|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|INTERVIEWER:||Mary Ellen Zuverink|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||December 5, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1985)|
People are talking as tape begins - no introduction or anything
(I) You have been working in the Teaneck school system or in the high school or what is your new job?
(N) I started in Teaneck in 1965/66 school year as an intern with the Master of Arts and Teaching Program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck campus. Prior to that, I had been in industry for five years after going to the Navy so the Navy, four years in industry and then here through a masters program. First as a teacher of American History I and American History II, my first assignment and at that time, of course, back in the 60s, the courses were tracked or leveled in Social Studies and in English.
(I) What time, what year would you say that was?
(N) 65/66 school year so I really started teaching February 1, 1966 under contract. The first half of that year, I was a student at Fairleigh and I came here just as part of course work. So the internship actually began February 1 and when I came in, I replaced Dr. Frank Arone who then was going on sabbatical leave to finish his doctorate so I assumed his schedule which was an American History schedule of one slow group of kids, we used to call them Track 9s, one advanced placement or honors course as we called it then and then two regular classes. At that time, if you had the honors courses, you taught four classes and so forth. That's also been changed since. Now we do not track courses at all. That change came about in the late 60s/early 70s. The program now is completely heterogeneous. There is still an advanced placement course but the teachers who teach that no longer have the advantage of having only four classes. They teach a full load just like everybody else. And we have AP I and AP II so that was a big change.
Let's go back to what I did. I taught here for the first three years of my experience as a teacher. In 68, I became the chair of the high school. That's the high school Social Studies Department replacing Lou Payne who decided that for a number of personal and professional reasons, he had made judgments that he wanted to get into some other things and he gave up the position so I was appointed to that and then in 1971, I was appointed subject supervisor of Social Studies by the superintendent of schools and the board of education. Joe Killory was the superintendent at that time. The whole time I was a teacher, and I think that is important to underline. That has not changed. Supervisors still teach in Teaneck. We are probably one of the unique districts in that regard. Most places and in most of the professional commitments that I have become involved in, supervisors are no longer in the classroom so I think it is an advantage to us in that we stay with kids and we do still do that. When I was a chair, I taught I think it was three classes. As a supervisor, I teach one. But it does keep us in touch with what is going on. I have been the supervisor since 71. I am the only original surviving member of the original group.
(N) I have some longevity I guess. I am not sure what that means. But I have served in the position since its inception and have seen a lot of changes in terms of the role of the supervisor as well as the education system itself.
(I) I'd be very interested in that. You know, what your observations have been and just what comes to you as you think of these changes and what has meant a lot to you and your view and your experience of really going through the changes and all the transitions.
(N) I think that the original intent of the job was well conceived and extremely needed here in Teaneck. That was the idea of providing articulation in the secondary schools. There was no articulation. There were three chairs in Teaneck when I assumed the role in 68. There was a woman in Benjamin Franklin, Alice MacKenzie who was the chair there. There was a woman in Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Quinn, and the three of us rarely had a chance to meet so they were doing whatever they felt they needed to do, I was doing whatever I felt I needed to do here and there was very little interaction. Where there was, it was purely on agreement that we would get together and discuss things. The departments never met together. They were just entities.
So the advantage of the role and what it was originally conceived, it was a 7-12 role, was that the chairs became key people in those schools but now I could articulate and I could meet as one department and indeed that is what we did. Joe Killory pulled me aside when he appointed us. I think he did it with each of us. And we met in his office and he said, he really wanted us to take a year, he said, and really look at what is going on there. And then see if you are happy. And then make your changes. And he was right. We did begin observing and evaluating right away which was good. I REALLY think it is the only way you can get credibility but in terms of curriculum change, we did take a year, all of us did. And what I did is to spend a lot of that first year looking at programs, looking at materials that we were using, talking to teachers. A lot of it in the junior high where I really wasn't that familiar with what was going on. And I ended up in the end of that year, that first year, writing a rather lengthy report on the needs I perceived in terms of curriculum and then a couple of steps to get to some immediate change.
