Rich and Rich - two legends on opposite sides of the hall

We'll get back to CS content soon, but for now:

Last Tuesday was Election day - no students in the school - a day devoted to professional development. Traditionally, math team coaches from around the city descend on Stuy for a day full of lectures, discussion, and general catching up. I've never actually attended these meetings. In the past, they were for math team coaches only and this year, I was actually allowed to do something with the CS teachers.

These meetings used to be organized by my late friend and colleague, Rich Geller so it made sense that we took time at end of the day to honor his memory and unveil a memorial dedicated to Rich and his work. Rich was a legendary Stuy teacher, but more on that shortly.

As I looked at Rich's memorial, I couldn't help and turn my head around to gaze at another memorial - "Celebration" - created to honor the memory of another legendary teacher that died before his time - Richard Rothenberg.

Both of these men were friends and mentors. I thought I'd dedicate this post to some of the things I learned from both of them.

Rich (Doc)

Celebration - the Rothenberg Memorial

Richard Rothenberg, known to me as Richie or Doc was the math chair when I was a senior. He taught AP Computer Science that year and he hired me back a few years later.

He didn't give me my first teaching gig. He knew that I had to go somewhere else to develop my chops. We did stay in touch, though, and he hired me two and a half years later.

Doc was an amazing teacher but he was also someone who worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the good of his students.

I remember one year he heard that one our recent graduates got into some trouble at college. Doc got wind of this and went out of his way to contact the college on the student's behalf. The student never knew. That was Doc.

He also understood the "big picture."

I was at a parents association meeting early in my Stuy career. All of the assistant principals were taking turns talking to an audience of Freshman parents.

Each got up and started to brag about their program:

  • We had n intel semi finalists last year
  • Our kids won whatever essay writing contest
  • Six kids won gold medals in…

Each AP was bragging about how awesome their department was but in truth they were talking about a handful of excellent kids who would have excelled no matter where they went. I'd guess Stuy or at least Stuy's educational programs probably had very little to do with these top kid's development and in any event, this wasn't really relevant to parents of incoming students.

Then it was Richie's turn.

Richie got up and said the following:

Go home, hug your children, ask them how their days were. Encourage them and support them. Everything else will work itself out.

That really stayed with me. So few teachers look beyond their field. I remember talking to one of the best chemistry teachers I know - I asked "what do you do knowing that most of your kids won't be and in fact shouldn't be chemists?" The reply was that he looked at all his students as though they all wanted to be and were going to be chemists. Doc looked at his students as whole people first - mathematicians second. That's one of the many lessons I learned from Doc.

Rich (Richard)

The Rich Geller Memorial Display

Richard Geller was never my teacher. He was my colleague and friend.

He introduced me to fine dining and wine. We talked food, biking, and teaching.

Rich had a reputation for being unyielding and strict. Many students went into his class in fear but just as many came back after graduating to thank him.

I remember one of our mutual students saying:

I need to be in Mr. Geller's once every three terms to keep me in good habits. Then I need a couple of pushover teachers in between to pump up my GPA.

He was a top math teacher but his students learned much more. Responsibility, respect, having care and pride in one's work, and more.

Rich was a demanding teacher and one who really cared about his students. When grads came back from college and Rich would great them with a smile. The scary teacher was gone. He asked how and what the graduates were doing and he honestly cared. Gone was the in class persona. That was business.

In some ways Rich was much like an earlier Stuyvesant math legend. Phil Fisher, who terrorized us poor calc students in the '80s. I got to know Phil when I came back as a teacher and once he explained why he was so rigid and strict in class. Phil explained that here he was, charged with teaching these amazing talented Stuy students while at the same time, he felt he wasn't nearly as smart as them. Phil needed 100% focus during every minute of every class to give the kids what they deserved.

I think Rich was something like that. Not exactly the same, he also wanted the kids to learn to be responsible and respectful but I think the core idea was the same.

As a colleague and friend, Rich was the first guy to show appreciation and the guy with enough character to tell you not what you wanted to hear but what you needed to hear. I also learned to always be open and honest with my team. Make sure everyone had all the information.

I learned a lot from both of these men. Stuyvesant misses them and I miss them, but the there influence lives on through me, their students, colleagues and friends.

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