shows leadership qualities.” This is surprising to me because the one thing I do remember about grade school is that I didn’t like going and often feigned being ill. It’s possible that Miss Spar inspired me.
Work Habits – “Andrew needs to develop more organization in his work habits. However, he shows initiative and usually sees a job through to completion.” Miss Spar is being kind here. I remember my desk being a black hole of crumpled papers, spilled ink, and broken pencils and papers continually falling out of my looseleaf book.
Health and Safety Habits – “Andrew observes health and safety habits as a general rule.” That of course means that I was less than observant. For example, it doesn’t look like I bothered combing my hair for this class photo.
Language Arts Reading – “Andrew shows high interest in most reading material, and is doing well in this area.” It was around this time that I started reading the Happy Hollisters series of mysteries and developed a love of reading. I ended up being a high school English/History teacher in NYC. Good call Miss Spar!
Oral Expression – “Andrew contributes frequently to class discussions. His ideas are good ones!” I think I was just trying to impress Miss Spar.
Written Expression – “Andrew has shown imagination in his written work. I would like to see more of this.” It’s obvious that I enjoy writing and now spend much of my waking day writing posts like this one on Facebook.
Mathematics – “Andrew shows a fairly good understanding of the math concepts. He has a tendency to rush and make careless judgments.” Again, right on target Miss Spar. Still today I have no patience with doing things precisely and accurately and rush through tasks just to them over with.
Other Areas – Andrew displays high interest in Science and Social Studies. His art work is very good. He is anxious to learn as much as he can about the world he lives in.” Miss Spar could have made a living as a fortune teller. I’ve always loved Science and ended up being a pre-med major at Queens College. That’s until I got a D in Quantitive Analysis because didn’t have the requisite patience or care to measure minute quantities of chemicals in solution. As far as Social Studies, although I eventually got my teaching certificate in English, I ended up teaching both American and Global History. Current affairs and politics is my favorite thing to blog about on Facebook.
So if I were to give Miss Spar a grade for predicting how the shortest kid in her 1959 third grade class turned out, it would definitely be an A+. I remember more about my fourth through sixth grade teachers, Miss Abramowitz, Mrs. Leibowitz, and Mrs. Moskowitz, the three -witzes. I remember Miss Abramowitz as being very young and attractive. Too bad I lost the class photo of her. Boy was I embarrassed when I learned that she often played mahjong with my aunt. I remember Mrs. Leibowitz as being very stern and demanding, but also for inspiring me to work harder. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Moskowitz, was by far my favorite, inviting us to her house to plant lettuce and choosing me for one the main roles in our lavish production of The Mikado.
One of the best sections of the film “Pomonok Dreams” is the part where people reminisce about attending PS 201. The principal, Mr. Moses, was a great leader. His assistant principal, Mr. Levinson, was the strict “enforcer.” And the staff was comprised of dedicated veterans and eager, caring young teachers.
If you carefully examine the bulletin board in the background of this class photo, just above my head, you see an example of the academic excellence provided by the teachers of PS 201. The class was studying Native American culture. Miss Spar had her class create a huge chart called “How Did the Indians Live,” which included aspects of culture for each of the geographically separate peoples, richly decorated with drawings and artifacts. When I taught the same subject decades later, I did basically the same thing in my class. Maybe, tucked away somewhere deep in my subconscious, was Miss Spar’s inspiring handiwork.