We spent a lot of time surveying kids just to see if the program was meeting their needs and almost unanimously in social studies, the kids felt the stuff was dull, it was boring and cutting through the fact that that's what kids always say, there were certain insights that they were giving us about the rather mundane survey type courses which were really in tune with national perspectives and so on. I should mention that role before I go any further and that is that I have, from the beginning, been very active in social study work beyond Teaneck. I have been the, I have always been a member I think, of the New Jersey Council of Social Studies and over the years, on three different occasions, have been vice president of that organization. I will now become president; I am vice president now and I will become president next year.
The reason I never assumed that role was other commitments. I was president of Greater Bergen Council at the time and was working here in my home district and just felt I couldn't do it so I was local and stayed actively involved in social studies education and then became in the mid-70s very active nationally and began to work in the national organization and just completed a three year term on the Board of Directors of the National Conference of Social Studies which is still the group in the country that represents the education of social studies teachers and kids. I also served as president of the National Social Studies Supervisors Organization so in the supervisory role, I had that also so the reason I mention it is that it is important I had that perspective and not only did I take Teaneck to the "world" but also I could bring the world here and that's pretty much what happened. In other words, I was able to draw on a lot of people that I had gotten to know and work very closely with allover the United States as far west as California.
(I) And what was the main switch the kids came up with. They said they didn't want this kind of ... so what did you come up with.
(N) Well based on what they said and what the staff was saying and what we, I think the staff gut felt it anyway, we had a series of meetings in the spring of the first year and we used all the department time to really look at all the data, all the stuff and all the research we could bring from the organization and we really began to think that we needed to come up with alternatives for kids. We were very rigid, you know, American History I, American History II. The district by this time had pretty well ordained that we were moving toward heterogeneity, the department supported that, they were befuddled by it because you are meeting ranges of kids but they felt given social studies, it was really not appropriate.
I am not even talking about the legal things and the state of the board but we just felt within ourselves that if you are talking about people interacting and getting to know each other, it was really inappropriate in a social studies classroom so we kind of welcomed that change despite the frustrations. What we did was we literally through out the whole program that existed here at the high school. We junked American History I, American History II and we put in its place something called the American Studies Program. It is important to note that at that time, a lot of schools were going to what they called "mini-courses". We never jumped on that bandwagon. I think they are too sensitive. Most of them are gone by the way now anyway.
We did move toward semester courses and we felt that those courses were much more appropriate for the needs of Teaneck and also to convey to kids the basics that they would learn in American History as well as giving them a lot of options within the program. We came up with a bank of courses and in the first implementation of that program, a lot of kids just jumped at the idea of taking semester stuff. That was really neat and without much thought to some basic things you should know so kids could take a course like America's Future if he or she wanted to; that was fine. We let kids do it. Another kid could take advanced placement if they elected to do it and it was truly elective. There were no more tests and we didn't say you had to do this, that or the other thing. Any kid that wanted it could take AP and they still can today. Before that with honors they had to take a skills test and all that stuff. That all went.
Everything was elective and everything is still elective today. We simply told kids they had to take four semesters of American History to fulfill the state requirement and how they did it was up to them. The other thing we began to do with that change, it became obvious that there was no way that the Guidance Department could be expected to know our program. It was simply too diverse and too immense. So we began to become very involved in counseling kids. I mean every teacher, not only the super ones. My role became one of inservicing teachers in the program, letting them know what the different courses were, giving them materials so they could then in turn counsel kids. I also met with parents and we still do. Late February/March, we will have a series of evening meetings where parents are invited and the supervisors come and we talk about the program and explain the courses. That had never happened before. In the classrooms, the teachers devote now a day each, well it will probably be February/March again, when we will literally shut the school down, every classroom, and the teachers will go over the program, so kids in this case the present freshmen, sophomores and juniors, will know what they should be taking for next year and teachers try to do a presentation as well as meet individually with every kid.
(I) So the kids themselves became counselors.
