Posts Tagged ‘Teachers’


Student civil rights activists join hands and sing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi. The 1964 voter registration campaign was known as Freedom Summer. {Ted Polumbaum/Newseum} link

Sometimes you wonder, after a class, if anyone really gets it, or really thinks about the points you are trying to make. I’ve been teaching the civil rights movement in the United States as of late. What strikes me is how this movement was led by young people who were passionate. Young people who were willing to shed their own blood, even to the point of taking the risk of laying down their lives for an idea, a principle that MATTERED to them. And so this is my thesis, and this is my point, to my young charges, not much younger than the college kids that sparked a revolution because they cared enough to do the RIGHT.

It all starts with the young. 

Of course, they got their ideas from somewhere. So when I think about the Freedom Riders, who crossed state lines to force the federal government to do something about segregated busing, and got their heads split open because of it, or the young people who went to Mississippi to register black voters in the summer of 1964, where some of them were murdered, I think about the passionate teachers and parents who instilled such values in the young. And I whisper a prayer of gratitude for all of them.

This past Sunday I attended the interfaith celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr right here in our own community. And what struck me again, was the passion of the young. Students from three local districts, including Hudson Falls, lit the fire and led the way.

What brings this post on now, after the fact, is a nice email letter today from a former student. Here are young people who fight for the folks who can’t fight for themselves, who rose above their own trying circumstances to engage the system to make the world a better place.

Sometimes you wonder.

But maybe those teachers get across after all.


How are you?   I hope your books are coming well.  
On MLK day, I, like many others, take time to appreciate seminal movements for social justice in American history.  However, I make the effort to recall not just the parts that collectively most Americans seem aware of, but instead, the rest of it. The parts that are poignant, harrowing and, deeply disturbing and that seem all but forgotten from our collective memory, even though, they create, define or inform the events that dominate the national news cycles of late.  
Reflecting on this yesterday made me think of you, not because of what you taught me about social justice movements in high school (though you certainly did peek my interest), but for two other reasons.
First, because of your premise that teaching history matters and the of importance you put on drawing connections to the past. 
Second, because you inspired me to love history to the point that I got a degree in it.  In college I concentrated on studying the history of women and people of color in the United States, and liberation movements in the third world, and I absolutely loved it and on MLK Day, I am particularly thankful for this education.
These two points are of course related.  Studying history (for me) was the type of learning that feeds one’s soul.  However, it also shapes the lens through which I see the world.
For example, women’s suffrage; Alice Paul. I think about these things a lot in the course my daily life.  100 years ago, if I were alive, I would not legally have the right to vote.  Women died for me to have this right.  Women who fought for it were put in jail and were forced fed while on hunger strike.  So I exercise it.  For every election I am eligible to do so. I also deeply appreciate the individuals that came before me whose struggles would allow me to become an attorney.  I understand and work through the vehicles that I choose to deconstruct the deep seeded patriarchy, sexism and classism that would have previously shut these doors for me and other forms of oppression that would have shut this and different doors for others.  
I also use my lessons on history to think about intersectionalities of different forms of injustice on a regular basis.  I’m still struck by the fact that movements for social change repeatedly have worked in silos, failing to make connections between how different forms of oppression co-exist and are related.  On MLK Day I think about how MLK made some (but not all) of these connections in his public advocacy and fought for more than just racial justice but is rarely remembered for that.  And that the racial justice that he fought for is for a “color blind” society but not the kind where being “color blind” means being blind to the disadvantages people of color face in the United States today as a result of our collective past. 
My husband and I both are passionate about social justice and feel rooted in the history of these movements.  When I am frustrated with why we are so busy, I try to stop and remember that it is because we are both fighting in our own ways (while trying to be the best parents that we can be) for that bigger purpose and that our efforts are a very small part of a much bigger picture.  
I share this with you now to support your thesis on the value of history education (not to argue any of my opinions listed above).  As on MLK Day I acknowledge how thankful I am for having my history education, how the connections I list above shape my life and how excited I am to teach my daughter these lessons as she grows.
Lastly, I’m surprised by how much I wrote in this email.  I had more to say on this than expected.  
As always, be well, best wishes and many thanks,


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The First Lesson I Really Learned as a First-Year Public School Teacher,

Though the Moral does not strike me for almost Thirty Years.

(subtitled, The Seven Simple Words: How having been labeled “INEFFECTIVE” as a young teacher would have stilled the ripples unfolding that will reverberate for generations.)

Where am I? And, more importantly, what the hell am I doing here? Taken by me, April 15, 2010.

Where am I? And, more importantly, what the hell am I doing here? Taken by me, April 15, 2010.

Recently, the New York State United Teachers did a couple features on my work in the classroom. If you have any friends or acquaintances who would like to pass some of my musings on to some the younger teachers of the world, even the pre-service students, feel free. It’s time to let them know that it’s a journey, after all. The following post is an excerpt from a draft of my second book, which will be published someday after my first book is actually published. (See more at the bottom.) Sigh.
Gotta teach, after all.


I got to ride the special bus.


Pulsing red and blue lights ricochet off the subterranean tunnel walls from which our bus is emerging, announcing to the citizens of our nation’s capital that our convoy of VIPs is arriving, like conquering heroes of old returning home after a great victory. And in a real sense, that is what we are. But Wow.

What the hell is a TEACHER doing here on this bus?

