Pension Envy: A Trip Back To School.
By Nathan Trigoboff. Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved.
1. Monday, June 05, 1984. Smoking in the Boys Room.
Even if you did not know that it was June 05, 1984, you could tell that the end of the school year was near. It was not only the students who were anxious and anticipating the summer vacation but the teachers and staff also, probably even more than the students. Another year at Andrew Jackson High School was coming to an end and it had been an eventful year. The good news was that nobody had been shot; the bad news was that this fact was due to poor marksmanship.
Jack Trayger, a dean at Andrew Jackson High School, was patrolling the halls. He saw a student loitering in the hall near the boys’ bathroom and asked him what he was doing. The student told him that he wanted to go the bathroom but there were a group of boys smoking inside. “Go down the hall and wait,” Trayger said. He then slammed the bathroom door open and barged in. There he saw two boys at the urinals with cigarettes in their mouths. Four other boys were also smoking. In as loud a voice as he could and so that everyone in the nearest classrooms could hear Trayger yelled, “What is going on in here? Get those things out of your mouth. What do you boys think you are doing in here? You, pull your pants up and stand up straight and put that thing away. What would your parents think if they saw what you boys are putting into your mouths and doing with each other in the boy’s bathroom? You all should be ashamed of yourselves. Get that thing out of your mouth and you there, stand up straight and put that thing back where it belongs. You, you there, I don’t ever want to see you boys doing this again. All of you better brush your teeth. What you boys do with each other is your own business but we don’t go for this kind of thing around here. This isn’t a rest stop on the highway, you know.” The student who was waiting outside started to laugh as did other students in the nearby classes. The boys threw the cigarettes away and ran out of the bathroom as fast as they could. After they cleared out Trayger told the student who had been waiting “all clear.” Another job well done, thought Jack Trayger.
In a New York City high school, the day was divided into eight periods and each period lasted for forty five minutes. There was another twenty minutes for homeroom where the official daily attendance was taken. An electronic tone was broadcast through the public address system and signaled the end of each class. Five minutes were then allotted for the students and teachers to get to the next class. A second tone signaled the official beginning of the next class and anyone entering the class after the second bell was considered late. All students were expected to attend six classes a day with five being in major subjects like math, science, social studies, a foreign language, and English or language arts. There was one period for lunch, and another for study hall or other classes like physical education, art, or music. The school day started with the first-period subject class and after that, students went to homeroom.
Andrew Jackson High School was called a “challenging” school in terms of discipline and academic achievement. A typical high school might have two deans who handled behavior problems but at Andrew Jackson, there were seven. There were also eleven security guards who were supervised by two teachers. Two police officers were also assigned to the school by the local precinct captain who reasoned that having his officers at the school would allow them to become better acquainted with some of the neighborhood criminals. As vacancies arose due to imprisonment and homicides, his officers would also learn who their future replacements would be.
In terms of salaries and benefits, the City of New York was paying more than a million dollars a year just for the staff needed to control the school so that instruction could take place. If one added in future health insurance costs, along with other benefits and pensions, the cost would be many times higher. It must also be noted that Andrew Jackson High School did not have any racial conflicts between black and white students. This was not because of any enlightenment or benevolence but was a result of the student body being almost completely made up of black students along with some Hispanics. Nearly all of the non-Hispanic white people had moved out of the neighborhood years ago.
In most high schools in America, assemblies took place in school auditoriums on a regular basis. At Andrew Jackson, this did not occur. The last assembly had taken place two years earlier in order to induct students into the National Honor Society. During the ceremony, a student in the back of the auditorium tried to throw one half of an orange to a friend but his aim was poor and it hit another student in the back of his head. The student who had been struck got out of his seat and attacked the student who had launched the errant citrus projectile. One of the deans and two security guards tried to break up the fight. A friend of the citrus-splattered student jumped up and hit one of the security guards. The security guard grabbed the student and threw him to the ground. Others in the auditorium began to fight with the other security guard. As the disturbance spread, students ran for the doors of the auditorium and the chaos spread to the first floor. The principal had to cancel the ceremony due to the disruption. One of the policemen on duty responded to the ruckus by calling for reinforcements and a special Board of Education security unit responded. Reporters for two local television stations picked up the call for help on their scanners and left a nearby fire to cover the trouble at Andrew Jackson. This became the leading story on two evening television news shows. The Daily News and The New York Post also reported on the disruption. The New York Times did not see this event as fit to print.
Two days later the principal of the school, Dr. Michael Hackett, submitted his papers for retirement, reportedly at the insistence of his wife. The Board of Education then assigned Dr. Edith Johnson to be the new principal. She arrived a week later with a brief letter of introduction that provided very little information about her. Dr. Johnson was a petite black woman who possessed an almost comical sounding high-pitched voice. Most of the teachers thought that she would not be able to handle the troubled environment that was the norm at Andrew Jackson High School. However, as time passed, many realized that they had misjudged her. She turned out to be a lot tougher than she looked and students and faculty found that her judgments concerning student misbehavior were often strict. She backed the deans in their assessment of which students should be suspended or even expelled. She also proved to be able to discern which of the faculty members were the most competent in terms of maintaining discipline and were able to keep their classes under control while effectively instructing the students. She valued those teachers who shared her desire to maintain an orderly learning environment.
Jack Trayger was one of those teachers. He had been transferred to Andrew Jackson from Newtown High School the year before. Dr. Johnson observed that he seemed to be able to handle those who misbehaved and maintained discipline in his classroom. She had also heard from one of the assistant principals how Trayger had sought to end the common practice of older and stronger students cutting into the lunch lines ahead of the weaker and less aggressive ones.
Marvin Rogers was the teacher in charge of the cafeteria during the fourth-period lunch. He generally ignored students who cut in line because he was afraid that if he tried to stop this behavior it could cause a riot as had taken place in the auditorium. During his first year at the school, Trayger had been assigned to cafeteria duty with Rogers. Trayger: I just saw someone cut in line.
Rogers: Leave it alone. It could just cause trouble and lead to a riot.
Trayger: But it’s not right.
Rogers: Look Jack, this is your first year here. If you go over there and the kid doesn’t move, what are you going to do? Are you going to try to physically remove him? Let’s just get through the period and not kill ourselves.
Trayger: I don’t put up with that crap. How do we expect these kids to observe the rules when they see us ignore this?
Rogers: This isn’t Newtown, just leave it alone.
The next day, Trayger saw a large rough looking boy cut ahead of other students on the lunch line. Trayger approached the student and said, “you cut in line, go to the end.” The student ignored him and Trayger stepped in front of him.
Trayger: Go to the end of the line now.
Line-cutter: Hey man, my friend here let me cut in.
Trayger looked at the smaller frightened boy standing next to the brute and he seemed afraid to disagree. Trayger said to the line cutter, “our rule is that no one is allowed to let anyone cut in line ahead of all these other students who have waited their turn. Go to the end of the line now.”
Line-cutter: I ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Trayger walked away and Rogers came over and said, “nice job, what did you accomplish? Now you look stupid.” Trayger returned to the serving area just as the line-cutter got to the front of the line and addressed Mrs. Poitier, one of the ladies who were serving the food.
Trayger: Mrs. Poitier, this individual cut in line, please do not serve him anything. Mrs. Poitier said, “I hate when people do that.”
Trayger motioned for the student who was next to go around the line-cutter. The line-cutter tried to prevent the boy from advancing.
Trayger: Back off; if you don’t I will have you physically removed and the cops will arrest you.
Line-cutter: Man, you crazy!
Trayger: I mean it and you’ll be led out in handcuffs, although you might be used to that. The line-cutter looked around and could see that the other students were not supporting him. Trayger motioned for the next student behind the line-cutter to be served and Mrs. Poitier did so. After that, he continued and other students were served but the line-cutter was not. After that Trayger motioned for the next student to approach the serving counter and was served by Mrs. Poitier. The line-cutter just stood there
Trayger: You won’t be served until the last person on line has gotten their lunch. But I’ll tell you what we can do.
Trayger: Just this once you can stand here and Mrs. Poitier will serve you based on where you would have been if you hadn’t cut in line. I think that is fair. The line cutter looked around for support from other students but none was forthcoming. He knew he was defeated and said “alright.”
Trayger: We’ll shake on it, man to man and no more cutting in line.
Trayger offered his hand and he and the student shook on it. By not making him actually go to the end of the line but allowing him to be served when it would have been his turn Trayger believed that this would avoid a physical confrontation that could lead to a riot. After the incident was over, Rogers came over and said, “Asshole, you could have started a riot.” Trayger replied. “I may be an asshole, but you’re a burned-out prick.” Rogers was angry and complained to Alan Lewis, the chairman of the school chapter of the United Federation of Teachers Union. To Roger’s surprise, Lewis agreed with how Trayger had handled the situation. He had to repeat this process a few more times, but gradually the cutting in line ceased when he was on duty. After the incident, students who appreciated his attempt to stop the bullying would wave and nod to Trayger as he walked down the hall.
Dr. Johnson was also told by an assistant principal how Trayger had essentially saved the last week of the previous school year from being even more out of control. In order to get the end-of-year report cards back to the students on time, it was school policy that the final grades had to be entered six days before the final day of school. Once a teacher entered a passing grade for a student that grade could not be changed to a failing one. However, a teacher could change a failing grade to a passing one. This had to be kept secret. If students found out that once they had passed and could not be failed, Andrew Jackson High School would become even more out of control during the final days of the term than it already was. This practice had been implemented because of the amount of time it took to enter grades in what at the time was the new computerized system and to keep students advancing along to the higher grade levels. Even though some students would graduate regardless of how much they had actually learned this policy was thought to be beneficial. This allowed the school to rid itself of trouble making students who would leave the school permanently.
One day after the final grades had been entered, Trayger faced a nightmare. Nearly all of the boys in his third-period class came in late. When Trayger confronted them, one of them said, “You already put the grades in and I know I’m passing so you can’t fail me now.” Trayger asked, “Who told you that? Whoever told you that is wrong, he lied. Larry Hamilton, one of the students said, “Oh no, I heard the assistant principal talking to Mr. Rosenberg in the computer room.” Oh my God, Trayger thought, I’ve passed nearly all of them.
