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Posts Tagged ‘Purposeful Life’

Someone recently, I think it was a journalist, exhibited a sense of wonderment about my project, the one where my interviews with World War II veterans led to the unification of them with the hundreds of Holocaust survivors whom they saved. He was excited and mentioned that it was my “obsession” with this story that led to so many reunions and magical events with liberators and survivors, and the children and grandchildren.

That gave me pause.

I do spend a lot of time working on this project. It’s my baby, after all. And yes, I’ve taken tons of risks to bring it to the public and the students at large. When these large conferences are being planned, profuse amounts of bullets are sweated. Once I’ve inked the contracts, will the guests come? What if no one shows up? Will my guests get along, will they stay healthy while they are here? Will the teenagers behave with these older people, be respectful? Thank goodness for my support network, especially Tara, Mary, and Lisa, my fellow teachers, and not in the least my family. I tore a lot of hair out.

Merriam’s defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>”.

I’ll admit to preoccupation: “the absorption of the attention or intellect; something that preoccupies or engrosses the mind: “<Money was their chief preoccupation>”. Though I can’t say it is about money. I don’t have any on hand to speak of as a result, but that is not the point.

I’ll admit to compelling motivation, but again, I don’t think it is over profits, unless we decide to discuss how my own life has been enriched by witnessing the enriching of others’ lives. It is safe to say that I have profited emotionally. It is also gratifying to see the reactions of the students and the deeper understanding that they seem to internalize as they become the new witnesses.

But not obsession. Obsession channels unhealthiness. Especially when you are dealing with the Holocaust.

The fact is that once it is apparent that an unopened door is in front of you, you can decide to turn the knob, or not. When you are exploring an old house, you can wonder what lay behind that door, or not. You enter a new room, and sometimes there are new doors to open. Then you begin to connect the dots, as all these streams of information begin to blend into a larger stream of new understanding. You are excited, because no one   has charted these streams to the headwaters of understanding in quite this way. There have been similar journeys but no one has actually been here before.

You begin to see things with a clarity that might even approach the sensation of an out-of-body experience. The events of nearly 70 years ago are unfolding in my head, now, in real time.

Sometimes you get lost. As you become immersed in your own new stream of consciousness, the outside world takes a back seat. You are not really lost, but you have to keep the “real world” at arm’s length while you work out the path. This can be exceedingly difficult and might explain why it is 0230 as I write this.

I guess being labeled obsessive bugs me a little bit. “Passionately curious” is good. A teacher’s dream is to encounter the “passionately curious” student. I’ve been blessed with a few in my career.

Maybe if you are a parent you want a teacher who is still curious about the subject they teach as well.

But not obsessed.

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Class Act
Historic Reuniter
By Nancy Cooper
Photography by Erica Miller
Volume 147, Number 1, January/February 2013, Page 7

How does a young man from a small town with no experience in Holocaust education become a well-regarded figure in World War II and Holocaust history nationwide?

Matthew Rozell 12-12 American Spirit magazine

Not purposely posed. Erica Miller photo. Click the photo to see what I mean…. Only thing missing from 1992 is Dad.

The answer is part of the story of the remarkable career of Matthew Rozell, history teacher at Hudson Falls High School in New York. Following in the footsteps of his father, who was a history teacher in a nearby town, Rozell has taught at his alma mater for the past 25 years.

When Rozell emphasizes to his students the importance of tracking down primary sources, he has a dramatic way of proving his point. Through such primary research, he and his students have been able to identify and reunite Holocaust survivors with the U.S. soldiers who freed them.

Rozell’s instrumental role in such a historic reunion began in 2001 when he sat with Carrol “Red” Walsh, tank commander, U.S. Army 743rd Tank Battalion, to listen to some of his World War II tales. After nearly two hours of conversation, Walsh was reminded by his daughter to “tell [Rozell] about the train.” That prompt was a catalyst to a bigger story.

Walsh related that in April 13, 1945, his tank division saw something unexpected near Magdeburg, Germany: freight train cars alone on a track. When he drove his tank alongside the train, he could see that the cars were filled with Jewish men, women and children—more than 2,000 of them.

Intrigued by the story, Rozell searched for photographs of the liberation, which he posted on his school’s website in 2002. It wasn’t until four years later that Rozell received an e-mail from a grandmother in Australia who had been a 7-year-old girl on that train. She said that as soon as saw the photographs, she fell out of her chair: This was the day of her liberation in 1945.

From then on, “Almost every time I opened my e-mail inbox, there would be another message from a survivor, somebody that I wasn’t aware of before,” Rozell says. “These people weren’t aware of each other for the most part before finding the site.”