Washington traffic in all directions grinds to a dead halt as our convoy  glides through intersections and sails down boulevards with a full Capitol police escort, every single crossroads blocked by police cars. We are on our way to the national ceremony at the United States Capitol Rotunda, and it won’t do for us to be late. The motorcade slows as it approaches Capitol Hill, and the three buses slowly maneuver and dock like lumbering giants at the sidewalk entrance. The pistons blast and the buses drop gently. The engines are cut. The doors open.

We have arrived. Springtime in Washington.

It is a beautiful morning, and the Capitol Police dismount from their escort motorcycles and walk over, motioning and instructing for occupants to disembark and follow the guides. Emerging slowly into the warm April sunlight are the guests of honor, many of whom step down gingerly, clutching canes or holding the arm of a relative or friendly government escort. Nearly all sport caps festooned with pins and patches. Here, now, nearly sixty-five years after the last battle was fought, the liberators of the concentration camps are returning, many for the first time since World War II ended.

One hundred twenty one old soldiers, eyes sparkling as they pose for photographs,  are escorted slowly through the entryway of the grand building. A single teacher follows the veterans on this beautiful spring day. And as far as I know, I am the only high school teacher in the country this year to be invited, specifically, to be with them. I know some of them, and several of the survivors of the Holocaust here today, on a very personal basis.

Teacher Matthew Rozell, Holocaust survivor Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve’s liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

Teacher Matthew Rozell, Holocaust survivor Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve’s liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

You see, we are walking into the Capitol Rotunda for the annual Days of Remembrance Ceremony, commemorating those lost in the Holocaust and today especially honoring  the liberators who put a stop to it. I am here because I teach the subject of history to teenagers; I am here because in my lessons and projects with students, we have been making the difference to defeat the legacy of Hitler in the classroom. And we honor what these men did as teenagers, and more. We have made our own mark and changed hundreds of lives in literally reuniting the survivors with the men who actually saved them. Six decades later.

Passing through security and now inside the Rotunda, I am amazed at its beauty but also at the intimacy that emanates from under the hallowed dome as the veterans and survivors, politicians and officials process in. Scaffolding with TV crews and narrow towers with klieg lights illuminate the area, and as the ceremony begins, I am one hundred feet from General David Petraeus, who is about to address these old soldiers. The haunting sound of the Marine Corps violinist serenades the gathering, carrying our thoughts to the victims of the Holocaust whom we remember today. The names of the liberating Army units are called out from the dais as each division is formally recognized, their unit colors hoisted aloft on cue and paraded in.

Capitol Rotunda, 2010 DOR Ceremony.

Capitol Rotunda, 2010 DOR Ceremony. Liberating Army unit flags are paraded in.

Yes I am here, amid the pomp and ceremony, to commemorate the victims, the survivors and today, these soldiers:

Me, a high school teacher who began his career hoping for a pink slip, an easy way out so that he could simply walk away from this profession.


“What’s your policy on homework, Mr. Anders?”

I’m leaning over the kid’s desk, hands placed firmly on either side. In suitcoat and tie, I’m trying to make myself into an imposing presence for my first high school history class. I’d just attempted to collect a handful of written assignments from  25 non-committed sixteen year olds, and now I’m wondering in desperation how to deal with the poor showing in my very first week of public school teaching. I am the third teacher that these kids have had this year, having just started last week, two days before the Thanksgiving break.

Should I assign the group of them to detention after school? Or choose one to make an example out of him?  I decide on the latter.

Lenny Anders, a tall long-haired ‘disengaged’ student with a black motorcycle jacket, lifts his head up long enough to answer coolly:

“Not to do it.”

Clunk. Lenny’s head returns to the desktop.

The class laughs, points, and hoots! Eyes roll, heads shake. Lenny does not even move in response to all the commotion-he’s still face down. And I’m left flapping in the breeze with my rookie mistake; how in the world would I make it until June? A very real question.


I’m 26, and I am on my own, but living back at home. A dual irony, really, as not only had I proclaimed defiantly (upon graduation from high school) to my [teacher] father that I would be leaving Hudson Falls FOR GOOD , but when queried about life after high school, I also puffed out my chest and exclaimed “I don’t know, but I certainly won’t be a teacher!” The desired effect was achieved by the angry teen; the wound was deep, and the twist of the knife distinct. I smugly went off to college, having no game plan or clue.

Okay, so what I told my father did not turn out to be the words to live by. Here I am, eight years after high school, on the other side of the desk, teaching the same subject as the old man. Living out of his garage, no less.

It’s my first few weeks back in my old high school, and I’m pushing what feels like a shopping cart through the crowded hallways, with lesson props, books, and marked-up papers to turn back, all akinder. I’m shuffling from classroom to classroom, like an itinerant peddler of obscure vials of “wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ that nobody seems to want, and I don’t dare turn my back to the chalkboard. I have discovered that a new teacher is also a magician, and can, with this act, make pens, paperballs, and sometimes books fly and illustrate Newton’s Laws of Motion of their own accord. Maybe it’s me, but when I walk into the classroom, these students seem to rub their hands together in hormonal homicidal glee. To many of them, I am next on the hit parade, hopefully out by Christmas.

That’s power, and they have it. How I am hating these immature young savages. How they delight in torturing me.