Trayger: I’ll find a way to fail you anyway.
Johnny Gomez: You can’t, school policy 10633 says you can’t.
The whole class laughed at Johnny Gomez’s made-up policy number. Larry Hamilton‘s accidental but successful bit of espionage placed Trayger in a real predicament. Trayger began to imagine what the last days of school would be like. He knew that he would be facing ten days of out of control classes. Word would spread to all of the students in the school. He looked at them and saw a sea of smiling smug faces. They had him and they knew it. Think Jack, think fast.
Trayger: In that case, Mr. Johnny Gomez, maybe I’ll just pay a surprise visit to your parents today.
Johnny Gomez: My parents are in Puerto Rico, but you can come to my house for dinner, my sister is a real good cook.
The class roared with laughter and Trayger knew that he looked like a fool. Wait a minute, what do I do? Think, think, maybe.
Trayger: OK, Larry and Johnny, you are both correct.
Most of the students in the class responded with a roar of approval and some cheered. .
Trayger: Everything that Johnny and Larry said is true. Once a passing grade is entered it cannot be changed to failing, but a failing grade can be changed to passing. Is that what you heard? Both boys nodded affirmatively. Here it comes, Trayger: “I figured some of you geniuses would act like this if you found out, so I did something to protect myself.
Johnny Gomez: What’s that?
Trayger: I failed nearly everyone in the class.
Johnny Gomez: What?
Larry Hamilton looked shocked, as did the rest of the class.
Trayger: I failed nearly everyone in this class and I did the same thing with all my other classes. “But Mr. Trayger,” Elaine Powell protested, “I’m passing! That’s not fair.’
Trayger: Elaine, I promise that you and the other good students who behave properly don’t have anything to worry about. To those of you who give me a hard time, I just won’t do anything and you will automatically fail. So you see, in order for someone to pass, I have to exert myself and change the now failing grade to passing.
Many of the students looked as if they were in a state of shock.
Trayger: I think it would be a good idea for all of you to take your notebooks and start doing the “do now” work that is on the board.
Larry Hamilton: He would do it, Johnny.
Trayger: I did it and lot of other teachers did it too.
Larry Hamilton took his notebook out and began working on the assignment. Johnny Gomez looked around the room and knew that he was defeated.
Trayger: Hey Johnny, is that dinner invitation still open?
The class laughed but this time it was at Johnny Gomez’s expense. Word spread of the incident and many teachers appreciated what he had done. Alan Lewis, the UFT chapter chairman, told Dr. Johnson about the incident. She acknowledged that Trayger had saved the last two weeks of school that year.
3. Project R.O.A.M.
One of the main problems at Andrew Jackson High School was that a large number of students simply did not go to their classes. They spent most of the day in the halls or in the cafeteria; the staff had to spend a lot of precious time dealing with the hall roamers. Eugene London, a math teacher, asked some teachers to make up worksheets for the subject that they taught. He borrowed a cart from the cafeteria and made a sign called “Project R.O.A.M.” This stood for “Re-Educate Our Ablest Minds.” This was London’s way of ridiculing all of the Board of Education’s programs with silly acronyms, along with the highly paid consultants that were constantly being sent to the school to address the teachers to try to get the school on track academically. Another sign stated, “You won’t come to us, so we’ll come to you.” London and a couple of other teachers who were also off that period went out in the second floor hallway and began to ask students which class they were cutting. If a student said history, they were handed a history worksheet. If it was math, a worksheet would be given to them with math problems. London and the other teachers told the students that Mr. William Mahoney, an assistant principal that many of the teachers did not like, had initiated this new project. The students had to sign their names and include their student ID numbers. When they finished the assignment they needed to bring it to Mr. Mahoney at the end of the school day. He would make sure that their assignments would be graded and they would get credit for the class they were cutting. Unknown to Eugene London and the other teachers was that Aaron Millman, the District Superintendent of Queens, was visiting the school that day. As he approached the Project R.O.A.M. cart all of the other teachers involved fled, all except Eugene London. When Millman came over and inquired about what was going on London played it straight and showed him some of the assignments and Millman saw some students in the halls were actually working on them. He nodded and walked away seemingly impressed by the concept. Eugene London had done this as a satirical joke, but a few days later there were rumors that Millman was looking seriously at the idea and possibly implementing some sort of similar program. At 3:00 PM that afternoon, Assistant Principal William Mahoney was unable to leave his office because of the throng of students waiting to hand in their worksheets.
Trayger had a different approach to the hall roamers. He grew annoyed because they interfered with his attempts to teach and the efforts of the students who came to class and wanted to learn. Some of the hall roamers banged on the doors and the noise they made was a constant distraction. Other hall roamers would look through the windows of the classroom to communicate with their friends. This was a constant at Andrew Jackson High School and was one reason effective instruction and learning was so difficult to accomplish. Frustrated by the lack of order, the inherent disrespect, and the knowledge that students who wanted to learn were being prevented from doing so, Trayger began to patrol the third floor hall during his own preparation and lunch periods. Trayger took a broken phone receiver and pretended it was a radio so the hall roamers thought he was in communication with the security office. He also annoyed the hall roamers by challenging them for being in the hall and took the names of those he recognized and called their homes. After a few days, other teachers on the floor found that Trayger’s patrolling had greatly cut the disruptions of the hall roamers. The more orderly situation gave them a better opportunity to teach and their students a better chance to learn. Some of the other teachers on the third floor reciprocated and patrolled the halls on their own lunch and preparation periods while Trayger was teaching. The third floor became relatively quiet and had fewer hall roamers and there were fewer distractions. Word spread throughout the school and some teachers on the first and second floors also began to patrol the halls on their own time. Even though they were giving up part of their preparation and lunch time, it was worth it. After she learned that it was Trayger who started to patrol on his own time, Dr. Johnson asked him in for a conference. She told him that she had heard about what he had started and wanted him to become a dean and patrol the rest of the school in the same manner he had done on the third floor.
Typically teachers taught five classes a day along with one additional period where they could be on cafeteria duty or monitoring a study hall. They also had one lunch period and another called a preparation period where they could grade papers and plan their lessons. Dr. Johnson wanted Trayger to teach one class a day, cover a homeroom, and patrol the halls during the other periods. He also was expected to handle discipline problems the rest of the time. She said he could eat lunch when he wanted to and that she trusted him to use his time effectively. Trayger reluctantly accepted the position; he liked teaching social studies and wanted to be in the classroom. In this new position, he would be constantly dealing with some of the worst students and this could be unpleasant. Alan Lewis, the union chapter chairman, advised him to try it. If he did not like it he could always go back into the classroom.
Trayger accepted the job and the very next day encountered two students wandering the halls. One of them saw him and ran away. Trayger knew the other student and confronted him with his usual series of questions, “What class are you supposed to be in now?” Before the student could answer, Trayger bombarded him with more questions: “Who teaches that class?” “What is the name of your homeroom teacher?” As the student tried to answer a question, Trayger quickly asked other questions. “Who is your math teacher? What period do you have English?” Trayger continued to ask rapid-fire questions of the boy, who began to get a dazed and confused look in his eyes. He seemed anesthetized by his inability to respond to the rapid fire questions being asked of him. Quite by accident, Trayger had discovered a new weapon against the hall roamers. This technique was found to be effective in discouraging some of the more casual hall roamers who found the questioning to be an unpleasant experience. Many would run away rather than be confronted with all of the questions.
While on patrol Trayger would sometimes chase a student who saw him and ran away but this was a pretend chase. In spite of television shows that showed middle aged cops catching juvenile offenders, everyone at Andrew Jackson knew that no adult could really catch a much younger, faster, and more nimble high school student. One teacher, Rodney Grant, had been on the U.S. Olympic track team twenty years before and attempted to catch a kid who had tried to steal a girl’s bracelet. The chase started on the first floor, but by the time Grant had reached the third floor, the kid had disappeared. Grant told Trayger that his heart had not stopped racing for twenty minutes and he’d had to sit down in the teacher’s room.
In a discussion about why the rapid fire questioning seemed to distress the hall roamers, Sy Morris, the school psychologist, called the technique “question bombing.” He said, “I think that most of the hall roamers don’t go to class because they don’t like to think. Rapid fire questioning forces them to think. They’ll do almost anything to avoid it.” “Even actually go to class?” Trayger asked. “Even that or they leave the building,” Morris answered.
From the time he had first started at Andrew Jackson, Trayger had rarely written a referral, a practically unheard-of situation. A referral was a written record of student misbehavior, similar to an adult getting a summons. If a teacher was unable to control a student’s misbehavior during class, a written referral would be made to the dean’s office and one of them would deal with the student. Trayger decided to handle most of his classroom discipline problems by himself. One Sunday, Trayger drove from his apartment near Queens Boulevard in Rego Park to visit the home of a student who had cursed him out in class. He approached the student’s mother and grandmother outside of their home as they seemed to be leaving for church. Trayger told the mother and grandmother that the student had said “fuck you” to him. The two respectful church going ladies glared angrily at the boy. Trayger also told them that when he had told the boy that he would tell his mother about the bad language, the student had replied, “My moms don’t give a shit if I say fuck you, so fuck you.” The boy looked as if he was going to have an accident right there on the street. The two women stared angrily at the student and assured Trayger that they would deal with him and thanked him for letting them know. Trayger almost felt sorry for the kid, but not too sorry. He had come from a time and place where it was unheard of for anyone to curse out a teacher. Times had certainly changed.
After accepting the dean’s position, Trayger asked teachers to change the way they wrote referrals. Instead of writing that a student used an obscenity or bad language he asked them to write exactly what the student said or did no matter how graphic and obscene it was. He found that when he had a parent or guardian in for a conference and repeated the exact language or gesture that the student had said or done this seemed to make a far greater impact.