(N) Absolutely right. And what they had to do was find all the information so that when they went home to mommy and daddy, they knew what they were talking about. One day during the process, one afternoon, the kids are dismissed early at 2:00 and we set up stations like the whole Social Studies department will be on the third floor, Media Center and they are there and I put little signs out and the teachers who are "experts" in the field will be there so if I have a teacher who wants to talk about economics, I'll have a (inaudible) there to talk. Psych program, I'll be there or somebody will be there. And we all go up there and anyone who wants to come and we've had about 300/400 kids show up to talk about it. So that was a big change in terms of involvement. Staff becoming more active in counseling; kids beginning to assume some responsibilities which they should and so on. You know, there were some rough spots. We
(I) Well I am interested in the rough spots too. What were your frustrations in trying to see through these transitions because you actually lived through it. It is something different to live through it than it is to read about it or hear about it.
(N) Well I will tell you very honestly. The obvious one was not a frustration which is support. We had good support. The board of education, the administration in the schools, I haven't even talked about the middle schools yet or the junior highs, tremendously supportive.
(I) Supportive in terms of what?
(N) Commitment, of letting us do the changes and also providing the monies to do it. They gave us the monies to run workshops in the summer to develop the curriculum guides we heeded, they gave us the money to buy the books.
(I) They really trusted your vision.
(N) Absolutely. I have a social studies bookroom. When I took this job in the early 70s, we had about 90 titles in the bookroom. There are now over 900 titles in the bookroom. That just grew over the years.
(I) What was your vision, if you had to sort of say my purpose was or my vision was ...
(N) The purpose was to meet the needs of each kid in Teaneck. I don't take that motto lightly, that each may learn. One of the problems we had was we were insisting that every kid take the exact same thing, go through it the exact same way and do the same things. That's absurd. So when we developed curriculum, what we tried to do, one we tried to put a diversity of courses down which means that kids could take different things like instead of taking Old AP I, a kid could now focus on the American Revolution as a concept. If that's what the kid wanted to know, the kid could study that. Now within that course, each course now instead of the old outlines when I first taught AHI and AHII there was an outline. You know, I could buy Hofstad & Miller now and do the same thing which is pretty much what a lot of us did because the outlines were better. But that's all we got. Now a teacher goes into American Revolution and I present that teacher with a comprehensive guide. That guide has objectives, that guide has many, many alternative activities for kids. There are literally thousands of suggestions so the teacher can now pick and choose and implement according to that. And the resources are listed. So a teacher now doesn't have to spend hours tearing hair out and so on to ... you can just simply go to that guide and use it. And that is still true today. The guides have now been revised twice. Frustration? Obvious frustration almost ... but let me just say one thing first. We did assess the program after a year and a half of implementation. Surveyed kids and we found it was unanimously positive. Kids loved it. They loved the idea that they could make the choices. It was new then. You know, God, in the early 70s making choices. We were really under full swing by 73 in terms of the choices and the kids loved it.
(I) Do you feel that, just backtracking just a little bit, do you feel that what was actually happening in Teaneck influenced what you were doing in setting up your courses, you know like when all the busing started in the 60s and we were really a part of that in the late 60s?
(N) All right. Yes and no. Curricula wise the, if that's the thrust, that's different. That's a totally different area. There is no doubt in my mind that the commitment to integration in Teaneck and social studies has been solid and would have happened whether or not we had revised the curriculum. Out of the late 60s, that unrest led us to a black studies program. I argued then and I will argue now that that was ill-advised. I think that that is fine to have a black studies program and we still have Afro and Afro-American. I think to do that without insisting it be integrated into the mainstream is a travesty and there are a lot of people arguing for that so where the staff became involved was to insist we had to go beyond that and what we began to do within this context and in all courses, is we began to ensure that the black authors, the black writers, the black figures were in those courses anyway so that just, as a by-product sure, the unrest found its way into the curriculum. It had to. It should have been there years ago.
I can remember some of the problems I had when I first started teaching here finding out enough information to do the things I wanted to do in an American History class in terms of minorities and more women. That got no play in the late 60s. Women just didn't exist. And when you mentioned Abigail Adams, the kids looked at you kind of blankly. But I think most of the teachers saw that as an opportunity to formalize and it made it easier for us. But in terms of that leading to the change, no. It did not. The change in curriculum in terms of the American studies program was something academically that grew out of the need to meet the needs of kids. With that, it was very easy to continue just integrating it into the program. And that we did do. The frustration I felt was the rapid awareness that some kids could go through Teaneck High School and come out illiterate in American History and that bothered me a lot. And it bothered some teachers a lot. And it bothered some parents. So we began to come up with a system to avoid that trap.