But enough is enough. I make up my mind to do something about it. I hit on another idea. I’ll tell Johnny/Suzie in my gruffest voice, before the entire class, ‘I NEED TO SPEAK TO YOU AFTER THE LESSON‘- that should settle them all down! I’ll make an example out of one, so the kids will look at one other with a mixture of terror and relief that it was not them summoned after class!  I open my mouth to commence the New Regime, but even before the bell rings, they rise noisily and obliviously to my impending reign of terror and move as a herd for the door. And the teacher-owner of the classroom comes in anyway, clanking his briefcase and fishing for his keys to unlock his closet, as he does EVERY SINGLE DAY to interrupt the end of my lesson. I give up.  I have to be off to another classroom myself anyway, to begin the torture anew. And when I do drop the hammer later, I have my life threatened in front of the class by an older student. The office suggests strongly that I go to the police station to ‘swear out a complaint’.  A what?

For the first time in my life I’m sitting in a police station, in the first month of my public teaching career, trying to balance in a wobbly chair with stainless steel ankle-shackles affixed to the legs, listening to the officer clack out his report on a typewriter .

This is why I became a teacher?

I feel SO alone.

Sitting on the bed, I’m chain-smoking four cigarettes in a row in the twenty minutes before school in the room off my parents’ garage before heading off to work-to a place that, you will recall, in a previous existence, I swore an oath I would never return to.

So let’s review, shall we? The position I had filled a quarter-way through the year had had this history. Would more blood flow? Does everyone in the school expect it to be mine? Another professional acquaintance comments, only half-jokingly I think, “We want to see if you suck and how long YOU will last.” (A feel-good fuzzy memory, looking back.)


In desperation, I am living day-by-day. I’m banging out lesson plans, notes, and tests nightly after dinner on the typewriter for hours at a stretch. I try calling parents, but there is no privacy at my house and surely it is a sign of weakness- after all, the old man doesn’t have to call parents.

As I struggle to survive in my first year, a tight budget year when layoffs are being presented as a distinct possibility, I secretly pray that a pink slip in my mailbox will end my misery and I will have an excuse to move on to another occupation- I have been trained in the restaurant business, after all, and people always have to eat. How I remember the anguish of a colleague in another department- I shared an “office” with her in the bowels of the building- when she got her pink slip and burst into tears and pointed at me and wailed aloud that “it should have been you, you don’t even want to be here”.. and I kept my silence, because I knew she was right. She got the slip, and I did not. I did not realize that my private anguish showed so much; I was afraid to talk to people about the troubles I faced each day in the classroom. And now I could add GUILT to the top of the heap.

What the hell am I doing here? I did not know it then, but I was DROWNING.

On schedule, the principal did his classroom observation for my official evaluation later that year, and a charitable description of the event would be ‘the great train wreck’. The ninth graders were flirting with each other, joking, and throwing stuff as I tried to bring order and conduct the lesson. At our post-observation conference, the boss leaned in and said, “You really did not have control, did you?” Eyes beginning to well, I slowly shook my head. He paused, looked me in the eye, smiled, and crumpled up the report he had written for my file and threw it in the waste can in front of me. He settled back in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head, and said seven words: When you are ready, let me know. A soul-crushing weight suddenly lifted. And looking back now, I see that those words had consequences.

Maybe this man saw something in me that I obviously could not see in myself. Nearly 30 years later, it’s clear to me that I was suffering from what I’ll call ‘first-year public teacher shell-shock tunnel vision’.


The pink slip eluded me that year, and I was too gutless to resign and end my misery. So imagine my dread as the new school year approached. I saw my roster and every shred of my being constricted and tightened. The same torturers were to be in my classes. AGAIN.

Then, a funny thing happened. The kids were a ‘summer away’ older. And they were genuinely glad to see me. I had survived, and as the year went on, we all grew together. The one thing I had going for me in the classroom was that I was a good storyteller, and I actually knew a lot about the history that I was supposed to be teaching students. I was enthusiastic, I was passionate. They started to listen. Over time, I became their class adviser, orchestrated their prom, took them on their senior trip. We survived together. They went on, some even to become teachers, and others today make many times my salary. I even had their kids in class (much better behaved, actually). We built a foundation and ventured forth on to great things.


Back home, in the same high school where I secretly prayed for that layoff slip years before, kids are in the auditorium tuning into the live broadcast and looking for their teacher in the gathering in the Capitol Rotunda as it is broadcast live to the nation.  In Washington, after the ceremony, there is a text message from my Congressman’s aide. The Congressman would like to meet me in his office, NOW, if possible. He is well aware of my invitation to Washington-that a small town high school history project has has altered thousands of lives throughout the world.


So, the Moral of the First Lesson comes to me nearly thirty years after the occurrence:

I nearly left the teaching profession. With seven simple words, my principal threw me a lifeline. Where I would be today if, all those dark days ago, someone had slapped an INEFFECTIVE label on me to fulfill a political objective (‘Too many effective teachers, here, in New York State. Baloney! Find me some ineffective teachers. PRONTO!’) But today, given the proposals in New York State and elsewhere, it’s game on for the witchhunt of the people who devote their waking hours with the youth of our nation.

What if I had been labeled a failure before I even got out of the gate? “INEFFECTIVE, Year One” would have been all the push that I would have needed to exit the classroom forever- that simple push, over the cliff.

I KNOW I would have left the profession.

Maybe I’d have more money than I do now.

But I would not have more wealth.

Because NONE of this wonderful stuff in my life, or my impact on other people’s lives would have ever, ever happened.


