My Education as a Teacher

I graduated college in 1969. For three years I had three majors, literature, philosophy and history. In my senior year I stuck with literature and gave up the rest. I married that year.

So what would I do after I graduated? I could go into the Navy as was my first plan before I received a scholarship to college.

It was the time of the Vietnam War and I figured I would have to serve my country and the Navy seemed the part of the armed forces I’d like the best. After all, I was a strong swimmer. (Why I ever thought that had anything to do with the Navy is beyond me.) Also, I would continue my writing career while I sailed the seven seas. I knew I would become a famous writer as did everyone who put pen or typewriter to paper.

But this Navy plan changed when a friend of mine, Lucy Winiarski, suggested I become a teacher in Suffolk County on Long Island. She had already secured herself a position.

“All you have to do is go in for an interview and take twelve credits of education courses in the summer. They need teachers,” she said.

I never considered being a teacher. Essentially I thought of teachers as people who had the impossible job of controlling kids. As a kid I looked at other kids, I knew how hard it was to control us. Secondarily, these poor schnooks had to educate the students as well. That seemed like trying control a mob of monkeys.

Throughout my schooling, I did have some good teachers, no doubt about that, and many competent ones, no doubt about that either, but the majority were either passible or bad. College professors tended to be somewhat dull with a few exceptions, so joining the ranks of teachers didn’t exactly thrill me. Still I needed money to pay my living expenses.

I went for the interview, got the job on the condition that I get those 12 education credits over the summer, and that was that. I was to become a teacher. Would I even survive this? I’d be teaching seventh grade in an all-seventh-grade school. I figured those kids would probably kill me. But what the hell? Nothing ventured, nothing killed.

I could swim in the Navy or sink in the classroom. I’d try the classroom first and if I drowned there, I’d swim over to the Navy.

So I had to get those education credits. I enrolled in four classes, two each summer session, and there I was the first day of the first class with my notebook opened on my desk awaiting the professor of education who would open the wonders of teaching to me and to all of the education students.

She didn’t. She was awful. She was the worst teacher I had ever had in a college course, or so I thought, until I met the next education teacher. He was worse. He was – in short – an idiot. He and the course had no substance, so I was left dreaming of the high seas. Every eye of just about every student in this guy’s class was droopy within a minute. The class was 90 minutes long!

I took almost no notes. There was no information in the courses, just silly theories about how students act and react. Hadn’t these professors ever gone to school? Were either of these professors ever kids?

And the students in their education classes? A few seemed intelligent and even more than a few seemed like nice people. The rest? Not too impressive. I figured they would be eaten alive when they got into a classroom. I also figured I’d be eaten alive. Perhaps cannibalism awaited all of us, the smart ones and the dumb ones. I didn’t kid myself into thinking that my students would welcome me with loving arms as I entered their classroom.

Their classroom? The professor droned on about their classroom. No, no; my classroom. Yes, the battle – the very first battle – would be in defining whose classroom this was. It had to belong to me, not the students, but if the students took control, they would be the main force in the room. I already knew that some teachers owned the classroom; some teachers were always teetering on the edge of doom and others were devoured by the school of sharks. Yes, I thought, as the professor droned on, a classroom of students could be a school of sharks.

I made it through the first two education courses. Actually, I think an ape could have done that. In my 33 years of teaching the worst level of education came in education courses, usually taught by people who couldn’t teach, offering scant information that at best belonged in comedy clubs. My first six credits instilled in me a disdain for my new profession.

The next six credits taught me a lot, not about education, but about one aspect of teaching that stayed with me for my whole career. One of my two professors was a master teacher, a true master. His curriculum, as with all education curricula, was a waste of time, talent and money, but this professor could teach a class!

He was energetic. He was pleasant. And he was funny. I enjoyed watching him as he taught. I enjoyed how he goaded and brought out ideas in the students – even if the ideas were silly. He could nudge but he was never mean even if he were teasing a student.

I quickly took a seat at the side of the class so that I could watch him teach and learn how he interacted with the students. The guy was no spring chicken; I’m guessing he was about 65 or so – an age I now consider young!

