Ms. Sheryl Burger
Business teacher Ms. Sheryl Burger wasn’t positive what a chemist did when she was young, but she knew she wanted to be one. Her science fair projects in elementary school always involved aspects of chemistry. “But then I realized I didn’t have a love so much for science, so that ended in junior high,” Ms. Burger said with a little laugh.
She thought about pursuing advertising or marketing in high school, having been inspired by the TV show Ned and Stacey about two advertising executives. “They were so creative, and they made storyboards, and they made commercials, and I loved it,” Ms. Burger said. “I was like, I’m creative.”
Briefly in college, she thought about being a stand up comedian. “I was good at making people laugh spontaneously,” she explained. But she realized she wasn’t good at coming up with her own material and presenting it. She also never really thought about it as a concrete career, only as “something fun that [she] could do on the side.”
For a while, it seemed like business was going to be her set career. She worked at Estée Lauder before moving on to work at another smaller marketing company.
It was there where she solidified her desires to be a teacher. She received positive feedback from a new employee when she explained a difficult task very clearly, breaking it down into small parts. Likewise, Ms. Burger’s long-time friend had always said that she should become a teacher. “And the funny thing is, I did always want to be a teacher,” Ms. Burger said. “But I was a little afraid of it growing up.”
“And that was that,” Ms. Burger said. She went back to graduate school full time, and eventually got a job at South, and has been teaching here for six years. “I can’t believe I didn’t originally go to school for this. It’s crazy.”
Mr. Tommy Marr
Mr. Tommy Marr, drama teacher, stands in front of a class, confident and at ease. He takes roll call, teaches the lesson, and passes out worksheets. He loves grading papers. Later, he goes to the teacher’s lounge, which is very fancy, comfortable, and filled with food and drinks. He sits with the other teachers, all of them laughing and having a good time. Everyone eats yogurt.
Or so goes the fantasy of “little Tommy Marr,” who used to play school as a child.
Mr. Marr had wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten. He taught a class of his imaginary friends with a roll book of names he made up, a grade book, and extensive lesson plans he planned on a chalkboard. He even had a teacher’s desk in his room.
For Christmas, his favorite presents were the “real teacher’s supplies” he received from his aunt and uncle, who were teachers themselves. “There was a really special pen I wanted to get when I was in kindergarten,” Mr. Marr recalls. “It had a red side and a blue side.”
Mr. Marr liked grading papers when he was young, so he gave worksheets to his family and his friends (if they were willing) that he would later grade. “As I got older, the work got harder, and I was a harsher grader I guess,” he said.
Briefly in middle school, he wanted to be the governor of Massachusetts. “I think I liked the power,” Mr. Marr said. “Now I would never want that job. I wouldn’t want the power, too much responsibility.”
In high school, he wanted to be an actor and singer on Broadway, though even then, he wanted to teach at least as a side job.
Later in college, Mr. Marr realized that he would rather have a teaching career, and possibly act on the side. Acting was never really something he wanted as a main focus of his life, despite the “fair degree of success” he had when he was an actor. He disliked auditions, rejections, and the instability of acting life. When he became an actor for a short period of time, he found himself hating it. “And that never happened with teaching,” Mr. Marr said.
And so, the little boy who had wanted to be a teacher finally had his dream come true. “Little Tommy Marr would probably squeal with joy. I think he would be so excited that he would explode or something,” Mr. Marr said. “Although he would be sad that he’s teaching a subject where there isn’t a lot of grading.”
Ms. Dana Macrigiane
It’s evident in her massive rock collection – having obsidian and quartz and spanning three bookshelves – that social studies teacher Ms. Dana Macrigiane “was obsessed with rocks when [she] was a kid.” She brought home unusual rocks from the beach and tried to identify them. “I loved geology,” she said.
When Ms. Macrigiane was little, she wanted to be a medical geologist: a doctor that determines why certain illnesses exist in certain places based on the soil or water.
The dream shifted in high school, where she had an influential AP Art History teacher who was also an artist. Her teacher inspired her to become a museum curator. “I became more drawn to art and history,” Ms. Macrigiane said. “I saw art as a way in which society could speak for itself.”
She wasn’t sure about teaching at first. Her father was a professor, leading her to consider the profession as a career choice, but it was never one she actively pursued. However, after substituting for a class one day, she realized that she really loved working with kids—it was the only thing she wanted to do. “I fell in love with it the first minute I walked in,” Ms. Macrigiane said. She felt moved by the amount of potential the students had and how “enthralled and curious” they were when she taught history to them. “I was very lucky to have the group that I had initially because they really changed my thinking significantly, and I’m grateful to them, wherever they are.”
Ms. Macrigiane’s past interests are still relevant in her present life. She still has her rock collection, and she’s careful with the rocks she comes across. As a teacher of AP European History currently, she has copious opportunities to connect lessons with art, showing how history affected art. In addition, she used to write “quite a bit,” and still does: she writes children’s books, though none have been published.
Still, teaching remains her preferred career choice. “All my little interests find their way in there…to me, it is the best job in the world.”
Mr. Dan Weinstein
If you peeked into the journal English teacher Mr. Dan Weinstein kept in seventh grade, you would have read about his dream of becoming a teacher.
Teaching had always been in the back of Mr. Weinstein’s mind because both his parents were teachers. He knew from watching them the various advantages of being a teacher, from vacation days to fringe benefits.
But if you peeked into the journal Mr. Weinstein kept in tenth grade, you would have read about a different dream, one of becoming a sports caster. “I wanted to be a sports caster for the same reason all small, scrawny, weak, non-athletic people want to be sports casters,” Mr. Weinstein said. “We love sports, but we can’t play.”