For most students who had gotten referrals, the deans would call the parent or in many cases aunts, grandmothers, and older siblings, in for a conference. With students who were normally well behaved but had committed an infraction, this would suffice and cause the bad behavior to cease, at least for a while. If the matter was more serious and involved a threat or blatant disrespect, a five-day suspension would be given with the principal’s approval. In order for the student to be re-admitted, an adult parent or legal guardian had to come to school for a conference. The more serious matters involving weapons, arson, intimidation, and violence were dealt with by having students removed permanently from Andrew Jackson, which was called a permanent suspension or expulsion. The deans represented the school at these hearings, which were held at the Board of Education offices, at 65 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn.
One way you could tell whether a school had serious discipline problems was that the teaching staff generally stuck together. There were some divisions among the staff at Andrew Jackson but most understood that they were all on the same boat, which always seemed to be taking on water and in danger of sinking. One exception was the Brian Kennedy-Helen Rodriguez situation. Kennedy had been at Andrew Jackson for ten years and taught Spanish. He had a master’s degree in supervision and was the foreign language chairman. His rank was similar to that of an assistant principal and he hoped to become a principal. Three years before, he had taken the supervisor’s exam and received the twentieth highest grade in all of New York City. Helen Rodriguez was a guidance counselor at Jackson and had also taken the test. Her test score was considerably lower than Kennedy’s; however, she had been offered and had accepted a principal’s job at a middle school in Staten Island. When Kennedy found out he bitterly complained that she was getting the job based on her being Hispanic and a woman. There were heated arguments among Hispanic, white, and black members of the staff in the teacher’s room and at one point two of the teachers almost came to blows.
Because black people overwhelmingly voted for liberal Democrats and the student population was almost totally black, Trayger assumed that the black teachers would be more lenient with the students. He had discovered that in most cases this was not true. Most of the black teachers and administrators had struggled and beat the odds to earn degrees. They had worked hard and respected the value of an education because it had changed their lives. They did not like those who interfered with their attempts to teach and give that chance to others. Also nearly all of them lived in other areas for the same reasons the white teachers did. They did not want to live or raise their children in the high crime areas like Cambria Heights.
An illustration of this attitude was demonstrated by a black teacher named Susan Russell. She and Trayger were social studies teachers and had become friendly. Before he was made a dean Trayger, Susan Russell, along with several other teachers ate lunch during the fifth period. They both taught some of their classes in the same room. Russell had been a dancer on Broadway years ago and had met her musician husband there. After an injury to her ankle she realized that her dreams of making a living as a performer might not work out. She put herself through Hunter College in Manhattan and earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a specialty in social studies. She later earned a master’s degree at Queens College. Between what her husband earned and her teaching salary, her family was financially comfortable. Her job supplied a guaranteed income with benefits like health insurance along with a pension plan. Much of what her husband earned from being in a band was in cash. They lived a middle class life in Elmont, which was right over the border from Queens and located in Nassau County on Long Island. They owned a home and had three children who were doing well in school. Education and hard work was the key to what she and her husband had accomplished and she had been the first in her family to earn a college degree.
One day, Trayger saw Russell standing in the hall waiting for her next class to begin. One of her students from the previous year walked by and he was wearing a gold chain and a large hat. Trayger knew the student as a bit of a troublemaker. The student must have sensed the disdainful look in Susan Russells’ eyes and said, “You don’t like me very much do you?” Russell replied. “You represent everything I detest.”
4. Tuesday, June 6, 1984.
Trayger started to teach his one class and he had what was called a “do now” assignment on the board. This was done so that students would come in and immediately get to work. The “do now” was an effective classroom management technique, as well as a teaching and learning tool. One way to manage a classroom was to keep the kids busy doing school work as soon as they walked into the classroom. This got the students in their seats and working immediately instead of having idle time on their hands. This helped to ensure that they wouldn’t get distracted and cause mischief. Most students would file in and sit at their desks and begin the work, while some students continued to socialize in the hall. After the late bell rang, the stragglers slowly filed in. Anyone who wasn’t seated when the bell rang was marked late. If a student got marked late too many times he or she would have to serve a detention after school. One student had a habit of coming into the classroom, placing his books on his desk, and leaving the room to go socialize in the hall. When Trayger told him he marked him late the student protested by pointing to his books to prove that he had been on time. Trayger replied, “Your books were marked on time but you were marked late.”
5. Girlfight. Trayger was teaching on the third floor when one of the worst fights in the history of Andrew Jackson took place. Sherese Goodwin was a huge girl who weighed more than two hundred and fifty pounds. Her size and strength allowed her to intimidate other girls and take their valuables. Her technique was to wait in the bathroom stall and crouch on a toilet seat so her feet were not visible and the stall looked unoccupied. When an unwary girl opened the door, Sherese would envelop her like a giant amoeba and steal her money and jewelry. No victim had ever identified Sherese as the thief because her size and viciousness meant that anyone who did so would face a retaliatory beating in the future. Sometimes a female dean would search her but could never find anything because by then the loot had already been given to a confederate.
While Sherese’s methods were physical, Vanessa Miller, her chief rival in crime, had more cerebral techniques. The school issued a combination lock to each student so they could lock their belongings in a locker during gym class. Sometimes an unwary girl would place her lock in an unlocked position on the bench as she changed into her gym outfit. Vanessa or an associate would switch the victim’s lock with an identical looking one that they owned and the victim would unwittingly use that lock to secure her belongings. Vanessa or one of her associates would go into the locker room, unlock the lock and steal the victim’s valuables while the girl was in the gym. They would then take the lock that they had replaced with their own and put it on the locker but in an unlocked position. When the girl came back and saw that her things had been taken it was assumed that she had been careless and had failed to secure her lock properly. Tough luck but too bad for her and she was told by the gym teacher to be more careful in the future. After a few too many cases people began to realize what was happening and watched their locks more carefully.
That Sherese and Vanessa hated each other was known to everyone. On that day, near the end of the seventh period, Sherese asked for and was given a pass to go to the girls’ room. During the same period but in a different class, a few moments after Sherese received a pass, Vanessa was also granted a pass. Sherese got to the bathroom first and opened up the toilet stall and stood up on top of the toilet and waited for a victim. Vanessa came in and opened the stall. Without realizing who was in front of her, Sherese tried to engulf Vanessa. In retaliation, Vanessa grabbed Sherese’s hair and the two girls began to fight and scream at each other. The battle spilled out into the hall and the noise alerted everyone in the classrooms near the bathroom that this was going to be an extraordinary fight and well worth leaving class to watch.
As the two combatants raged and fought each other, blood began to flow and clumps of hair were scattered throughout the hallway. Groups of students left their classrooms to watch the two ferocious girls go after each other. Two teachers who had also come out of their rooms considered trying to break it up, but they remembered what had happened to John Parisi, who was one of the deans. Earlier that year, Parisi had tried to break up a fight between two girls and was hit in the testicles and had to be seen by a doctor. Because it was an on the job injury, he was able to get a week off with pay but swore that it had not been worth it. Both teachers decided not to interfere for that reason along with the fact that they were also intimidated by the fury emanating from the two girls and neither was in Sherese’s weight class.
As word spread to the rest of the first floor, the classrooms emptied. Nearly every student on the first floor and some in the cafeteria ran to see what was going on. Secondary and tertiary fights broke out over the best places to view the spectacle. Some of the security guards, along with Edward Griffin, another dean, heard the commotion and ran to break it up. One of the two policemen called for reinforcements. As other security guards left their posts at the exit doors to help control the first floor, some students took the opportunity to open up the exit doors, allowing waiting intruders to enter the building. Some of the intruders began to beat and rob students they encountered. Word of the Goodwin-Miller fight spread to the second and third floors, and some of those classrooms also emptied.
Eventually, the two girls tired and were finally separated by the security guards. Dr. Johnson tried to get the rest of the students to go back to their classes but realized it was futile. Because there was only one period left she decided to end the school day and let the students go home. Local TV stations picked up the radio dispatch from the officer at the school on their police scanners. By the time the Board of Education security response team arrived, a local television station had already sent a camera crew and was filming some of the action. Parisi and Edward Griffin, along with a couple of the security guards, carefully separated the girls and led them to the dean’s office. All of the men shielded their groin areas in case the two girls commenced hostilities again. Sherese and Vanessa were still yelling and screaming at each other. It took about twenty minutes to restore order until most of the students left the building. Parisi took Vanessa into one office and began to question her about the fight. She accused Sherese of starting the fight. He tried to reach her grandmother who was her legal guardian on the phone but could not. In a different room, Edward Griffin questioned Sherese and to no one’s surprise, she accused Vanessa of starting the fight. Griffin called Evelyn Goodwin, Sherese’s mother and said “we had a situation here at school that involved your daughter Sherese and a fight she had with another girl. Things got so serious that the police had to send for backup in order to break up the fight.”
Mrs. Goodwin’s response incredibly was, “did Sherese win?”
A mandatory expulsion hearing would be scheduled and the Cambria Heights Learning Annex would receive two more candidates for instruction— preferably, as was noted in their files, not at the same time or on the same days. The Cambria Heights Learning Annex could best be described as a sort of educational out-patient facility where many students who were permanently removed from normal school settings due to disciplinary reasons could theoretically finish their educations. Many assigned there simply dropped out but the Annex did work for some of the students who could earn their diplomas there.
Even though it was against official policy, Trayger and many other teachers and administrators did not care if this type of student dropped out. To the teachers, these individuals were the major impediment to teaching and prevented the kids who wanted to learn from being able to do so. Trayger had a utilitarian attitude toward the educational system, which meant the greatest good for the greatest number of students. He believed that too many good kids were prevented from getting an education due to the disruptions and violence perpetrated by those who came to school to cause mayhem. He also felt that there were some kids who just shouldn’t be in school. They belonged either in a job or on the street where their misbehavior could be dealt with by the police who at least had guns. A student who was faced with an expulsion hearing had the right to have an advocate or even an attorney at the hearing. A dean from the student’s school would present the school’s case and the student, parent, or advocate or all three could counter the case or try to get the hearing officers to interpret the event in a different way. Parisi, Griffin, Trayger, and the school security guards were handling the situation. All of the teachers were relieved that the school day had finally ended. Some suspected that the coincidence of these two particular girls receiving bathroom passes at the same time was suspicious but nothing was ever acknowledged.
