St. Augustine, Florida
(formerly Brooklyn, New York)
His professional career commenced in a Junior High School of about 1,000 students in South Bronx, New York. The students were primarily Hispanic from poor families. However, there was a very good, energetic, conscientious, young group of dedicated teachers to work with them. The school building was ageing and in constant need of repair. The staff faced constant challenges. The students’ primary language was Spanish, but the school’s texts and discussions were in English. Few parents spoke English and very few teachers spoke Spanish. In addition, students often had to stay home to watch younger siblings.
Michael was born in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Hunter College in The Bronx, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in history. William W. Niles Junior High School in The Bronx was the site of his student teaching. He also took a total of 30 graduate credits in history and the same in special education at Hunter College, at City College in Manhattan, and at Brooklyn College.
His teaching career spanned 35 years in The Bronx, Monticello, NY, and Brooklyn, NY, commencing in 1965 and concluding in 2000. During that time, he worked in Junior High School grades 6, 7, 8 and in Senior High School grades 9 through 12. His largest class, in Junior High history, had 32 students and his special education classes had a maximum of 15 students.
Teaching special education to emotionally disturbed High School students in Brooklyn was always a challenge. He had little support staff, old text books, and outdated computers and software. In addition, there were sometimes parents with whom it was difficult to deal or hard to contact. It was rare that all 15 students would be present on the same day. By law, the Board of Education had to provide a para-professional to assist the classroom teacher. This made the situation somewhat more manageable. There also were hall paras who assisted in escorting unruly students out of a classroom.
Michael and his special education students were featured in Scholastic Magazine for designing and building a regulation size pool table for the classroom and for a short film which they produced about drugs in schools.
In 1970, one of his special education students was a member of the track and football teams. Being All-City Football, he was awarded a scholarship to run track in a Texas college.
Michael was teaching Junior High School “Career Guidance” to an all-boys class of hyperactive students. It was a hot June day in the Bronx! To make the situation worse, the schools were not air-conditioned and school rules forbade opening windows more than six inches. In an effort to alleviate the discomfort, he took the boys outside to the schoolyard to play softball and to gain some relief from the unbearable heat of the classroom. One student did not like a call that his teacher made as umpire. Because the boy was standing at the plate, he was holding a bat. He walked over to the umpire and suddenly flailed his bat twice at Michael. The resulting damage was one injured arm and two broken ribs. However, that did not deter the teacher from returning to school the next day, despite the constant pain in his body. How did the student assailant fare? He received a suspension for five days as prescribed by Board of Education guidelines.
Michael’s primary goal was always to teach students how to be respectful of their peers, their parents, and the school staff. He was fairly successful at this as few of his students dropped out of school.
In addition to teaching, at various times in his career he was an audio-visual coordinator, a dean, a guidance counsellor, a department coordinator, and a testing coordinator.
The title dean may be somewhat misleading. In a New York City public school, a dean is actually a dean of discipline. Michael’s job was to handle discipline problems that teachers were having in their classrooms and students corralled by other deans for conduct violations in the halls, washrooms, or outside on school property.
A New York City guidance counsellor meets with his/her caseload students and helps them plan a program of study for each term in which they are in school. Because of the large caseload, very little time is available for actual guidance. Since these special education students did not continue to college, the only contact after graduation was to write letters of recommendation for job placement.
As testing coordinator for special education, he was responsible for assuring that his students were given the testing modifications to which they were entitled on the Individual Education Plan. This was a very lengthy process. The IEP may have been a federal mandate as New York City schools and Buffalo schools are separate educational entities from the rest of New York State. IEPs were followed as much as possible although, at times, student exceptions could not be followed because of money or staffing issues. When this occurred, the coordinator met with the student and parents and changed the IEP to be in compliance.
Today, a student teacher who plans to work in a big city environment as he did needs to work with an experienced teacher in his/her subject matter. Often, administrators will place a student teacher in a different subject area or with a teacher who may need help with discipline. Neither is an ideal situation and should be avoided. A good student teacher experience will go far towards building a strong teaching foundation.
After a successful and action-packed career, Michael retired to Florida and has been following other pursuits. He formed a 501 C3 Not for Profit, Florida Veterans Programs and Projects Inc.(see that has sent more than $11,000 in personal supplies to service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. . The Not for Profit has worked with colleges in producing four documentaries featuring the stories of local Northeast Florida veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam and also prisoners of war. The organization donates the documentaries to museums, libraries, schools, colleges, and veterans groups. All four documentaries have been broadcast several times on WJCT-TV, the PBS affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida. They were filmed and edited by college students and produced by Michael. The students were able to interact with the veterans and learn firsthand of the sacrifices these veterans have made for them and for the rest of the country. The students were very moved when they heard the stories and commented that these are the stories that cannot be read in textbooks. On Sept. 21, 2012, National POW/MIA Day the Pentagon Channel broadcast the POW documentary, “Stolen Freedom” across the world to service men and women.
In 2000, Michael retired to St. Augustine, FL, with his wife Carol. In 2008, he was named the Outstanding Citizen of the Year in St. Johns County, FL, by the St. Johns County Veterans Council for his work in preserving the history of local veterans.
Other of his activities include the following: editing a monthly St. Johns County Veterans’ Council newsletter, reading, cruising, and taking care of his two dogs and five cats. Thus, he maintains his busy life.
(This page was updated in October 2012.)