 Maybe it’s time to nurture and cherish our young teachers, rather than tossing them under that next bus.


Matthew Rozell teaches history at his alma mater in Hudson Falls, New York. His first book, The Twilight of Living Memory: Reflections of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA is due out this spring. His second book, in the works, is on the power of listening, teaching, and remembering the Holocaust.

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Last Thursday evening I got out of bed because I could not sleep. The news of the day stayed with me long after I sat down to read it before dinner. So I got up and sat down at the computer in my office and I typed  out my thoughts in the stillness of the late evening hours, burning to get the words out of me.

The post ‘And am I teacher, or a technician?‘ was born, and I sent it off. On a good day, I’ll get 100 hits on the blog you are reading, Teaching History Matters, which I have been rambling on at for the past seven and a half years.

Well, thank you for stopping by. My friends at New York State United Teachers liked it and gave it a nudge. In the last 96 hours, 28,000 people like you have had a look, and the response has been overwhelmingly favorable. My late night existential angst hit a major nerve and tapped a wellspring of grassroots anger. It was pretty amazing and also a little frightening to see the magnitude, but HUGELY comforting at the same time to learn that so many people shared the same sentiments as I. (And as the man said, “if you liked this, come back next week and it’ll be even better!” You can sign up for email updates on the right or just hit the follow button. If not, that’s fine too. My wife doesn’t even “follow” me.)

Perhaps my favorite comment was, just, ‘It gives me hope to read your words’.


Here is some more crucial perspective for us as educators but also as Americans. Frank McCourt was one of my role models. As you may be aware, Frank spent a whole career as a New York City educator before knocking out his first book upon retirement, which took the world by storm. His last book, Teacher Man, is required reading in some ed. classes.

My late mom loved him and was also the product of Irish parents who had recently emigrated from the same county (as McCourt) in the 30s’ to NYC, narrowly missed growing up in Depression-era Ireland herself. Mom was also a passionate educator, a dedicated school nurse teacher, who constantly advocated on behalf of the struggling kids who came to her for help, going toe-to-toe when she had to. “Nursey Rozell” would also not hesitate to kick your ass if you just wanted to get out of class, but always with a sympathetic and keen eye for compassion.

This first appeared on the PBS website, and I used it in a post in November of 2012 near the anniversary of mom’s passing. I repost it in memory of Frank, and my mother.

‘What’s the most precious material we have in the country: children. If we don’t give them the best keepers and mentors and teachers, we’re destroying them. We’re destroying the country.’

It’s a good fight. Remember that. And come back next week.


Interview With Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis, is a retired English teacher. He lived in New York City; he passed away in July 2009.

Q: What do you see as some of the major obstacles to improving public schools in our country?

We don’t like our kids. This is a country, this is a nation of people who don’t like their kids. Therefore, the teachers are baby sitters. We don’t look at teachers as scholars the way they do in Europe. In Spain you’re called a professor if you’re a high school teacher, and they pay teachers, they pay teachers in Europe. We don’t here. We resent if, we resent giving them pay raises. If they rise up and say we need a cost of living adjustment, [we say], “Oh, what do you mean you need a cost of living adjustment? Look at all the time you’ve got off. You’re finished at 3 o’clock, never mind that you go home with a bag of papers to correct, and then you have the summers off. These teachers with their summers off! Oh my, I wish I were a teacher.” Well, there’s nobody stopping you from becoming a teacher! Go and become a teacher, dammit! All these so called professionals, investment bankers and lawyers, [they say], “Oh these teachers have their summers off.” You know what most teachers do? They go out and get a job to subsidize their miserable pittance they get from most community boards and boards of education.

Q: Why did you become a teacher?

When I got out of the army I had the GI Bill. Since I had no high school education or anything like that, I came to NYU and they took a chance on me and let me in. I suppose I was what you might call a mature student of 22. And, I thought, I’d like, at one time I thought I’d like to become a journalist, but because I had no education, and because I’d come from this horrible background of poverty and so on, no education, no self esteem, so I didn’t see myself mingling with two-fisted, hard-bitten journalists. I would dream of going up to the New York Times and asking them if I could please be a copy boy or let me scrub the toilets or something like that. But I couldn’t rise to those heights. So the two things I liked most of all were books and children. I used to see American movies where the teacher is there in the classroom and all the kids file in — it was usually a movie about Nebraska or something like that where everybody’s white and blue eyed, and there’s Doug the quarterback and Susan the beauty queen, and they sit there with their pens poised while you discourse most eloquently on John Donne, and they’d all sit there and they would love me to death and I would be the hero of the community. Well, it didn’t turn out like that. I became a teacher all right. I wanted to become a teacher because I had a misconception about it. I didn’t know that I’d be going into, when I first became a high school teacher in New York, that I’d be going into a battle zone, and no one prepared me for that. They’re all natural enemies, teenagers are all natural enemies, they’re really animals, but I love them, I love animals, and the average teenager should be sent to some remote place like Australia, till he’s 20. But I like the teaching because it keeps you on your toes all the time. You can’t back off, and some teachers say, “Oh, give them busy work.” Well, when you’re with bright kids you can’t give them busy work, but..it keeps you… in a sense it’s like Hemingway talking about grace under pressure. You’re facing the bull, and that moment that the bull’s horn comes close to you is the moment at which you could die. That’s what it’s like going into the classroom — you could die in there.

Q: How did you learn to be a successful teacher?