5. June 7, 1984.
The next day Trayger was teaching his class and after five minutes a girl named Janelle Gibson asked for a pass to the bathroom for a “female problem.” She didn’t return for thirty minutes. As she walked in, everyone could see that she looked disheveled. “What took you so long?” Trayger asked. Robby MacDougal, a tall skinny kid who was always making jokes said, “She looks like she’s been had.” The class erupted in laughter and Trayger found it hard to suppress a similar reaction. Janelle yelled that Robby would soon get his. MacDougal did not realize that Janelle’s boyfriend, a thick, muscular, and severe looking young man was in the hall and heard what Robby had said. Within moments two other rough-looking boys showed up outside of Trayger’s room and waited for the period to end. The sign language the boyfriend and his friends flashed to Robby through the window made it clear that there would be a reckoning, and it would be a physical one. Trayger saw this and told Robby to stay after class for his own protection, but Robby replied, “Don’t worry, my boys will find out and we’ll see what happens.” A couple of moments later, Robby saw one of his friends through the front door window and said, “You see, my boys are here.” Robby’s demeanor quickly changed from boastful confidence to one of deep concern when his “friend” looked in the front window and said with unrestrained glee, “You gonna get your ass kicked.” As the class ended, Trayger told Janelle and Robby to remain in the room. He opened the door and told the boyfriend to come in alone. He told the rest of the students in the class to leave but most stayed outside the room, looking forward to witnessing the beating that they were sure would soon occur. Trayger turned to the boyfriend and said, “Look, I get that you’re angry but I’m one of the deans here. It’s my job to make sure what is about to happen doesn’t happen. This ends now. Robby, apologize to this young lady and her friend here and you better do it right.” Robby shaking with fear, apologized. Trayger said to Janelle’s boyfriend, “We all know that you can kick his ass, I mean Janelle could probably kick his ass. Robby knows it too, don’t you Robby?” Robby nodded in agreement. Trayger told them, “if you beat him up I’ll find out about it and I’ll know that Janelle was part of it. I will fail her and it will be your fault and it won’t be worth it. So I want you to protect her from failing and leave him alone. I will handle this and I promise you that I will deal with this clown’s big mouth personally. Leave him alone, okay? I got some work for him to do and it won’t be pleasant. The boyfriend glared at Robby and the message was received. He and Janelle left.
Trayger told Robby that he was going to get hurt some day if he was not careful. Trayger said, “meet me after school in my office because you are going to be helping the janitors clean some desks this afternoon, you got it?” Robby agreed. Trayger continued, “you interfered with my coverage of the Northwest Ordinance. I want a report and you will read it to the class, and it better be accurate. In your report I expect you to pay particular attention to how the Congress of the United States planned for the support of public schools in the new states. This is due two days from now. Screw up again and bang, you get a five-day suspension and your mom has to come to school to end it. I have to see Mr. Rabkin; you go to your next class. Robby nodded his agreement and flippantly added, “hey Mr. Trayger, I heard that Richard Simmons put out an APB out on Mr. Rabkin, is that true?”
“Go to class Robby,” Trayger said while suppressing an urge to laugh and went to see Harry Rabkin, who was quite overweight. He also noted quite correctly that Robby didn’t seem to get the message about keeping his big mouth shut.
6. Harry Rabkin. The reason Trayger needed to see Rabkin was that both of them had to go down to Brooklyn on Friday for an expulsion hearing. Rabkin had found a knife in the book bag of a student named Randy Brown. Once a weapon was found on a student they would be expelled from Andrew Jackson and had to find another high school that would take them. This would be nearly impossible because no school would want to accept a student who had committed such a gross violation of the rules. Randy Brown would also end up at the Cambria Heights Learning Annex. Trayger said, “Harry, the hearing is at 10 AM on Friday; I’ll be there at 9:30 sharp. Rabkin replied, “alright, see you there tomorrow.” Trayger left to patrol the halls.
Harry Rabkin was well known at Andrew Jackson and was something of a legend throughout Queens. This was due to his revolutionary way of dealing with a supervisor who had criticized his teaching and had put it in writing. In New York City schools, supervisors had to observe a lesson being taught by every teacher in the school system twice a year. These were formally known as “observations.” After the scheduled observation, the supervisor would write up a formal report and rate the teacher on lesson planning, execution, class order, and the effectiveness of the lesson. If a teacher received an “S” or satisfactory rating everything was fine, but a “U” or unsatisfactory rating could lead to problems. Two unsatisfactory observations in one year would lead to an unsatisfactory annual rating. If a teacher was not yet tenured, an unsatisfactory yearly rating could lead to dismissal. For a tenured teacher, two unsatisfactory annual ratings could mean a denial of the next pay step, which was based on each year of satisfactory service. A “U” rating was a very bad thing to get.
During his first year of teaching, Harry was observed by Murray Kramer, the department chairman in charge of English and had received a “U” rating on the observation. This was not unusual for a new teacher and most teachers worked to improve their skills. A follow up observation usually reflected the teacher’s improvement and the teacher would receive an “S” rating for the year. If a teacher was hopelessly incompetent or inept, the administrator suggested that they consider another career. Throughout most of the city school system, an informal but humane arrangement was made so that teachers who were unable to master the necessary skills for a successful teaching career would receive a satisfactory rating for the record but would resign from their position. In this manner, the city could rid itself of incompetent teachers without stigmatizing those individuals permanently. After three years of satisfactory ratings, a teacher received tenure. Once tenured it was nearly impossible for a teacher to be fired. Harry Rabkin did not see the need to put in the effort needed to improve his teaching skills so he devised a different strategy for dealing with the unsatisfactory rating. He carefully read the teacher’s contract and found what he was looking for. There was a provision that stated that if a teacher received an unsatisfactory rating on an observation, the supervisor had to help the teacher overcome their weaknesses and shortcomings. Rabkin looked at Murray Kramer’s schedule and found that fourth period was Kramer’s lunch period, which was also Rabkin’s preparation period. These periods were supposed to be used by teachers to do paperwork, grade tests, and write their class lesson plans. Rabkin began to request appointments with Kramer for fourth period on a daily basis. Officially Rabkin did this to improve his teaching skills but in reality he did it to harass Kramer. While the other administrators were enjoying their lunch periods, Kramer had to work with Rabkin, who seemed impossibly dense and asked a lot of questions about things that Kramer had just explained. After two weeks of explaining virtually everything he knew about instruction and classroom management, Kramer had enough of Rabkin’s efforts to “improve.” He hastily scheduled another observation and duly noted the “improvement” in Rabkin’s teaching and the first observation was removed from Rabkin’s file. That year, Harry Rabkin received a satisfactory rating. From that day on, whenever Kramer observed Rabkin he would informally explain to him where he needed improvement but he never again put anything negative in writing. Over time, most of what Kramer told Rabkin did work its way into his teaching and planning and he became an effective and well regarded teacher. Rabkin knew his subject matter and could control his classes. Word of this strategy spread and his successful thwarting of the administration became known throughout Queens as the “Rabkin Protocol.”
Harry Rabkin was a casual drug user, a misogynist, and was generally considered by most of his friends and colleagues to be an interesting and entertaining character but a degenerate nevertheless. Once a few of Rabkin’s friends placed a personal ad in New York Magazine that read, “Five foot eight inch grossly obese man wants to meet a young, slim, beautiful, and financially secure female for meaningless and casual encounters. I like to lie around and eat but only when I am not looking at porn. Care to join me on this journey?” When Rabkin found out that his friends had done this he was angry at first but as responses to the ad were forwarded to his address by New York Magazine he was somewhat mollified and grateful. Some women who had seen the ad believed that it was a satirical description that showed a finely developed sense of self-deprecating humor. After all, they reasoned, anyone who could write such an ad must surely be the exact opposite of what had been humorously described, a real find. This actually gave Harry an active social life. However, after six weeks he had exhausted his supply of interested parties. After meeting Harry Rabkin the women realized how wrong their assessment of his self-deprecating humor had been and the description in the ad was unfortunately quite accurate.
In order to indulge his bad habits and addictions, Rabkin always looked for ways to save money. He tried to get other teachers to carpool with him, especially Jeff Russo who also lived in Brooklyn. Rabkin was annoyingly persistent and asked Russo numerous times to carpool with him but Russo always declined. Once, while they were both in the teacher’s room grading papers during a teachers’ work day, Rabkin asked Russo why he would not carpool with him. Russo responded by saying, “I think you are trying to seduce me.” The teachers in the room erupted in laughter and Harry stopped asking.
7.Thursday, June 8.
Trayger was getting ready to take attendance in his class when one of the students near the window got up and called out, “there’s a fight outside.” Most of the students in the room got up and looked out of the windows. Trayger looked out of the window and saw that two security guards and a couple of deans were breaking it up. He looked on as nearly all of the students were by the windows and watched the commotion. He knew it would be useless to tell them to sit down. Eventually the two deans, along with the security guards, got the combatants separated and led the two inside the building to the dean’s office.
Trayger: OK, settle down, the fight’s over; now go back to your seats.
About half of the students sat down. He repeated the instruction and most of the other students went to their seats. Only two students remained standing looking out of the window. Trayger: Hey, sit down now. The fight’s over.
The other student sat down and the last student by the window, Henri Wong, ignored him and just stood there looking out of the window. Henri Wong’s father was Chinese and his mother was Haitian. Trayger repeated the instruction to Wong and was again ignored, which greatly angered him. He repeated his command for Wong to take his seat and was ignored once again. Susan Russell entered the room to get some of her supplies.
Trayger: OK Wong, you know in order to be a teacher I had to take sensitivity classes. If you don’t speak English, I’ll communicate in a language you understand. Trayger, imitated a Chinese accent and said, “Whassa matter Wong? Fight ovah now, Wong. You go chair now! You sit down now.” The whole class erupted in laughter and Wong turned red and finally sat down, smiling wanly. Susan Russell was laughing and asked, “was that Mandarin or Cantonese?” Trayger left to go on hall patrol.