With the help of liberator Frank Towers and a survivor’s daughter, Varda Weisskopf of Israel, Rozell and his students went on to reunite nearly 225 Holocaust survivors with their American liberators. Rozell organized 10 reunions: One took place in Israel and three happened at his school. Students recorded the individuals’ interviews as part of a World War II Living History Project (www.hfcsd.org/ww2). Learn more at https://teachinghistorymatters.wordpress.com.{clarification: there have been at least 10 reunions since Rozell began the project; however he did not organize the ones occurring off campus but rather participated in or otherwise helped to facilitate them.}

Students have said of Rozell and the project: “He puts history right in front of your eyes. Never could I have gotten the experience of meeting such inspiring people who learned to love after the ultimate form of prejudice was thrust upon them. A message of acceptance not only reached the little town of Hudson Falls, but the entire world.”

“It’s life-altering,” said another. “And because we’ve heard these stories, it’s our job to make sure it won’t happen again.”

The powerful lesson hasn’t been limited to his students at Hudson Falls. In 2008 Rozell was awarded a Museum Teacher Fellowship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for his work in Holocaust education. The Tennessee Holocaust Commission has created workshops based on his work. On September 25, 2009, Rozell and his students were named ABC World News “Persons of the Week.” His project was also the subject of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum documentary “Honoring Liberation,” which debuted at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance in Washington, D.C., in April 2010.

To keep his teaching methods fresh, Rozell says, “I listen to the kids and adjust all the time. Some days you do not know the impact you have, but I can look to the dozens of kids who have gone into history education as a feather in my cap of sorts.”

He advises today’s youth not to take the sacrifices of the past for granted: “Talk to older Americans who served their nation.”

-American Spirit Magazine, Jan.Feb. 2013. National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

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Another great and timely email…

From: Philip M.  Sent: Sunday, December 02, 2012 6:26 PM

Subject: Your Dad

I just wanted to take a moment to send you an e mail. I was in your Dad’s classes from 1977- 1978 at Glens Falls HS, He was a teacher who inspired learning.

He was my favorite teacher along with Mr Cubbins, I went on to teach French, Spanish, Social Studies, Economics, Government, World History, and many other classes…

Also I was able to earn a pension after many years from the US Army at the Rank of Major. Without good teachers, I never would have accomplished anything.

My Dad was a teacher also and he passed away 10 4 2004. Sincerely, Philip M.

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Today, Dec. 4th, would have been my dad Tony Rozell’s 81st birthday. He passed away in 2000. Phil’s email above was a reminder. Good timing, Phil! From  father to son! About the time you had my dad in the classroom I was trying to figure out how to get away from him, and this town!

A couple Dad stories.

tonewritin2Dad (Tony) entered the Air Force at the outbreak of the Korean Conflict and quickly rose through the ranks. He was a superior clerk and administrator who served in the war zone and saw death and destruction near the 38th parallel. There is one story Dad used to relate that I really like. In the early days of his service, he was singled out for abuse by a mean-spirited corporal who particularly delighted in bullying the 88 lb. runt from Hudson Falls. Years later, after Tony had proven his abilities and achieved the rank of Tech. Staff Sergeant, this same corporal came to his office to receive his orders. He avoided Dad’s eyes as Dad handed them to him, and Tony asked quietly if the corporal remembered him. The former bully’s eyes darted around the room and back to his feet, as he nervously replied, “No, sir!” With that, Dad nodded and bid his former tormenter farewell without the dressing down he so richly deserved. He could have shipped the guy to Timbuktu.

Dad had a large impact on a great many lives outside of the immediate family, and was a great influence on me as a teacher, though I never saw him teach myself. I do recall early in my teaching career going into his school with him to get some materials and encountering three boys kicking a crushed milk carton back and forth in a stairwell. I wondered how my father (the teacher) was going to handle this- would they be sent to the office? Reprimanded? Told to pick up the milk carton and exit the building promptly? I think they were wondering this, too, when Dad just jumped in the middle and began to kick it around with them…

He rarely had discipline problems because he loved the students more than he loved the authority and power he had over them. He was never sour or burned out. He always came home from school humming to himself and generally in an upbeat mood. I can remember him saying on many occasions how much he loved his career “because the kids are always different-no two are ever alike.”

Before he retired in the early 1990s, the Glens Falls Post Star ran a feature article on DaRozells profile Feb. 3, 1992d and I as teachers. I think Dad hit it right on the head when he said, “Teaching is not a matter of how smart you are, it’s a matter of personality…If you know your subject and you’re fair, it doesn’t make any difference what you teach.”

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Feb 3, 1992 Glens Falls Post Star story. Captain and the Kid.

Feb 3, 1992 Glens Falls Post Star story. Captain and the Kid.

Rozell Family has “history” of teaching

By Laura Rappaport, Staff Writer

February 3, 1992

When history teacher Matthew Rozell was a youngster, his parents made him stay inside all day to watch the first moon landing on television.

“I remember being so angry, but I’m glad they did that, now,” Rozell said.

Now, some 20 years later, that history lesson and others led the naturally curious boy to follow his father’s footsteps to the head of a history class. Not as a student, but as a teacher.