There was what you would call a turning point in my life. I was ill-prepared and insecure — because I had never been in a high school in my life — in this first job. I knew nothing about American kids and their strange tribal ways, and it seemed to me that they were throbbing with sexuality, which you wouldn’t find in Ireland, because they’d knock it out of you. But here, there’s boys and girls in the class, and I didn’t know what to do; and the only models I had for teaching were Irish school masters, and that was all threat, sticks, straps, and physical beatings. So, of course I wasn’t gonna, there was gonna be no physical beating…there were kids in those classes who were on the football team, and would’ve broken me in two. But I would become frustrated and I would yell at them, I’d say to them, “You better keep up now, you’re not doing the work, you’re not bringing in your textbooks,” and so on, and I’d rant and rave. ‘Til one day there was a little African-American girl sitting in the front row — Sylvia — and she was beautiful and always impeccably dressed. And one day she said, “Mr. McCourt!” “What?” “Mr. McCourt.” “What?” “Chill Out!” So, that was the first time I ever heard that expression, but I knew what it meant, so I chilled. What that meant was I became more and more of a human being. I dropped the Irish schoolmaster mask. It didn’t work anymore. What I learned then was the main device, if you want to call it that for a successful teacher, was honesty. I said look, we’re in this together, I’m learning, I would say that, I’m learning. This is what I discovered years and years and years later, I was the big learner out of this teaching experience.

Q: Tell us about your first teaching experience.

When I got my first teaching job, which was on Staten Island in 1958, I took over in midterm spring of ’58 for an old lady named Ms. Mudd, m-u-d-d. And she was just, she just, the kids were driving her crazy. And she said to me, “They’re driving me crazy,” she says to me, “You look out this window,” and the school overlooked New York Harbor. She said, “You look out this window in a week, and you’ll see this ship passing by, and you’ll see me waving from this cruise ship, and the two things I never want to see again is Staten Island and teenagers!”

She left me with mounds, piles of old papers and books, and I went rummaging through the old papers, and I didn’t know what to do with the kids, so I had them reading these old papers, and some of them went back to the Second World War. And they were compositions written by young Staten Island students at that time, who later went off to war, off to the Second World War. And some of the kids in my class discovered these papers, and they were overcome: “This was my father, this was my uncle, this was my cousin Vinny,” and so on. And it was so exciting, and I said to them, “This composition paper is crumbling,” and they would copy them, and they were taking them home to their families, “Look what Uncle Vinny…” And this was a tremendous moment. It was my bridge to the kids. There was such a feeling of community, and emotion, because sometimes the kids, girls and boys, would come across some item from the Second World War from somebody in their family who had been a student at McKee. And, they would be overcome and have to run out of the room. That was one, I think that was my first bridge to them.

Q: How did you balance the emotional needs of students with their intellectual ones?

These girls would come from, I had one class of 35 girls come in these white dresses, uniforms or whatever they are, with hair, hairdos, these beehive hairdos, where you could raise a sparrow in each family. They came into my class and they sat, this first day they sat down, and they took out little boxes, and they started doing their nails and plucking their eyebrows, and fixing their eyelids and so on, eyelashes, and I said what — this was a vocational high school — I said, “What shop is this?” “Cosmetology.” I said, “What’s cosmetology?” “Beauty culture.” And then they’d comment on me, they’d say, “Yo teach, your hair is a mess, your nails need work. Why don’t you come up to beauty culture and we’ll do you?” That was an invitation I declined.

But all of this was human stuff and it had nothing to do with the curriculum. In the meantime, I’m finding my way, because nobody was there to help me. I’m finding my way through this education minefield. I’d go up to the teacher’s cafeteria at lunchtime. On one side of the cafeteria the old timers were gathered — they’re giving me advice, and they’re saying, traditional and conservative and they’ve been through it, and they say you know, “You’re the boss in that classroom, you tell them what to do, don’t ever tell them anything about yourself, nothing private.” Then I’d go to the other side of the cafeteria, and there are the younger teachers who were progressive, you know, students of John Dewey, and they’d say, “Well, you know, these kids are people. These are real people and we have to meet their felt needs.” I didn’t know what a felt need was, but I guess I tried to meet their felt needs. It was a long, slow process, because there’s no, there’s no method or technique by which you can become a successful teacher overnight. It takes years. And it’s like writing I suppose, or like any art, or any human endeavor — you have to find your own way. You have to find your own style, techniques and style. So, I found my own style after a while, and sometimes I would imitate other teachers who had certain ways of dealing with classes. Didn’t work, never worked. It’s like being a writer. You imitate Faulkner, you imitate Hemingway, you imitate Scott Fitzgerald, but in the end you find your own voice, and your own style, and that’s what I had to do as a teacher.

Q: Describe a typical day of teaching as you remember it.