8. Patrol Stops.
One of Trayger’s usual stops while on patrol was Mr. Mohan Gupta’s biology class. Gupta was from India and was not used to teaching rude and unruly American students. Gupta explained that in India, students would stand up whenever they addressed the teacher and start every sentence with “sir.” He soon learned that American kids weren’t raised that way. Gupta’s command of biology was impeccable but his accent led to some problems in terms of class control. Students found that imitating him was a good way to get a laugh. Another way to achieve comedic status was to ask him for a Slurpee. The head of the science department, Michelle Shyman, tried to protect Gupta by giving him only honors classes to teach. She knew that the honors students were far better behaved than the kids in the regular classes. However, other teachers complained about the lack of honors classes in their own schedules so Shyman was forced to rectify the imbalance. For Gupta, this meant that only two classes out of his daily load of five were honors classes.
When Trayger walked by the classroom he looked through the window and saw that Gupta was teaching one of his non-honors classes. Things seemed quiet and Trayger was about to leave when he noticed something that seemed strange. Gupta was at the front of the room explaining some biological concept and the students sitting in the front of the room seemed to be involved in the lesson. Students sitting in the middle of the class were alternating looks toward the front of the room and the back of the room. Students sitting in the back were staring at something on the floor.
At first, Trayger thought they were looking at an article of clothing but as he looked closer he saw that whatever they were looking at was moving. Trayger realized that the kids were staring at was actually two boys on the floor fighting each other. Each one had the other in a headlock and it was a stalemate. Gupta continued to teach as if nothing was happening. Trayger walked into the room and Gupta immediately said, “I would like to report these two for fighting, please take them away.” Trayger headed toward the back of the room and calmly asked, “are you two girls finished, is this over a prom date?” The two rather inept combatants loosened their holds on each other and stood up. “Get your things and come with me now.” Both students packed up their book bags. Trayger took them to the dean’s office on the first floor. Since Trayger did not know either of them, this meant that they were part of the vast majority of students who didn’t usually cause trouble. Leniency might be the best policy for first-time offenders, but he would still have to find out why they were fighting. Trayger: what happened?
First student: He just pushed me.
Trayger: Did you push him?
Combative student: He took my pen.
Trayger: Did you take his pen?
First student: No, it’s my pen.
Trayger suppressed a sigh but understood the logic. At Andrew Jackson, if word got out that someone took something from a student and they did nothing about it, that student would be seen as an easy mark. From then on, anything of value that they had would be fair game for anyone else. Trayger grabbed both students’ book bags and dumped their contents on the floor. The three noticed that an identical pen from the book bag of the student who had started the fight spilled out.
Trayger: Is that your pen?
Combative student: Yes.
Trayger: Well, what do you say now?
Combative student: I’m sorry, man.
First student: It’s cool, man.
The first student had not been hurt and he knew that he would have done the same thing if the situation had been reversed.Trayger sent the first boy back to class because he had only defended himself.
Trayger: What do you think I should do with you for starting all of this trouble?
Combative student: Suspend me and send for my parents, I guess.
Trayger: Is that what you want?
Combative student: No.
Trayger: I don’t have a disciplinary card on you, which means you haven’t gotten into any trouble in the past. You created quite a problem over something that you were totally wrong about. You were too lazy and too stupid to search your book bag. Instead of doing that, you attacked someone who was totally innocent.
Combative student: I thought he stole it.
Trayger: I know you thought he stole it but he didn’t steal it. You did not know where your pen was so you started a fight; do you get what I am saying to you or are you just stupid? Do I have to call your parents and have them miss a day of work to come to school? Wake up! Repeat after me, I was stupid and I started a fight for no reason. Say it so I know you get it.
Combative student: I was stupid and I started a fight for no reason.
Trayger: I’m going to ask Mr. Gupta if he will agree to only have me fill out a disciplinary card about this. I’ll have to call your folks and let them know what you did but they won’t have to come to the school for a suspension hearing. If there are no other incidents between now and the time you graduate, I’ll get rid of the card and it won’t be part of your permanent record. The student nodded his agreement.
Trayger: That’s only if Mr. Gupta agrees to do this big favor for you. Sit down and wait here until the period ends and then go to next class; start doing some homework now. The student complied. Trayger knew that Gupta would go along with anything that he suggested. He hoped that if the student thought that it was up to Gupta whether the consequences would be lenient or severe it might make him think that Gupta had done him a favor by not having him suspended. Trayger hoped that this might make the student have some gratitude for Gupta and behave better in the future. This was basically a decent kid who could be reasoned with, but there were plenty of others who were not so easy to deal with.
Trayger remembered that as a youngster, he and a group of boys jumped and beat up another boy they did not like. His father was told about what he and the other boys had done and had punished him with a spanking. After that his father asked, “Do you like getting hit? “No,” Trayger answered. “Well don’t do it to anybody else,” his father said. Back in the fifties and sixties kids were more afraid of what their parents would do to them than anything the school would do. “How would you like it if someone did that to you?” was a typical application of the Golden Rule and in most cases it was an effective disciplinary tool back when he had grown up.
At Andrew Jackson, Trayger’s very first disciplinary conference as a dean had involved a student who had stolen another student’s sneakers. Trayger tried the how would you like it if someone stole your sneakers and put you in a choke hold question on the thief, hoping to elicit the proper answer but the student said “If he can take my sneakers and I don’t have the juice to keep them, he should do it.” He had the student suspended but was troubled by the response and his own inability to deal with it. This seemed to be the dominant moral paradigm at Andrew Jackson and a lot of other places. The ancient Jewish scholar, Rabbi Hillel had stated, “what is hateful to thee, do not do to others.” Years later Jesus stated “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Immanuel Kant, the philosopher and writer formulated what is known as the “Categorical Imperative,” which stated, “Do unto everyone as you would have everyone do to everyone else.” The “imperative” here was absolute morality.
Trayger could not figure out how to effectively communicate any of these moral concepts to many of those who victimized others. Mrs. Foley, a female dean, suggested he try a different question when trying to get through to these students. The next time he was confronted with a similar situation, Trayger took Foley’s suggestion and asked, “how would you like it if someone did that to your mother?” Most offenders responded to this by admitting that they would not like that. This seemed to be a starting place to try to reach some of the students who might, over time, develop a conscience and eventually become productive and moral citizens. Trayger hoped that they would adopt the values that made most people appreciate the difference between right and wrong.
Trayger headed out of the office and back to the third floor. He eagerly waited for the beginning of the fourth period, which would indicate that almost half the day was over and it was one day closer to the end of the school year. The next day was Friday and he along with Rabkin would be at the expulsion hearing for Randy Brown.
Another of Trayger’s regular stops had nothing to do with disciplinary matters but was more for entertainment. This stop was on the first floor where Mike Rogers was teaching a health class. Rogers had confided to Trayger that after eating his lunch during fourth period, by seventh period he would start to let out gas. He told Trayger to come by and see how the students reacted. Trayger would look through the window of the back door and observe Rogers as he walked around the room. Trayger could tell when Rogers would let out gas because students would raise their hands and ask to change their seats. Sometimes they would accuse each other of farting and Rogers would lecture the class about good manners and hygiene. If they needed to go to the bathroom they should just ask. This bit of biological warfare occurred nearly every day and was always good for a laugh. 9. Excessed.
Trayger had been sent to Andrew Jackson High School because he was a history teacher and there were many teachers with that license in the New York City school system. If one was good at math, one could become an accountant or go into computers but a history major did not have as many options for employment. Andrew Jackson was the fourth school he had worked at in the ten years he had been employed as a teacher. He had always liked history and right after he graduated from Queens College in June 1973 he found a substitute teaching job in a Brooklyn middle school. After a teacher retired he was hired as a permanent teacher under his history license. During the 1975 New York City fiscal crisis he, along with thousands of other teachers and city workers, were laid off. New York Mayor Abe Beame approached the federal government for a bailout loan and was rebuffed by then President Gerald Ford. One newspaper headline had read “Ford to city, Drop Dead.” Because he had no seniority, Trayger was one of the first to be let go. Outside of teaching, there were not that many opportunities for employment for those who liked history.
“Excessed” was a word that was coined to describe what happened to someone at a school that had too many teachers in a particular subject area. Those with the least seniority were the ones that were “excessed.” That teacher could be sent to a school anywhere in the city that needed a teacher with that license. The less seniority one had, the more times you were “excessed.”
After the massive layoff of teachers in the fall of 1975, Trayger had gotten a mobile food vending license from the City of New York and started selling snow cones on 14th Street in Manhattan and also at street fairs. Once he was approached by two policemen who could have harassed him for not constantly moving his cart. “Gentlemen please, help yourselves,” he said. One of the cops replied, “that sounds like a bribe, I’ll take it.” He always gave the cops snow cones and they in turn left him alone. They knew he wasn‘t hurting anyone and that he was a laid off school teacher. The clothing store owner on 14th Street also did not mind him setting up outside the business and Trayger reciprocated the owner’s indulgence by giving the store’s employees free snow cones. He sold the snow cones to the public for a dollar and allowed free refills. He was allowed to use the store bathroom anytime he needed to.
10. Won't go Back In 1976, New York City tried to rehire teachers who had been laid off. To the shock of many, especially some in the media, a large number of them refused to go back into teaching. Some had found employment in suburban schools that were not plagued with all of the behavior problems that were constant in New York City schools. Others continued their education and went into other professions. Some found employment in other fields and were happier in their new jobs and refused to even consider going back into teaching. One former teacher who had been laid off and refused to be rehired was interviewed and said that he liked his new job working in a bank better than teaching and talked of it being a far more civilized environment. This was a bit of a surprise to some in the media who thought teachers were generously paid for a job that had so much time off and had great benefits.