Matthew and his father Anthony Rozell both teach history at area high schools, the father at Glens Falls, where he is chairman of the social studies department; and the son at Hudson Falls, where both Rozells went to school.

“I’ve never known anything but being in school,” Matthew said in a recent after-school interview in his classroom at Hudson Falls High, “It just depends on which side of the desk you’re on.”

But despite sharing an interest in history and students, the Rozells have never seen each other teach. Not that the son hasn’t grabbed bits of wisdom from his dad, who’s going on 30 years at Glens Falls High School. It’s just that there’s been little time for observation when each is so busy in his own classroom.

“He gave me access to things I wouldn’t otherwise have had access to,” the younger Rozell said. His father did give him some visual aids such as filmstrips and slide programs, as well as a few tips on teaching. But overall, “Matthew’s very independent,” his father said. Maybe so, but the younger Rozell credits his parents with kindling his interest in history by exposing him and his four siblings to it. On trips to Boston and New York City the family would visit the major museums and historical sites. “I was always very interested in what I saw,” said Matthew Rozell, adding that he usually had more questions than his brother and sisters. Also, with a father who teaches summer school, (Anthony taught summers in Hudson Falls for 21 years) it was hard to get away from school subjects – even for a few months. On summer afternoons or evenings, the father might play tapes or show slides of what he was working on in school. “It wasn’t like he would sit and make us watch it,” said Matthew. “I wasn’t enthralled, but at the same time I was exposed to it.” And his parents made sure their kids paid attention to important world events, like the historic moon landing. “He gave me money to go to the newsstand” for the momentous, occasions, Matthew said.

The elder Rozell is also a collector who hangs onto magazine and newspaper articles about the big stories of the day. His classroom bulletin boards at Glens Falls are covered with yellowing newspaper pages.

Contemplating retirement at the end of the next school year, the senior Rozell said he fell into teaching “out of the blue” in 1958 when there was a lack of teachers in the state. He had wanted to be a minister and started his education at St. Joseph’s Catholic Seminary in Yonkers. He already had almost all of the necessary graduate credits in history and was offered a chance to take a few more credits to become certified and guaranteed a teaching job. “I could not help but do that,” he recalled. “Once I got into it, everything fell into place, and 1’ve enjoyed it ever since.”

His son, now 30, followed a tougher path: jobs were scarce when he finished his teaching degree at State University of New York at Geneseo in 1985. He looked for work in the western part of the state, and even had the opportunity to run a restaurant or become a chef. But Matthew Rozell felt he shouldn’t throw away his education. “I spent too much money on my education to just give it up,” he said.

Failing to find a job in western New York, the young Rozell came home to Hudson Falls and stayed with his parents. He finally landed his present job – with a little help from dad,.- midway into the 1987 school year after a year at St. Mary’s Academy. He was the third teacher the class had that year, and it was a tough assignment. “When I first came here I was more interested in survival,” he acknowledged. “It’s like throwing a piece of meat to the wolves.” The more experienced Rozell helped his son through some of the rough spots in the beginning, and Matthew Rozell turns to his father less now, in his fifth year teaching.

Father and son are close, but they don’t spend a lot of time talking about education and lesson plans. The teachers’ wives may actually have been brought closer together by sharing similar work – in the South Glens Falls Central School District, Matthew observed. His wife Laura teaches special education at South Glens Falls, while his mother, Mary, is the school nurse teacher there. The two women have become very close, and usually go to staff meetings together, according to Matthew.

“They like to wear the same outfits on those days and see if anyone will notice,” he said.

Anthony Rozell looked back on his own long career in education and ahead to the future his son will face in the classroom. “A teacher today has access to so much material,” he said. “I didn’t have one iota of a film strip or a tape … I

21 years on. Article for release Feb. 2013. Dad is gone but spirit is raging. Erica Miller photo.

21 years on. Article for release Feb. 2013. Dad is gone but spirit is raging. Erica Miller photo.

just had to drum it into their heads,” Kids are different today, too, the father noted. More come to school with problems at home that can interfere with their studies. The students he gets the most joy from are those who bring with them a good attitude toward learning and toward life. “The ones you have that are happy people, smiling people, polite people, those are the ones you never forget,” he said. And those are usually students whose families take an interest in their learning and well-being. . “They know that they belong,” he said. “Their parents are really caretakers. That’s nice.”

And in the final analysis, said Anthony Rozell, there’s not a lot a father can really teach a son about the profession or art of teaching.

“A teacher finds, eventually, their own niche, their own method,” he said. “Teaching is not a matter of how smart you are, it’s a matter of personality …. If you’re strong and , fair, it doesn’t make any difference what you teach.”

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The Old Man was tickled when this letter to the editor appeared in the Post Star shortly thereafter…

I just had to write

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Brother Ned’s observations on the Dad’s 80th…

http://alaskatracks.blogspot.com/2011/12/tony-rozell.html

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