About four years ago, we began to implement a program we call sequencing of courses and what that meant is the kids could take within three strands a program in American Histories so kids could no longer take America's Future alone. They had to take that as an elective in addition. They had to have some basic stuff first. And the kids now can take, and it is formalized now, it is in the guide and it is a formal thing, kids must take either the advanced placement strand which is API, APII and they can do that as juniors and seniors or they can take (inaudible) which is like the old survey. That is also the only one we offer by the way on an elective base for kids who have reading difficulties and so on but if a kid wants to take that, they can elect to take it. They are not forced to, they are .. because they can take anything they want within the program so it is not tracking in any way. Or they can take four semesters.
But now we specify that if they go on the semester strand, they must take the four that we specify first, then they could take others and they have to take American Revolution, American Government, American Civil War and American Goes to War. What we've done is we've insisted in this that the kids get the sweep. Then they can take pluralism, they can take America's Future, they can take kaleidoscope or anything else. So that seems to be working and that really had handled to a great extent my greatest frustration. Other frustrations, beyond American History we did a tremendous job in terms of upgrading the program. I guess when I first came to Teaneck, we were offering Modern European History which we still do, we offered geography, we offered one economics course.
We now offer over 15 different electives for kids. The biggest program I have is the psych program which is better than a lot of the college programs. We put into the school an Intro Psych and Advanced Psych and a Psych Seminar where kids actually go out and work in the field under tutoral so that whole area opened up too. We moved to things like Third World, we have Asian, Middle Eastern, we still have Jewish Studies available. We have the Afro-American, we have the African course. So what we did was we tried to expand the horizons for the kids and that's been successful. Especially psych. The other frustrations I felt, I wasn't sure there was enough global view so what we began to do was infuse that into the program and I think today almost all the courses we teach, it is always how are we perceived and how do we do things and what impact does this have on other places on the globe. Another frustration is finding materials to match our program which is another area.
In other words, when you tend to become creative, you can't use a single book. Teachers felt a certain sense of frustration in dealing with heterogeneous classes. We have a course called American Civil War which is one of my favorites and you got a kid in there, basically it is a junior, and you've got a kid in there who is reading the college level, you also got a kid reading at the eighth grade level so you end up doing, using three or four different books on a level and it means teachers work harder, it means they prepare more. But 1 think it was a frustration we will overcome with the fact that we have the resources. Frank D'Ambra helped us a lot with that a few years ago when he was in the Town House briefly, he was able to find some funding and we were able to upgrade materials and Gene Mulcahy is doing the same thing right now in terms of finding some funding to keep us in good shape on that point.
(I) So you think it had lead to more creativity and searching out for possibilities
(N) You have to. You can't survive any other way.
(I) Well maybe in all, a higher caliber of teaching.
(N) YEAH, and the guide has become just that. In other words, a teacher can go through and the suggestions that are there, I think are a great compendium of strategies but I think the teachers have added a lot more. I remember teaching America Goes to War with Carol Bahir, this goes back quite a while, we were team teaching and we ended up developing our own stimulation games. We thought we could do better than what was there so we did. And you add those. And that's what's happening over the years. The other big thing, the big plus is that here in this building and in the middle schools too the teachers have a common work area so all the social studies teachers get together and I used to joke, I used to do a lot of presentations, state and national, and I used to say the best thing I did in becoming a supervisor, everyone asks me, what was your best thing, the best thing I ever did was to put a coffee pot in the office. And I really believe that was true.
(I) Now what did this do?
(N) It brought the teachers in.
(I) To share information, problems ... supporting each other.