Most teachers would have, first period on the second floor, then it’s up to the sixth floor for the second period, down to third floor for the third period, and in between, in between the second and third period you had what they call homeroom, official class. You had this group of kids, and you had to take their attendance, give them bus passes and food vouchers and whatever, and get excuses for the previous day’s absence. You had to keep all these records. You were like a big clerk, a bookkeeper. And then you go to your next class. So there were five classes, so you’d have lunch, and then you’d have what they call, somewhere along the line, a building assignment. And my building assignment most the time was to supervise the student cafeteria. And you’d go in there and you’d hear them feeding, swilling, and whining and moaning about the food and you see kids throwing food away and you think of your own childhood when we would have eaten the stuff out of the garbage can, and I was convinced, they’d say, “Oh, this is terrible, this hot dog.” I was convinced that most of these kids were gourmets. They went home to bouillabaisse every night or fine wines. Then, if you’re an English teacher, if you’ve been foolish enough to give them an assignment, they hand it in. And you take it home in a bag. You go home and your heart is heavy because you have 170 kids. Now if you give them an assignment 250 words, multiply 170 by 250, and that’s like reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. And there’s another book you’d like to read or a movie you’d like to see, or you’d like to talk to your wife once in a while, but you have all these papers. Sunday night comes. That’s the worst night of the week for any teacher in the country because they know this stuff is piled up and they’re in such a state of despair. And you try to do it, and like any kid who has homework to do, “I’ll get up in the morning and do it.” Well you know you’re not going to do 170 papers, so you do what you can, and try to get it back to them, but the load never lightened.

Q: Why are teachers important in our society?

What’s the most precious material we have in the country: children. If we don’t give them the best keepers and mentors and teachers, we’re destroying them. We’re destroying the country. They are the future, and the teachers are there everyday with the future. And we’re so careless about that. We underpay teachers, we hire poorly prepared teachers, and we don’t help them. We don’t go into the schools and help them, “What can I do?” We don’t participate. It’s a matter of taking care of the children. If you have a child who’s ill, you want the best doctor. You want the best surgeon, “I want the best surgeon for my child.” But do we say that about teachers? No, we don’t. We know that surgeons are well paid, they better be well paid, they don’t want to have worries at home. It should be the same way with teachers. They’re the single most important profession in the country because they’re shaping the future. And some of them are misshaping the future or they’re not being helped by us. And as I said before, we don’t like our children. Because the proof of it is how we treat our teachers. That’s the one fine and significant proof: how you treat your teachers. And they’re treated badly.

Q: What can we do to help improve our nation’s schools?

One of the reasons the schools are in such a state is no one consults the teachers. I used to watch some of these programs on television and you’d have somebody from some corporation, and you’d see some jerk from the think tank, and then you’d have a union official, and I’d call… One time I called Channel 13 in New York, they had one of these discussions about schools, and I said — they were inviting us, calls from the outside — and the lady said, “Well what would your question be?”

And I said, “Why don’t you have a teacher on this panel?”

“Oh, that’s a very interesting question…”

I said, “It’s about schools, isn’t it?”


But I never got through. One never gets through.


Your comments are always welcome.


Matthew Rozell teaches history at his alma mater in Hudson Falls, New York.  His first book, The Twilight of Living Memory: Reflections of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA is due out this spring.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address and executive budget proposal at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address and executive budget proposal at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll*)

I opened the newspaper today when I got home from work- I don’t have time to read it beforehand- and the Governor of New York’s State of the State address was dissected on the front page. The headline read, “Teachers, taxes, wages targeted: Governor calls teacher evaluations ‘baloney’.”

Now I understand that this headline is an editorial decision, but it doesn’t make you feel too good to come home from a day of nurturing, guiding and mentoring young people to feel like your back is in the cross-hairs of the most powerful man in the state. But unfortunately, I’m getting used to it. The photo that accompanied the article is a ‘classic’, in every sense of the word. Our Governor strikes a pose not unlike a Roman orator of old. There is a certain irony in that, I think to myself.

*Then I realize that I know the photographer- that he has in fact come up to my upstate school and into my own classroom to photo-shoot a lesson which would go on to change the world. He came to see me.

Me.  A lowly public school teacher, one of 600,000 in this state.


From the State of the State: “While Washington fights and gridlocks, we find compromise and move forward…their politics divide, and our politics unite.”

Sorry, but when it comes to the state overseeing the education our youth, that is just not the case. Respectfully, it’s more like divide and conquer. Accept and funnel the dollars from Washington, siphon off the sustenance of the upstate youth to parts elsewhere, and sub-out contracts to multi-national corporations. Hold the money high in the air. Pit one district, one region against the other.

“Last year we said if a school didn’t complete a teacher evaluation system, they wouldn’t get state funding – the excess funding. Low [sic] and behold, 100% of the teachers now have a teacher evaluation system. 100% of the schools adopted a teacher evaluation system. That’s the good news – we have teacher evaluation systems for every school in the system. The bad news is they are baloney.”

Excess funding? Upstate schools have been stripped by Albany for more years than I can count. I teach in a high-needs community, the same community that raised me. I’ve been here, in this school, on one side of the desk or the other for 46 years of my life. In that time I have seen many changes, but few for the better in the economic and social sense, in the decades that we have been held hostage to Albany politics. Just listen any local superintendent. Please.  ‘Lo and behold’? And how many local administrators don’t feel like their hands are tied behind their backs?

“To reduce the over-testing of students we will eliminate local exams and base 50% of the evaluation on state exams.”

The Governor is upset because too many teachers are rated ‘effective’ or even ‘highly effective’ under the system that has been in place for only a year, a system that tries to be one-solution-fits-all, and is frankly fairly irrelevant. It doesn’t work, but tossing in a rating that includes a 50% mandate for high stakes exams is literally tossing the baby out with the bathwater. Many young teachers are overstressed as it is, and if enacted, will be “washing out” or heading to the door of their own volition. Eliminating local exams is also irrelevant– the state does not count them anyway-and practice test after practice test, written by an educational conglomerate, are headed your kid’s way. “Over-testing” is just getting warmed up.

