May 23, 2024
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Celebrating My Dad’s Retirement From Bruriah High School and Teaching

There is no objective way for me, as a son, to convey the depth of experiences, the trials and triumphs and successes of my father, Joel Glazer, over his 60 years as a high school U.S. history teacher, most notably at Bruriah High School in Elizabeth. So let’s dispel any pretense of a reporter’s detachment from his story right away.

That stated, I’ll tell you that my father has had a truly remarkable run as a teacher. How can I say that? Because dozens of his former students (perhaps well over a hundred) have written to him, or me, to say how amazing he was as a teacher.

Here are two examples. He received a letter in June 1999 from Shannon Manigault who shared that she’d just graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, was set to begin Harvard Law School in the fall and had plans to make it onto the Supreme Court. She wrote: “I’m writing to share my good news but also to thank you. As the first teacher to challenge me in a way that was consistent to the way I’ve been challenged here, I owe much of my success to you.”

And earlier this week, Regina Weissman Feiler of Highland Park, a 1989 graduate of Bruriah, shared this reminiscence: “I still remember role-playing as Shirley Temple Black, child actress and ambassador to Kenya. Once I got over the fear of having Mr. Glazer, which is instilled from day one of freshman year, you realize that his style of teaching empowers his students to seek out knowledge and have the confidence to present what they learn from the information and the process.”

Over the span of his career my dad taught in a public junior high school in Linden, in a public high school in Scotch Plains/Fanwood (for decades, retiring in June 2006), in the Jewish Educational Center and in Bruriah High School for Girls (for decades, retiring in August 2020).

My dad’s successes as a teacher are all the more remarkable because he was discouraged, in college, from entering the profession. As my dad relates in his book, “It Happened in My Classroom,” he’d enrolled in a teachers’ certification program at what is now William Paterson University in 1957 and in his senior year he learned about the teaching philosophies of Sidney Simon and Louis Rath, who encouraged creativity and attention to students’ individual learning styles. He decided to try these approaches in his student-teaching assignment and, as he recalls, “The experiment failed miserably and my assigned mentor teacher gave me a poor review.”

The officers of the teacher certification program urged him to either find another career or undergo a much longer training. He resisted both suggestions and after much negotiation, he got a C in student teaching and graduated. Only later, in graduate school and then in his first teaching assignment, did he hone his unique teaching style and begin to see encouraging responses.

My dad challenged students to use their many different talents to learn and then convey the significance of key historical characters and episodes.

He had students;

design license plates, with artwork and numbers selected to very succinctly convey the impact of historically noteworthy people;

select a historical figure, study the person’s life thoroughly, then come in character to class, to be interviewed as the person before their peers;

use artwork and creative essay writing to convey their grasp of pivotal times in history;

form groups to play the game “Diplomacy,” over a few days, to refine their team-work skills while also learning about the dynamics, power-plays and unexpected upsets of global politics in World War I.

His capstone assignment to the students was the Holocaust Museum that each Bruriah High School class planned, created (in the halls of the school) and narrated in the spring of their junior year. He took students to established and respected museums to learn about exhibit making and appointed student leaders to oversee each year’s effort. The Holocaust museums were masterpieces of research, artwork, writing, story-telling, photography and videography of survivors, and visual design that over the years attracted many noted visitors—Jewish Federation leaders, elected officials, classes of students from another yeshiva, a class from a nearby Catholic school and more.

As my dad will tell you, though, his crowning achievement was to teach three generations of women from the same family—grandmother Shari Falleck of West Orange (Bruriah Class of 1970); mother Yaffa Walzman of Elizabeth; and granddaughter Aliza Walzman, who was a student in his class in the 2019-2020 school year.

Falleck remarked, in a conversation this week, that she still recalls a challenging assignment my dad gave her five decades ago. She, along with many youth at the time, admired President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Glazer tasked her with identifying and elaborating on the shortfalls of his brief tenure as president in a classroom debate.

Shari stated: “Mr. Glazer was always challenging us to go beyond our comfort level. He pushed us to embrace multimedia expressions of our learning before it was popular or common to do. He was ‘out of the box,’ like no other teacher, and that’s why we all still remember him.” As one measure of their fondness for him, the students in that year’s class gave him an engraved plaque, with the words “To Sir with Love,” a reference to the tough but compassionate teacher in the Sidney Poitier movie by the same name that appeared in theaters that year.

As he looks back now on his 60-year career in teaching, my dad is quick to point out that having the privilege to teach his own family members—and watch them demonstrate their skills in a classroom setting—has been an unparalleled pleasure. In his time at Bruriah he had the privilege of teaching his daughters Penina, Shani and Sara Leah, his niece Beth, his grandniece Shira and his granddaughter (and my daughter) Penina.

My dad has completed a teaching career that is exemplary in so many ways. And one of the most striking testaments to his success is the heart-warming testimonials he continues to receive—in Facebook posts, in the U.S. mail and when he serendipitously encounters former students in his different travels.

He delights in hearing from his former students and invites them to send him email, at [email protected].

By Harry Glazer

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