BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Most elementary school teachers have stories to tell and opinions to share about the funny, unique and remarkable children they encounter throughout their careers. Very few, however, have gone so far as to memorialize those tales for the world to read. But that is just what Judy Schulman Goldstein has done in her new book, “Dere Desk I Luv You” (Xlibris 2013).
A lifelong resident of Rockland County who spent her entire teaching career in the North Rockland School District, Goldstein has a lot to share not only about the kids she encountered over her 30-plus year career, but about the teachers, administrators and parents who became her mentors, friends, colleagues and sometimes nemeses as well.
There is Wade, for instance, the little boy whose very original love note provided the inspiration for the book’s title, and Chucky, the 6-year-old who got his head stuck between the slats of his chair during her first year as a student teacher. There are also adults such as Mr. Freeman, Goldstein’s first principal, who went out on a budgetary limb to support her then-innovative teaching techniques, and who even more importantly allowed her, at a time when such things were not commonly done, to continue to teach even after she was noticeably pregnant. And then there were administrators such as Mr. N, of Stony Point, neither kind nor supportive, but against whom Goldstein learned to be a vociferous advocate for her students.
As a child Goldstein had envisioned a career upon the stage—until a stern aunt informed her that she wouldn’t make any money from it. Still, when Goldstein began her teaching career in the late 1960s, state intervention in local curriculum was limited, and teachers were able to create their own lesson plans and teach their subjects as they saw fit.
Thus she was able to use her performance skills, as well as music, poetry, and most importantly creative writing, to entice generations of pupils into love of learning. Her motto became, “If it isn’t fun to learn, then I failed you.” She never failed to seek out and celebrate the unique gift she knew each child had to offer the world and by doing so, she won her students’ lasting affection and respect. She also took the responsibility of “in loco parentis” very seriously, and won the affection and respect of the parents as well.
To her dismay, however, standardized state curricula became more and more prevalent as time passed, and the introduction of standardized tests signaled for Mrs. Goldstein a serious downturn in the quality of modern education. She is outspoken in her opinion that the natural creativity of teachers such as she enjoyed has been seriously compromised.
She spends a large portion of her book addressing this issue and unflinchingly avers that “teaching to the test” (T-4, as she calls it) is not only a waste of valuable educational time and resources, it is downright harmful to the educational process, teacher morale and students’ self-esteem as a whole. She also decries the termination of homogeneous classrooms and points to “political correctness” as trumping common sense and good educational policy.
Overall however, this memoir paints with great humor and affection a loving portrait of a career well-spent, life lessons learned, and a bygone chapter in the history of Rockland County schools and education. These days Goldstein, now retired for over 15 years, divides her time between Florida and Rockland County. She spends her time here in the north country actively involved in the lives of her three grandchildren—when she’s not dancing, following the Mets or working on her next book.
She has recently finished a new work of fiction, as yet unpublished, about the adventures of a magical teacher for whom the love of her students is more important than any magic. She has been writing books since she was eight, and to the benefit of all clearly has no intention of stopping any time soon.
“Dere Desk I Luve You” is available at bookstore.xlibris.com, amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. In an effort to connect to as many former students and colleagues as possible, Judy Schulman Goldstein has published the book using both her maiden and married names.