While I didn’t learn anything of merit in the curricula of those two classes, I did see a great teacher in action. His humor was a key ingredient. The students stayed awake because they didn’t want to miss what the guy would say. He also never took offense at anything a student said. He looked as if he enjoyed every minute in the classroom.

I left there knowing that I had to be funny, entertaining, energetic and engaging. Would I be able to do that? Only time would tell.

I also had to tame the sharks.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Free College is an Awful Idea

Some politicians (and student advocates) are proposing that we send people to college for free.

Dumb idea.

Aside from the obvious fact that it would cost a fortune and probably add to our almost $20,000,000,000,000 debt (did I get enough zeros in that? the number is so big I can’t comprehend it) it would probably add even more non-college-ready-students to the “how can such an idiot be in college?” ranks.

I am coming to the conclusion that we should eliminate about 50 percent of the college students from the college ranks. But what should we do with all those people?

Here is my plan (it does have some bugs I will admit):

*Anyone who serves four years in the armed forces gets four years of free college

*Anyone who serves five years in the military gets four years of free college and one free year in a master’s program

*Anyone who serves eight years in the armed forces gets four years of free college and one free year in a master’s degree program and three years in a PhD program

Who pays for all of this? The military through a (sort of) Medicare-type deduction from a soldier’s pay – maybe make it 50-50 with a government hand out.

I dismiss the idea that we would be dealing with individuals of more advanced ages in the general college population. Education at the highest levels should not be age specific. In fact, we could use more adults on our college campuses.

Now, we would have to come up with plans for married individuals and such but I think these plans could be easily worked out. Remember, we are having children later in life and we are living far longer than ever before. Going to college in one’s late 20’s or early 30’s is not a big deal anymore.

This plan would prevent those “I can’t believe that girl is in college” problem and probably cut enrollments quite a lot. When our members of the armed forces are ready to enter college they would actually be ready to enter college, having experienced the real world.

Rather than prattle on, that is my tentative plan. Could that work better than the absurd idea of sending everyone to college for “free”? Probably.

[Read my new book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!]






Teacher Hiring

I am not sure if Lawrence High School still does it this way but here is what I had to do.

There were hundreds of applications during that time period (1971) and the Department Chairmen Greg Monahan (a great teacher by the way) selected about 10 applicants to come in to be interviewed by him and the Principal Edwin Krawitz.

I lucked out because I attended the same high school and Monahan taught there before I went there. He saw that and decided to interview me. More as a lark I think because I had been fired from my first teaching job and I never hid that. (I wrote the full story of my epic fight with the principal of that school in The Virgin Kiss.)

So I was interviewed. I evidently did okay and I was told I’d have to teach a lesson to Lenore Israel’s junior honors class (she was a great teacher). The night before my lesson I was called and given a poem to teach, T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” — a bitch of a poem at first sight.

I read it; thought about it a little and went to bed early to let my “sleeping mind” figure out what the hell the poem meant and why it was structured as it was structured. (I write that way too. Later today I have a 2,000 word article to write for one magazine and a 1,000 worder for another. I’ll sleep on those and when I wake up those articles will be more or less written although right now I have no idea what the heck I will write about.)

So I taught the lesson. Principal Edwin Krawitz, Monahan, Israel and social studies teacher Gabe Uhlar (genius) watched it. The students obviously watched it. When I was done I was told they would be in touch with me one way or the other. Then Krawitz, the teachers and the students discussed my lesson. The students, a very bright group, had a strong impact on the discussion.

Monahan was a little hesitant to hire me. Hell, I had been booted from my first job. Did he really want to handle a firebrand? That’s when Israel and Uhlar told Monahan, a brand new chairman, to take a chance on me. They thought that the firing was actually a good thing and that (and I quote Israel) “we need teachers like him here.” Monahan took the chance; called me and gave me the job.

Thirty-one years of my life I spent teaching at Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst, New York. Yes, I wrote during that time; I acted during that time; I ran a youth center during that time. But I was (and am) “Scobe the teacher.” It defined me.

This section will be the stories from my teaching career and, perhaps, some commentary on today’s teaching profession.