With that dream in mind, he went to college as a journalism major. He worked on the school’s daily newspaper and interned at an actual newspaper. Though later, he switched his major to English because he felt it would make him more well-rounded.
He planned to become a writer, and then go into TV, the usual path of a sports caster. “And then for some reason, instead of moving to TV, I went into teaching,” Mr. Weinstein said. “And I think that was because I needed to make some money to pay my rent.”
He first taught as a substitute his senior year in college, as per his mother’s suggestion. “And I just really fell in love with teaching,” he said.
But seven years later, still with the “dream that [he] would be on ESPN,” Mr. Weinstein quit teaching for a one-year degree in broadcasting at Syracuse.
And it was worthwhile, but not in the way he had intended it to be. The one-year degree, his “break from his life,” cost $50,000 but solidified his love of teaching rather than turning him away from it.
“I just really missed teaching so much that I couldn’t pursue a career in sports casting,” Mr. Weinstein said. Despite the fun and excitement of sports casting, in addition to the chance to be surrounded by professional athletes, sports casting didn’t feel the same as teaching. “I didn’t have the same feeling that I was really benefitting others,” Mr. Weinstein said.
So now, Mr. Weinstein is an English teacher. “You know every night when you go to sleep as a teacher, you feel really good about what you did.”
Mr. Bradley Krauz
A thirteen-year old boy, poised on the roof of a friend’s door, was about to jump off to impress a girl he liked. “Probably wasn’t the best decision,” Mr. Bradley Krauz, head of the science department, reflected, with a small laugh.
He broke his leg, and afterwards, he never played sports the same again.
Mr. Krauz wanted to be a professional athlete when he was younger. He played basketball on his school’s basketball team. When he was nine or ten, after being told by his coach he wasn’t good enough to be on the team, he practiced “ridiculously hard” every day after school, in hopes of proving his coach wrong. “As much as possible, I’d like to think I did,” Mr. Krauz said.
He also played tennis and earned a rank among the top 20 or 30 players in New York through tournaments. “But when I had my accident, a lot of that stuff stopped,” he said. “I would have liked to find out [how I would have done].”
He turned to teaching when he needed to pay the bills of undergraduate school and the fees for going into graduate school. He had been working in a lab, but didn’t really enjoy it. His father, a teacher himself, suggested that Mr. Krauz teach to make some money. “I liked it, so I stuck with it,” he said. “I love acting silly and having fun in front of a group and watching as students work things out.”
If he went back in time to tell his younger self that he was going to become a teacher, “oh, he would have never believed it,” Mr. Krauz said. In his high school, most of the teachers were older and had a “different personality” in comparison to the teachers at South. “It never would have occurred to me.” In retrospect, “I would have rather been a professional athlete,” Mr. Krauz said. “But then I would be a teacher afterward,” he added.
He still loves sports, and the “energy associated with it that never goes away.” Other than coaching the varsity tennis and basketball teams at South, Mr. Krauz is on a competitive travel tennis team that plays all year round. But he still loves teaching students, especially at South. “I never feel like I’m working when I’m at school. It doesn’t feel like a job.”
Mr. Joseph Ko
Scientist, military officer, writer, independent bookstore owner—all dreams of a little boy who grew up on a mixed diet of science-fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction books.
Social studies teacher Mr. Joseph Ko generally favored thought-provoking books, especially science-fiction, centered around human nature and the capacity of scientific and technological innovations to shape human society. He has read some books up to ten times.
It was actually a book series that inspired his dream in elementary school to be a mad scientist. “I wanted to invent cool things…do cool experiments, labs,” Mr. Ko said.
The dream was later “killed” by a combination of struggling with chemistry and higher-level math classes, which discouraged Mr. Ko from taking physics and pursuing further science classes—although he took a single introductory astronomy course in college. “I still love science. I frequently watch the Science Channel and read the science section in the NY Times,” Mr. Ko said. “But it is challenging to be a professional scientist if you struggle with chemistry and physics.”
In high school, Mr. Ko contemplated a career as an U.S. military forces officer. He admired renowned historical generals, like Alexander the Great and Caesar, for their charismatic leadership and brilliant strategic and tactical vision.
Later, he considered becoming a writer or a journalist, or possibly a professor, because he liked to write. To him, writing was a way to come up with new ideas, creating a timeless record of self-expression others could relate to.
He worked as a bookseller before becoming a teacher. “I thought that bookselling was still a ‘mom and pop’ operation,” Mr. Ko said. While working as a retail supervisor in Barnes & Noble, he realized the futility of opening an independent bookstore, as the “giant retailers will crush you.”
He determined he wanted to be a teacher during his time working at a county courthouse. Mr. Ko worked as an assistant for a judge who received many high school and even elementary school drop outs pleading guilty to various criminal offenses in return for a lesser sentence. He realized that many of these people had “fallen through the cracks of the education system,” which limited the number of options they had in life. “I thought maybe being a teacher would allow me to help some people have a shot at a better future,” Mr. Ko said.
Because Mr. Ko liked most of his social studies teachers in high school, he decided to become a social studies teacher himself. Their attitudes and conduct—being caring and supportive, treating students as unique individuals, and making time for students beyond what is expected—set a standard for teachers that Mr. Ko follows today.
Now at South, where few students are potential dropouts, Mr. Ko still hopes to help students be the best they can. “Life is more than following the same, well-traveled road as everyone else,” Mr. Ko said. “There is a danger of losing [one’s] individual identity or personal happiness in pursuit of conformist objectives which students are told to blindly accept as the so-called key to happiness.”