Under the “baloney” system our Governor originally called for, I’m rated on the kids who may not find it important to come to school, who despite the best of our efforts just don’t buy into the value of the test “for their own good”-  in other words, many, many kids. I’m rated on the performance of the kids who spent all last night gaming or texting, or who come to school not having eaten since the last time they were here. I am rated on the performance of kids who have stolen my personal possessions, or worse. So I guess I’m not surprised- we get used to directives and unfunded mandates- but I’m having a problem with the whole 50% thing.

So I can imagine the response: Well, there’s the door, Mr. Rozell. But now  imagine your child’s youthful teacher, once excited and energized, skulking out of meeting after meeting where draconian admonitions are relayed over and over from on high. She’s feeling stomped on, deflated, crushed.

And she doesn’t know, but I can hear her trying to console herself on the way back to her classroom, quietly lamenting the twenty-five years she has to go to until retirement.

Imagining again: There’s the door, Ms. So and So.

This is what I see, in the New York State of mind.


So back to the photograph taken of the Governor this week, and why it matters to me. You see, the very same Associated Press photographer Mike Groll came to my classroom on September 13, 2007, to do a photo-shoot for an article that featured me and my students and the impact that we were making not only on our community but on the world. AP writer Chris Carola did a powerful article that hit the wires and went not only across our great state, but to every state in the Union and all over the planet.

This history class made history. And Mike was there to record it, seven and a half years ago. Thanks, Mike, and Chris.

Later, we would go on to be named ABC World News Persons of the Week. For achievements in the classroom, I would be awarded many top state and national awards for teaching (I even had a national medal pinned on my chest!), and would be recognized by my own SUNY GENESEO alma mater as their 2013 Educator of the Year. NBC Learn even came up from New York last spring to record a lesson with me and my students, in which my seniors really blew me away in demonstrating their knowledge.

So how did the Educator of the Year rate in his own 2013-14 Cuomo Administration teacher evaluation? I scored an 89/100. Not even honor roll. None of the above achievements with students were counted or ‘measured’- and maybe rightfully so, I don’t know. But ‘Mr. History Teacher of the Year Multiple Times Over’ IS NOT highly effective in New York State.

Sour grapes? No thanks. I know where I make a difference every day. It’s just going to get real interesting should this 29 year classroom veteran be rated  ‘ineffective’  or ‘developing’ with the new proposals. Maybe even comical.


Maybe I don’t have the answers, but I know what I see. My parents were teachers. My wife is a teacher, and her dad and his twin were both teachers, everyone of us right here in New York State.  Today my wife and I are nearing the close of our careers, with our own high school age children, and now we are also primary witnesses to the sapping of the energy and strength of the very individuals who spend the most time in our young people’s lives- our fellow teachers. Apprehension and fear is not the climate you want for those who teach your kids.

“We would pay any teacher who gets highly effective, a $20,000 bonus on top of the salary that that teacher is getting paid because we want to incentivize high performance….they have achieved the highest scores on tests.”

Sure, at the end of every other week there is a check in our box. But we don’t need the extra $20,000 to want to make a difference everyday, to take the time to listen, to smile and guide when it matters most. Think about the persons who made you feel like you mattered, who took an interest, who influenced you and maybe even changed or turned your life. Maybe there is a value to that that can never be quantified or measured, nor ever compensated. But in the Governor’s proposal, in New York State, that is not the point. In his world, that is what is irrelevant.

If our teachers are to become testing technicians for our children, then we must accept the consequences. Lesson planning and sound instructional time has already given way to more beta testing, data analysis, spread sheets, clinical trials, and so on. Now we want to jack it up on steroids? And no amount of testing is going to make up for the real ills that plague us as a society, the lack of pride and civility, of responsibility and respect, that at one time was a given.

Our teachers were at one time our role models.  As a young teacher, I got into this game years ago to teach-to create– to nurture– my  fellow human beings.

Despite the rhetoric, I’m joyful that I still feel this way-and respectfully, Governor Cuomo, no door is going to hit me on the way out.


Over the course of the past 20 years, Matthew Rozell and his students conducted hundreds of interviews with the World War II generation. One such interview led to the reuniting of a train transport of Holocaust survivors with their American liberators, over 60 years later. He is currently working on a trilogy of narrative histories based on these interviews.

His first book, a narrative of World War II in the Pacific as told through the previously unpublished recollections of over 30 veterans, was released in August 2015. It is available here.  His second book, in progress, is on the power of  teaching, remembering the Holocaust, and the real story behind the  iconic photo of the “Train Near Magdeburg’. He can be reached at his Facebook page at Author Matthew Rozell or by commenting below.

And even though this original narrative history began as a collaboration between the instructor and his students, he can pretty much guarantee that it will count for little in his state evaluation.

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A timely email…

I’m reprising some words of wisdom, on teaching, on what would have been my late father’s 83rd birthday.

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.


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.”


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.

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.”


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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Great article and congrats to the lovely ladies, the promise of the future…. And regardless about how some may feel about teachers, or why they enter the field, I’ll stand by my words, below. My school, the State University of New York at Geneseo, contacted me for the closing comments. An honor.

And a calling.

