|About the Book|
Be an elementary teacher? In 1958 this was not even a consideration. I was going to be a child psychiatrist and novelist. I hadn’t done any writing during my four years in the U.S. Air Force, but I had functioned as a psychologist-social worker. AtMoreBe an elementary teacher? In 1958 this was not even a consideration. I was going to be a child psychiatrist and novelist. I hadn’t done any writing during my four years in the U.S. Air Force, but I had functioned as a psychologist-social worker. At twenty-one I had my own office and I was giving marriage counseling to noncommissioned officers and officers who were decades older than I was. I had practical experience doing individual and group therapy and even used psychodrama techniques. The psychiatrists I worked with all believed I was a natural therapist and they gave me dozens of books to read, we discussed their cases, and they wrote recommendations for me for medical school. My goals were lofty- then, reality set in. I didn’t have the money (or grades) to become a doctor. My bachelor’s degree in psychology was next to useless. A friend suggested I teach while I pursued advanced degrees to become a child psychologist. It was a painful compromise. I had already given up my dreams of becoming a professional actor or athlete and I would have to be an elementary rather than a high school teacher so I couldn’t coach football or track. It was like being a dishwasher rather than a restaurant owner. There was also the commonly held belief then that a male elementary teacher must be somewhat effeminate, if not an outright homosexual. Throughout my career people have been surprised (disappointed?) that a man who looks like a light-heavyweight boxer could be a teacher of small children. Still, I had a wife and a child to support so I got a teaching credential. I had been bored in school and I was determined to make my classes interesting, but I was totally unprepared emotionally, educationally, or organizationally. I was wildly successful only because I was charismatic, creative, and I truly enjoyed the children.The more I realized how much more effective I could be with so many more children every year as a teacher than I could be as a psychologist, the more I knew I had stumbled into a great career. I had found my calling. I could express my artistic self through music, art, dancing, and drama. My athletic needs were met by playing with the children while teaching them all the sports I loved. I had a captive audience for my need to perform as I read to them dramatically and transmitted my eclectic love of learning. I was proficient in many psychological techniques, which came in handy as I probed their brains and changed their behaviors. I was almost too clinical in the first few years as I secretly tested my children using the ink blot test, sentence completion, and the TAT (ambiguous pictures) which I used as means to motivate their writing. Later, I realized that it was not so much the testing, as it was the time I spent individually with children that made the difference. I was interested in each of them and they knew it and so they shared their lives inside and outside the school as if I was their therapist. Therapists never get the opportunity to see their clients in the environments that are causing their problems. I not only saw things through their eyes and the dynamics of their relationships, but I was in the position to actually change these by what I did. Whether it was as simple as changing their seat or reading group or placing them in allegedly extemporaneous plays to act out (feel) a role that they needed to experience, I made immediate changes in their lives. It was then I knew that my (often) traumatic experiences as a gifted Jewish child alone in hostile schools where I was seen as an evil presence was not unusual.