Although he was earning pretty good money, Trayger did not want to sell snow cones full time and accepted a new teaching appointment in 1976 at a middle school in Ridgewood, Queens. He liked that well enough but preferred teaching at the high school level. When he heard there was a vacancy at Newtown High School in Corona Queens he applied for it and got the job. Of all the schools he had taught at he liked Newtown High School the most. He taught under his history license but would also teach business subjects when the need arose. He found that most of the students seemed bright and eager to learn and looked forward to going to work every day.
After two years at Newtown, he was informed that he had been “excessed” once again, this time to Andrew Jackson High School. Newtown had too many history teachers and there was a vacancy at Andrew Jackson. The year before Trayger was assigned there, two loaded guns had been confiscated and another one had been fired. The perpetrator had not been caught or even identified. The bullet was never recovered but a rainstorm and the leak that followed finally revealed its path. Trayger found out that there had also been fifteen assaults on teachers that year. However, eight of those were on Mr. Jerry Yumanski, who would get right in front of a student who was causing trouble and put his face right up to the student’s and dare him to touch him. Inevitably the troublemaker could not deal with the challenge and would push Yumanski. Even if he had barely been touched Yumanski went down and a case for permanent expulsion was made due to the assault. The school always won these cases and the student was expelled. Among the deans, Yumanski was known as “rent-a-victim.” In this school year alone, there had been sixty-five expulsion hearings for students of Andrew Jackson High School at the Board of Education headquarters in Brooklyn. The school had not lost a single hearing. After a formal expulsion hearing at 65 Court Street, the student would be permanently banned from Jackson.
One of Trayger’s duties as a dean was to represent the school at expulsion hearings. His first hearing was for a boy who had brought a retractable razor knife to school. The hearing officer, a woman named Claire Braddock, looked at the knife and called for an immediate halt to the proceedings. She had the student and his mother leave the room temporarily. During the recess she told Trayger that she had determined that perhaps this particular kind of knife could be interpreted as a tool and not necessarily a weapon. Trayger responded with shock and asked if she was serious. Braddock responded to his astonished reaction by suggesting that perhaps the youngster uses it to install carpets in an after-school job. Or she suggested that he might use it to open boxes in a warehouse job after school. Trayger, still reeling said, “if he opens boxes with that it is because he broke into the warehouse.” Braddock frowned at his comment. Trayger realized that Braddock was intent on a course of leniency. Because he had dealt with the student before he thought that her reasoning would sound as ludicrous to the student as it sounded to him.
Trayger: It would be leading if you suggest the word tool to him. Why don’t you just ask him why he brought this to school and what is the purpose of this item?
Braddock: That’s an excellent idea, Mr. Trayger.
Braddock re-convened the hearing and the student came back in. She asked him, “young man, what exactly is this item that you brought to school, is it a knife or is it a tool?” The student replied, “what are you, fuckin’ stupid, that’s my knife” Braddock looked shocked at the foul language. She found the student guilty of the offense and ordered him expelled from Andrew Jackson High School.
Generally, when students were expelled from one school they could be assigned to another high school. If the offense was non-weapons related this was possible. Bringing a weapon to school or committing an act of arson often meant that the student would be arrested and would go through the juvenile justice system of the City of New York. After those proceedings the student could attend the Cambria Heights Learning Annex or a similar one elsewhere in New York City. Of course if they were sixteen or older they could legally drop out.
After the hearing, Trayger left Brooklyn and returned to the school as quickly as he could. As he walked into the building he was met by John Parisi, who informed him that from now on he should never come back to the school immediately following a hearing. Parisi told him that if a hearing ended at ten or eleven o’clock he should go out and have a leisurely lunch, and enjoy himself, and, most important, he was never to come back to the school before 1 or even 2 PM. Parisi said that his early arrival made the rest of the deans look bad.
About a week after the knife-carrying student had been expelled, Trayger was called to the dean’s office because of a fight between two students. One of the students was known to Trayger and had never been in trouble. “What was this about?” Trayger asked. “He just shoved me and then he hit me,” the student responded. Trayger looked for the other boy’s record and found that he had just been transferred to Andrew Jackson from Richmond Hill High School. Trayger called a dean he knew at Richmond Hill and found out that the student was violent and had been expelled for a particularly brutal assault. At that moment Trayger realized what had happened: Andrew Jackson had given up the knife-carrying student earlier in the week and had received possibly a more violent student in return. Trayger began to understand that the hearing and expulsion that he had participated in was pointless. Andrew Jackson had rid itself of a knife carrying student but he had been replaced by a vicious one who assaulted other students.
The Board of Education had sent a new troublemaker to replace the old one and his modus operandi would now have to be learned by the students of the school who would be his future victims. The good kids at Andrew Jackson were constantly faced with having to learn who they needed to avoid so that they could protect themselves from becoming victims of beatings, theft, and intimidation by some of the newly transferred students. Trayger had spoken to Parisi recently about the futility of it all, and he had just shrugged it off. “That’s just the way it works, nothing we can do about it.”
Once Trayger brought up the situation to the fifth period lunch group, which included the school psychologist Sy Morris, Edward Griffin a black science teacher who was also a dean, Eugene London, the originator of Project R.O.A.M. Jeff Russo, and John Dunbar, an English teacher who had a doctorate in curriculum and instruction and taught at St. Johns University as an adjunct professor, were also there.
Morris: It’s all due to the Miranda decision.
Trayger: What do you mean?
Jeff Russo: Criminals have to be read their rights, the Carmen Miranda decision was the worst thing that ever happened to the society. Now all of the thugs have to be informed of all of their rights.
John Dunbar: Jack, you remember the Carmen Miranda decision. That’s when the Supreme Court outlawed the wearing of big hats and loud singing in movies. This was the beginning of the end of public order!” The teachers laughed at Russo’s error.
Dunbar: The other Miranda decision told the police that they have to advise someone they arrested of their rights. This led to all sorts of so called reforms in terms of the rights of criminals and suspected criminals. This leniency toward criminal acts worked its way down into the school systems and courts have ruled that all students have a right to a free and appropriate education with almost no regard to what it costs and the harm that some of them inflict on others. This means that it is very hard to totally expel a student in most school districts in this country so students are often just transferred around to different schools.
Dunbar: Societies have to find ways to teach the young its customs and pass on knowledge. All societies have to answer the question posed by the social theorist Herbert Spencer but addressed for thousands of years in different civilizations. That is what knowledge is of the most worth and what do we want the younger generation to know? These ideas are expressed in the formal curriculum of the agencies and institutions that control the schools and make up the curriculum.
Trayger: Why is that?
Dunbar: Do you remember your education courses in college concerning John Dewey and The Project Method. Let’s say you want to teach students about maps. Dewey’s ideas would suggest that having the students make their own maps is more productive than just teaching them the concepts from a textbook. Those who advocated teaching in this way were considered part of the progressive wing of curriculum thought. They believed that students learned better by approaching problems and then trying to solve them. The solving of the problems of the chosen project would give students insight into many areas of life and they would obtain useful knowledge in this manner.
Trayger: You know I never really thought about the history of the curriculum, I just kind of accepted it.
Dunbar: I know, but these issues are important. Most people, and that includes most teachers, just take what is taught in schools for granted. But schools didn’t just appear and the curriculum didn’t just create itself. There is a whole course of research in this curriculum field and people like the professors who taught me have spent their entire academic lives writing about these issues. That little kid in the park or mall you see every day and his friends are going to run this country. What these kids are taught or are not taught will determine the nation’s future.
Morris: How do you expect us to get our pensions and social security if the little shits can’t read and write?
London: He’s right, if all these kids can do is make Big Macs we’re all sunk; that is the end of Medicare.
Trayger: I am a little young to worry about that.
Dunbar: Well we are not. You ever hear of “lend louse?”
11. Lend Louse
Dunbar then proceeded to explain the system that was called “lend louse.” The term lend louse was a play on the Lend Lease policy used during World War II. Lend Lease had been a way to aid the British prior to America’s entrance into WWII. If the British lost a ship, the Americans would let the British lease or borrow a ship. This replacement of lost ships was called Lend Lease. During the sixties and seventies, federal and state courts had ruled that every child had a right to a free and appropriate education. This meant that it was extremely difficult to expel a student from a whole school system. Truly delinquent students would be sent to what was called an alternative educational setting like the Cambria Heights Learning Annex but many were just moved around from one school to another.
Trayger: I never heard of this.
Dunbar: Removing a misbehaving student serves a purpose and this is to show students that there are consequences for misbehavior. If a student misbehaves and isn’t removed, other students would quickly realize that the deans and the principals are just empty suits without any real authority.
Trayger: But if all I accomplish by removing a student and he is replaced with another troublemaker then what is the point?
Dunbar: There is no point and this school will never really improve, that is the sad truth. You remove a bad kid and a new bad or even worse one takes his or her place.
Trayger: You’re depressing me, John.
Dunbar: You ever hear of the Hawthorne Effect?
Trayger: No, what is the Hawthorne Effect?
Dunbar: Elton Mayo was a researcher and during the 1930s he was brought in by the management of a Western Electric factory in Hawthorne, Illinois. They wanted to increase the productivity of their workers. Beneficial changes in lighting were made and productivity improved.
Trayger: That makes sense.
Dunbar: What surprised Mayo and the other researchers was that when they began to make other changes that were not beneficial, productivity improved also. This did not make sense to them. Finally, the researchers removed all of the beneficial changes that had been made.
Trayger: What happened?
Dunbar: To the surprise of Elton Mayo and his colleagues, productivity improved again. It was concluded that workers improved their productivity if they felt that management was concerned with their welfare even if the changes were not beneficial.
Trayger: What does that have to do with us?
Dunbar: Students observe that those who commit grave infractions are no longer at Jackson and thus there is a consequence for misbehavior. Teachers also know that their particular nemesis is gone.
Trayger: Then we get a new student who may be worse than the one we got rid of which what I think just happened. .
Dunbar: And your job is to deal with all of it.
Trayger: This isn’t making me happy.
Dunbar: Curriculum study isn’t supposed to make you happy; it just makes you better informed.
Trayger: Great, I feel so empowered now.
London: So what John said makes you feel empowered?
Trayger: I was being facetious.
Morris: Should I tell him the rest?