(N) Sure. And once you cut through the complaining and once you get through all the crap that takes place in any school and once you get rid of all that frustration, ultimately teachers turn to, what are you doing in class today? And what has happened and that just followed through - we bought a Mr. Coffee and we had it bronzed when it died, it burned out the filament. But they still have one. They still use it and they still get together and though there is the perennial amount of complaining, there is also much more sharing than there is complaining so teachers are very free here and this is a very unique district. Teachers tend not to covet; they tend to give things to each other. If you walk up to that office right now, the place is covered with sheets of paper and crap but out of it comes a real exchange of ideas and that's pretty much what we had wanted. One of the frustrations I feel is I am here and they are there. I don't like that. None of us do. There are five of us and we all don't. But the nature of our job is such that that has become necessary.
(I) You like the close touch as much as possible.
(N) With teachers. Yeah, I think the closer we stay with the "troops", the better off we are in terms of reality of what's going on in the classrooms. I think, we are central office and we know that and there has been a lot of community pressure to put us with central office. The other thing is we are not high school. We still have the middle schools. Up to now the junior high. That was another whole area we began to work on. At the same time as we did in the high school, we began to make changes in the junior high. We changed the World History to a World Cultures Program; we took the old seventh grade geography course and threw it away and we put in a two semester sequence down there so the changes weren't just here. This seems to get all the play but I think very substantially the change in the junior high, say grade seven where we took the old traditional geography course, which if you look at the elementary curriculum, kids have been seeing all the way along and we simply did it again and we said, OK, we are going to do an introductory course so we did a first semester of human relations stuff. It is called Who Am I, the Social Sciences and Me, where kids really look at where they were at that age.
In grade seven, they are about twelve years old. Now what do we learn, what skills do we have, what do we need? We do a whole assessment, a six week unit, where kids are trying to find out where their strengths and weaknesses are. And then we do a whole series of mini-courses, three week units. You know, what is history? What is anthropology? What is sociology? And the kids go through a whole series of those and then in the second half, they do an environmental geography course but it is ecology. It is not just maps/globes. What do we need if we are going to survive? It is called Spaceship Earth. What we need. If we are going to live here, what do we have to do? And that focuses on Teaneck as well as the globe so we try to do that. So we did make a lot of changes down in the middle schools as well.
In 1980/81, the supervisory role changed to K-12. One of the things that Richard Holtzman believed in in his tenure here was that supervisors should really get into the elementary ranks as well so the board expanded the role to a K-12 and I think that is good. I think it is good in that we needed to look at the whole continuum which is something some of us have argued for for a good many years. I think that role is still emerging. I think we are still defining and redefining it. It is very different. The elementary schools are generalists as opposed to specialists so where I can deal with the junior high "middle" and high school especially social studies, I am looking at a second grade teacher who is a reading teacher, a history teacher, a science teacher so it is a different role and we are still working on that. There are a lot of sensitive areas that we need to work on. Evaluation. If we said, you are a fifth grade teacher and the supervisor is going to evaluate you, well that means five supervisors could be walking in so we need to walk through all that stuff.
One of the good things of that was two years ago, we, each of us did a program review which was a formal report looking at the K-12 curriculum and we were able to meet with staff, community, administrators and we really got a sense of what we were doing here. And now what we are doing is to come up with a five year program of taking that program review and now identifying the key areas and updating what we have so all the stuff we did in the mid-70s we are now going to examine again and we may very well shift some more and lose some more. We did in the, about 1980, a major review of the program in social studies and English, Language Arts, in terms of minorities. We felt, it seems that runs on a cycle every four years or so that we get ... but there were some very legitimate concerns raised that we had done a lot but it was time to look again and do some more and in looking, we found that to be true and we spent part of a year and the summer looking at our program and we brought in some resource people, John Williams who is a local resident was a "super help to us" in terms of integrating, even more thrust in terms of minorities' impact on our history and in language arts in our culture. That was reflected in every course guide. We revised every course guide in the high school in those two areas over two summers so any of the guides you see now have that date, the 1980/81 date on it and we think now we are in very good shape. We will put them up against anyone. The thing we do not do, we do not separate we do not have a course which says Black Experience in World War II. It is integrated within and you read through the guide book and you will find it.