Author James Patterson Creates Scholarship Program at SUNY Geneseo to Promote Literacy

Patterson Scholarship

Author James Patterson sent autographed copies of his latest children’s novel, “Treasure Hunters,” to the eight SUNY Geneseo students awarded James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships this year, pictured here with the dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education. Front row (l to r): Marissa Liberati; Jessica Stoneham; Melissa Bellonte; and Kelsey Horan. Back row (l to r): Hannah Pettengill; Kristen Bondi; Dean Anjoo Sikka; Haley Hilgenberg; and Ashley Hark.

GENESEO, N.Y. – Best-selling author James Patterson has created a scholarship program at SUNY Geneseo’s Ella Cline Shear School of Education to support aspiring teachers in promoting the importance of literacy in education.

This year, eight graduate students earning a master’s degree in literacy received a $6,000 James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarship. Next year, the Patterson Family Foundation will award the scholarships to full-time incoming freshmen intending to seek teacher certification, with the possibility of renewal through graduation.

“I’ve been looking to bring these scholarships to more schools, and after studying a number of institutions and programs, I found Geneseo to be a great addition,” said Patterson, a highly popular mystery writer who also has written books for young readers. “My passion is to get more and more kids excited about reading, and training the next generation of great teachers is essential to that mission.”

All of the Geneseo scholarship recipients this year are from New York: Melissa Bellonte (Avon); Kristen Bondi (Dansville); Ashley Hark (Dalton); Hayley Hilgenberg (Falconer); Kelsey Horan (Endicott); Marissa Liberati (Manchester); Hannah Pettengill (Bloomfield); and Jessica Stoneham (Corfu). Hark, Hilgenberg, Horan, Liberati and Stoneham received their undergraduate degrees at Geneseo.

Patterson sent each scholarship recipient an autographed copy of his latest children’s novel, “Treasure Hunters,” and included a personalized note, stating that he was “thrilled that future teachers like you will help instill a lifelong love of reading in children.”

“We are very honored that James Patterson has included Geneseo in his literacy initiative,” said Anjoo Sikka, dean of the School of Education. “Exciting kids about books and reading is crucial to their success as readers, thinkers and keen observers and, ultimately, to become self-actualized and effective participants in our society. The scholarships will help us attract talented students with the kind of passion that drives Mr. Patterson. I sincerely commend him for his vision and am grateful for his contribution to the preparation of literacy teachers at SUNY Geneseo.”

Geneseo’s Patterson Scholarship recipients were selected on the basis of academic performance and an essay describing how they would apply what they have learned to help children develop a lifelong passion for reading. Applications were reviewed by a committee of faculty led by Susan Salmon, assistant professor and coordinator of graduate programs in the School of Education.

“Reading comes first,” said Liberati, who excelled both in and out of the classroom during her undergraduate years as a Geneseo student-athlete. “It is the compass by which we explore and map all other literacies – digital or not – and only by reading can we and our students become and continue to be lifelong learners.”

Liberati earned All-American honors in cross country and track and field. She also was on the NCAA Division III All-Academic Team in cross country in both 2009 and 2010.

“This scholarship is so much more than money to help me pay for my education,” said Hilgenberg, who completed her student teaching in Ghana, West Africa. “It shows that someone is rewarding my hard work and believing in my potential. It’s one of the greatest acts of kindness.”

Other recipients expressed similar sentiments about the power such scholarships have as a catalyst for success.

“As a future educator, I believe that it is not only my job to teach students how to read and write; it is my responsibility to teach them to love to read and write,” said Pettengill. “By opening a book, you can go on an adventure. Those small letters on the page take you to places you’ve never been and give you experiences you’ve never had.”

Patterson is among the most successful authors in history. He is the first to achieve 10 million ebook sales and has had more books ranked first on The New York Times best-seller list than any other author. He also is the current best-selling author in the young-adult and middle-grade categories and promotes reading through his website ReadKiddoRead.com.

SUNY Geneseo is firmly rooted in education, opening in 1871 as the Geneseo Normal and Training School. In 1948, the Geneseo Normal and Training School became a part of the State University of New York. The teachers colleges of SUNY became Colleges of Arts and Sciences in 1962, and two years later, Geneseo’s four-year degree programs in arts and sciences were implemented. SUNY Geneseo’s Department of Education was reorganized as a School of Education in 1992.

The School of Education today has 25 full-time and five part-time faculty members, who are preparing more than 700 students to be teachers. The school offers undergraduate programs leading to initial teacher certification in Early Childhood and Childhood, Childhood, Childhood with Special Education, and Adolescence Education. Graduate programs that could lead to professional certification are offered in Early Childhood and Childhood, Multicultural Childhood Education, Literacy (B-12) and Adolescence Education.

Among the school’s numerous success stories are the accomplishments of Geneseo alumnus Matthew A. Rozell, who teaches history at Hudson Falls (N.Y.) High School. He earned his master’s degree in education from Geneseo in 1988 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from the college. The Geneseo Alumni Association named Rozell Educator of the Year for 2013.

Rozell’s alumni educator award from Geneseo is among several honors he has earned during his career, including the prestigious National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Mary S. Lockwood Medal for Education. The medal honors outstanding achievement through service and leadership in promoting education outside the formal educational process. He also has been recognized as a leader in World War II and Holocaust history through several projects he initiated that have received national attention.

“Entering the teaching profession in many ways is to answer a higher calling,” said Rozell. “The Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships increase the options for our best and brightest to enter the field of teaching and represent a commitment to continuing to produce the caliber of teachers that Geneseo is renowned for. There is no higher mission.”


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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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