Dunbar: Go ahead.
London: Are you sure?
Dunbar: Go ahead.
Trayger: What is the rest?
Morris: It is even worse than you know. Two years before you got here, John Parisi noticed that Jackson seemed to be getting a large number of students who had been expelled from other high schools in Queens. He told me about it and I figured that something was up at the Board of Education. I can’t prove it, but most of us believe that the higher-ups at the Board were deliberately turning Andrew Jackson into what I call a “martyr school.”
Trayger: What do you mean?
London: The idea of a martyr school is that they pick one school to sacrifice by sending more bad kids to that targeted school.
Trayger: Why would they do that?
London: To save five or six other schools. By getting rid of the bad kids at those schools, they end up with fewer discipline problems. Learning and instruction improves at those schools but they have to go somewhere and this is that place. Andrew Jackson gets more of the bad kids and this allows the other schools to function. This school is the dumping ground.
Dunbar: The teachers at the other schools get to spend more time educating the remaining students. We, however, get more than our share of the bad kids.
Trayger: That doesn’t seem fair.
London: Fair, fair, are you crazy? This school is made up of black students with a few Puerto Ricans, and one or two leftover white kids whose parents were too stupid or poor to move out when the neighborhood changed. The Board looks at this and figures these people don’t vote and when they do, they vote Democrat anyway, so who gives a shit about them?
Trayger: What about going to the press?
Dunbar: We did but we couldn’t prove it and the Board denied it. Alan Lewis gave them the names of the kids who were transferred here and caused trouble to the press and guess what they all had in common?
Trayger: They were black or Hispanic.
Dunbar: What are you, a racist or something? They weren’t all black or Hispanic. Only 99% were. The press wouldn’t touch it.
Griffin: John and I have spoken about this before and I don’t deny the problems in the black community as a black man. You know that I am pretty strict with the troublemakers. I believe that this is due to the past treatment at the hands of white society that has led to this situation.
Trayger: I always figured it was the lack of black family structure, especially the absence of the father.
Griffin: That’s all true. I don’t deny that the black family is in bad shape. But why do you think it turned out that way? Slave owners deliberately broke up families and sold off wives and children and broke up families. Even after emancipation slavery was replaced by brutal racial discrimination. Let’s say you were a big tough black man in the south years ago. A skinny, puny, pencil necked white redneck insults you or your wife and family and you just have to take it. He calls you boy and you have to say yessuh. If you fight back or even look angry, you are not only facing him but the full weight of the system of white supremacy. The white sheriff will arrest you, the white jury will convict you, and you get sent to a chain gang on a trumped up charge and your family suffers. A black man could fight one guy, maybe two, but he can’t fight the whole system of white supremacy backed up by the so called justice system. Look at how many people were lynched in the south. To many black people, the so called justice system was nothing but a way to rob him and his family of his respect and dignity. The chain gangs were a way to get free labor. No matter how physically tough a black man was, he just couldn’t lick the whole system. Let’s say you’re a kid and you see your big strong father have to take shit from a scrawny white guy. You have to see your father back down from a man your dad could eat for breakfast. You hear your dad called boy. Your dad could ring the guy’s neck in a second but he has to take it. How do you think the kid feels seeing his father humiliated like that? How do you think his father feels after he is humiliated in front of his children or in front of his wife? Your dad could be the strongest and toughest guy in the world, but he still has to take it. How do you think it makes him—and his children feel about white people and the system and themselves for living under it?
Trayger: Pretty bad I guess.
Griffin: How do you think it felt to have your kids attend a third-rate, poor black school, even if you lived closer to the better school that the white kids went to? Wouldn’t you start to feel that the whole system was designed to keep your people down? Someone still has to pick the cotton and do the work no one else wants to do.
London: Yeah, that’s all true, but hasn’t it been a while since we have had that kind of blatant discrimination?
Griffin: Absolutely, but just as the legal system begins to change for the better, what happens? The government under the great benefactor Lyndon Johnson comes in and tries to supposedly right the wrongs of the past by giving black people all of this so-called help. Johnson did this to get the black vote for the democrats and it worked. When Kennedy ran against Nixon in 1960, Nixon got a lot of the black vote. So what happened with all of the welfare is that the black man who should now be able to support his family is displaced in that role by the same government that created the problem in the first place.
Trayger: But people don’t have to take the money.
Griffin: Show me people who won’t take money when it is offered. I don’t care if you’re white or black. You know what we call disability?
Griffin: White man’s welfare. But look, all I’m saying is that there are reasons why a lot of the black people today hate authority. The problem is that the government has succeeded in doing what the white racists wanted to do. They have destroyed the black family with handouts. We have all of these kids growing up without fathers because the government makes it too easy for women to have a kid and the bills will be paid. More and more white people are getting welfare and the out of wedlock birthrate is rising in your community also.
Trayger: Yeah, that is true.
Griffin: You think the corporations and the supermarkets mind? They make money from food stamps because the necessities are being paid for so now people can buy the potato chips and candy with whatever money they get from welfare and the stores make a lot of money from that too. The fast food places also make money from this because now the left over cash can be used for junk food. So back to “lend louse,” the reporters, especially those at the New York Times, didn’t want to cover the issue about how these kids get shuffled around because of the race and ethnicity of the troublemakers.
Trayger: What are the mechanics of all of these transfers? I mean, how do they do it?
Dunbar: They issue a transfer from the Central Board. Parisi says the students just show up one day at the front office with papers. How do you generally find out if a new student is a troublemaker?
Trayger: They just start trouble. Like the kid from Richmond Hill who just socked a nice kid.
Dunbar: Right, do you ever know in advance? I mean, does anyone ever tell you about a new student’s past misbehavior?
Griffin: Parisi tried to get the records of the new students once, and he was told by an administrator at the Board that it would be unfair to inform the new school of the disciplinary records of the students because it might unfairly prejudice the staff against the student.
Trayger: We can still expel students, to the Annex.
Griffin: Yeah, you can. You will get rid of one student, but you will receive at least one or maybe two or three equally bad or worse ones in return.
Trayger: It all seems pointless.
Dunbar: Don’t take is so hard Jack. Think of all the teachers at the other schools you are saving from having to deal with all of the shitheads.
Dunbar: It seems pointless but we do get a lot of kids to learn in spite of it all. You will win some battles, but this school will never really improve and will always be what it is.
Trayger: Did Dr. Johnson ever try to confront them on this?
Griffin: Oh yeah, and the people at the district office totally denied any such policy existed. They were quite indignant. However, she did win one concession.
Trayger: What was that?
Morris: She got a budget increase and this allowed her to create more positions in the dean’s office. Congratulations Jack, you are one of them. All of the teachers applauded.
Trayger: Thank you for the education John, and I mean that, maybe it will help me deal with it.
With this knowledge, Trayger began to informally gather intelligence. He told the front office to notify him of any new students assigned to the school and he would informally call deans at other schools using a payphone. Some of the deans at other schools were sympathetic and would inform him about the students that were being transferred to Andrew Jackson. The saddest thing to him was that there were so many good kids who left Jackson without the education they could have had if only they were at a better school. The only way for a good kid to get out of Jackson was to move. Nearly all of the parents in the area were too poor or not savvy enough to figure out how to get their kids out of the school and most just accepted that their kids would attend Andrew Jackson. The cost of housing in the better neighborhoods of Queens was becoming prohibitive. Some of the more resourceful parents used false addresses and post office boxes in order to get their kids registered at the better high schools like Cardozo or Bayside. The luckier parents might have a relative who lived within the boundaries of those schools. They would pretend that their children lived with these relatives. There was even a thriving address rental business run by some enterprising homeowners and apartment dwellers in the better neighborhoods of northern Queens.
Geographically, Benjamin Cardozo High School and Bayside High School were not that far from Andrew Jackson but educationally, they were in another world. Cardozo and Bayside were two of the best high schools in New York City and perhaps in the nation. Many of the students that graduated from those schools went on to pursue higher education because they were well prepared and equipped to handle the academic work. This was not so at Andrew Jackson, where many students graduated but could not really read and write very well and do math at a college level. Many had to take remedial classes at community colleges.
When the Queens District Office of the NYC Board of Education learned about some of the deception employed by some of the parents, they ordered the individual schools to demand to see utility and phone bills to prove that the family actually lived at the reported addresses. Those students who the Board investigators had determined actually lived in the boundaries of Jackson and had fraudulently attended Cardozo and Bayside were sent back to Andrew Jackson. Trayger had witnessed some of these students who had experienced what a decent school could be like, break down and cry on their first day back.
12. Friday, June 11. The Hearing Trayger and Rabkin arrived on Friday at 65 Court Street at 9:30 AM. Trayger had taken the train from Queens but Rabkin drove there. As they entered the building, they saw Randy Brown sitting on a bench with his mother.
Trayger, Rabkin, Randy Brown, and his mother went into the hearing room. The hearing officer joined them and said, “the hearing for Randolph Brown, a student at Andrew Jackson High School in the borough of Queens, is about to commence.”
During the hearing, Randy Brown admitted bringing the knife to school and was officially expelled from Andrew Jackson High School. Trayger and Rabkin both left the building as did Randy Brown and his mother.
Rabkin: Well, it’s not quite eleven, how about a nice long lunch in Manhattan?
Trayger: Manhattan? The parking will be a bitch.
Rabkin: You know how Parisi feels about us coming back early. We can go in my car.
Trayger: Where are you going to park, it is all alternate side or metered, you’ll never get a spot.
Rabkin: Don’t worry about it.
Rabkin and Trayger drove over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan. Rabkin found a parking space with a meter right near the 2nd Avenue Deli.
Trayger: I got some change?
Rabkin: Don’t worry about it; we don’t need to feed the meter.
Trayger: You’ll get a ticket, Harry.
Rabkin: Don’t worry Jack, I already have one.
Harry Rabkin pulled out a duplicate a parking ticket from his glove compartment. He dated the ticket, which had a real parking agent’s name and identification number on it.
Rabkin: This always works; I have a bunch of them.
Trayger: How did you get them?
Rabkin: Don’t ask.
The two men entered the 2nd Avenue Deli and waited to be seated. Luckily, they had just beaten the lunch crowd and enjoyed a pleasant and leisurely lunch. When they arrived back at the car, Rabkin pulled the ticket from the windshield and placed it in the glove compartment. Harry’s deception had worked as planned.
Trayger and Rabkin returned to Andrew Jackson at 2 PM. When he came in Rabkin said to Parisi, “the hearing took a long time, and the traffic was a bitch, I am so sorry we are late.” Parisi smiled and said, “I completely understand.” Trayger went to the dean’s office. Rabkin went to the teacher’s room on the first floor. There was only an hour left until the school day ended.
Trayger walked to the dean’s office and was ready to start patrolling the halls. At that moment, Trayger heard the high-pitched voice of Dr. Johnson on the loud speaker. “Mr. Trayger, please go to Mr. Gupta’s class on the third floor, they’re jumping again.”
The architects who had designed Jackson back in the 1930s had been influenced by the industrial efficiency movement that Frederick Winslow Taylor had advocated. Taylor applied principles of engineering and science to industrial production. Legions of experts then designed factories to be efficient in terms of space, production, and time. Andrew Jackson, like most schools built during that era, looked like a factory and operated that way as well.
A factory that made automobiles moved the chassis on an assembly line, where parts were added at each “work station of an assembly line. American middle and secondary schools also worked this way. Students and teachers went from one class to another based on set periods of time that were allotted for instruction. As students and teachers moved through the building from class to class, a little English was added, a little math, some science, and so on. It was hoped that after 13 or more years of public schooling, the student would develop into well-educated and capable citizens.
This had been a workable system for many years, although many education reformers questioned this model. As time passed, some communities across the country completely re-designed their schools to more resemble a college campus. These new “learning centers” had movable furniture, and pupils were taught in small groups, so teachers and aides could work with individual students. Instructional time periods could be varied. In some suburban areas, high schools had classrooms surrounding an open space that was the center of the school.
Trayger shuddered to think of trying to patrol in one of the more open setting like schools in the suburbs. Andrew Jackson had been designed with three floors, each having a long hallway and a shorter hallway that branched off from the center. Schools that were shaped that way were easier to patrol. If one stood at the center of the hallway, it was possible to look in any direction and see everything that was happening. Some newer schools were shaped like rectangles or squares. This made hall patrols more difficult because you needed at least two people to see the whole floor.
They could not have known it, but the architects who had designed Andrew Jackson had created a future disciplinary nightmare when they placed one of the third floor science rooms directly above the roof of the boys’ gymnasium. Things began to get out of control in the late 1960s. Although it was a twelve-foot drop, some of the students had discovered that jumping from the third floor window and landing on the roof of the gymnasium was an entertaining activity, particularly when a substitute teacher was covering the class.
Jumping in this manner earned a student status in several ways. The other students in that particular room and students in other second and third floor classrooms witnessed this act of daring. In addition, the resulting thud heard in the gymnasium was an auditory signal to the students below. They would then leave the gymnasium to get visual confirmation of the student‘s daring action.
The Board responded to this situation by installing steel-door cages around the windows of that room. Because of New York’s fire code, the steel cages had to be able to be opened in case of a fire. Locks were placed on the doors, but they were occasionally smashed off.
As he walked up to the third floor, Trayger looked at his watch. He knew that by the time he got to the classroom where the jumpers were exhibiting their prowess, the school day would end. He grabbed the lock that the custodian had given him so that he could replace the one that the students had destroyed.
Gupta met Trayger at the door. He was visibly agitated. “I ordered them to cease and desist from this activity,” he complained, “but they refused to obey my instructions.”
Trayger looked down toward the roof over the gym but did not see any students. He locked the steel cage door. The jumpers had either scrambled back into the school through an open window or had decided to jump from the gymnasium roof and leave the school grounds. The bell rang and the rest of the students left the room.
A student came into the classroom and said, “Mr. Trayger, the principal said they need you at the office fast, there is a phone call for you.”
Trayger left the room and hurried to the office. He knew that whatever the reason he was needed so urgently could not be good. When he got to the office he was handed the phone and the call was from his mother in Florida. “Dad fell from a ladder and he hurt himself. He is in the hospital and is unconscious. I called everyone else too.” Trayger had two brothers and a sister. One lived in California and worked in the computers industry; the other lived in Maryland and was a journalist. His sister lived in New Jersey with her husband who was an optometrist. “I will be down there as soon as I can Mom,” he said. The next day, Trayger, his two brothers and his sister all flew down to Florida to help his parents. Because he was the only one in the family who was not married and did not have kids, Trayger decided to take an emergency leave of absence and move down to Florida to help his parents. He did not own a home but had an apartment in Rego Park that he could give up. Trayger applied for and received an emergency leave of absence. Dr. Johnson and the rest of the staff wished him and his parents well and hoped that he would soon return. He said goodbye to as many people as he could. Dr. Johnson appointed a new dean to fill in for Trayger and everyone assumed that he would return in the fall for the new school year. He never did.
13. The Present.
By 2017 Jack Trayger had been married to his wife Ruth for thirty-two years. He had met her in Fort Lauderdale. Ruth had earned a doctorate at Florida International University in Miami and was a college professor at Palm Beach State College. They had married within a year of meeting and had two children who were grown and had married. Their daughter Rachael had gone to the University of Florida and had met her future husband there. They lived in Jupiter Beach where she taught special education and her husband practiced law. Their son Barry had also stayed in Florida and was an electrical engineer with Florida Power and Light and his wife Laura was a nurse who worked at Hollywood Memorial Hospital. Each of their kids had three children.
During his father’s recovery, Trayger had taken over the hearing aid dispensing business that his father and mother had started years earlier after retiring and moving to Florida. His father had been a school psychologist and his mother had been a school secretary. Trayger’s father had gotten interested in hearing aids because his hearing had been damaged due to his military service in World War II. Before the 1970s, anyone could dispense hearing aids in Florida without a state license. As time passed hearing aids became more sophisticated and more instruments were being made by taking impressions of the ear. Administering hearing exams and taking impressions of taking impressions of ears required knowledge and skill. Taking an impression in the wrong manner could lead to serious injury. Because of these factors Trayger’s father had been instrumental in getting a hearing aid dispenser licensing law passed in the State of Florida. In order to be licensed, one had to serve an apprenticeship and pass written and practical exams. The other more formal path to licensure was to become an audiologist.
His father eventually recovered from his fall but by 2017 both of his and Ruth’s parents had passed away. After his father’s injury, Trayger found that he actually liked the hearing aid business and most of all, liked being self-employed. He obtained his license as a hearing aid specialist and became board certified.
Financially, Jack and Ruth Trayger were reasonably comfortable. When he turned sixty-six, Trayger decided to sell the practice to a national chain of hearing aid stores and retire. Between his pension from the Board of Education, Ruth’s pension from the state of Florida, and with what they saved along with the proceeds from the business sale, they would have enough money to live on.
On one of his last days in the office before the new company took over, an old customer, Fred Walker came into the store. Fred was eighty-seven years old and needed his hearing aids cleaned; he also bought some batteries. As Fred stood at the counter he started to let out gas. After fart number four Trayger asked, “What are you doing?” Walker: What do you mean?
Trayger: You know what I mean.
Trayger: We have a three fart rule in the store. After the third fart you have to go outside. I am going to have to get all of the chairs steam cleaned now.
Walker: You know what your problem is?
Walker: You hear too good.
Trayger closed the sale of his business and that afternoon gave his keys and the lease to the new owners. He was now officially retired.
14. Pension Envy
Did it come, Ruth? Trayger asked Ruth replied, “there is something here from the Board of Ed.” That should be it,” he said. “This is weird, there is no check but there is a letter from the New York State Pension Authority,” she answered. “According to this letter it says that you are not eligible for your pension because you did not meet all of the requirements. You put in for a leave of absence when you moved down here to help your folks, right?”
Trayger: Yeah, I was told I had enough time in for the pension when I left.
Ruth: The letter says you were originally hired as a substitute in September, 1974.
Trayger: Yes, I was a sub for a month and then I got officially appointed to the job.
Ruth: The month you worked as a substitute that September that does not count as full-time employment for earning a pension. You were hired under your history license in October. When they re-calculated your time in you came up a month short of the ten-year minimum you need to get your pension. Substitute teaching time does not count towards pension benefits.
Trayger: What? At the time they said it was OK.
Ruth: Those people who said that are probably retired or dead by now. They must have miscalculated the time. Look even if you knew this when your mom called it would not have made a difference in what you did. You would still have come down here to help your parents. Back then they used some old computers and they did a lot of stuff by hand.
Trayger: Let’s call them now.
Ruth: I’ll make the call.
Ruth: I can see that you are upset and you’ll go nuts.
Trayger: Well, wouldn’t you go just a little bit nuts?
Ruth: I’ll make the call.
Ruth: I’m on hold.
Trayger: Oh really, what a surprise, you mean the bureaucrats don’t answer the phone right away? If I ran my business that way I wouldn’t have had a business at all.
Ruth: What, oh wait, they just connected me. “Hi. I am Ruth Trayger and I am calling about the denial of the pension for Jack Trayger. Oh yes, I mean Jacob Trayger. I am his wife and he is right here. We got this letter that says he is not eligible to collect his pension and he is very upset. I think if you explain this to me it will be better than if you talk to him right now. Yes, he is right here, you want his number, his case number? I have that. What are his options? Oh, He can take a lump sum or, what was that?
Trayger: What did they say?”
Ruth: Wait, really, are they kidding?
Ruth: Well, given the two alternatives I’m sure he will just take the lump sum.
Ruth: Well the other alternative sounds ridiculous. Besides we live in Florida anyway. I am sure he will just take the lump sum but I will have to talk with him. I can’t make that decision, he has to. Ruth hung up the phone.
Trayger: What did they say? What are the two options?
Ruth: Sit down Jack.
Trayger: Well Jack, in their infinite wisdom the Pension Administration gives you two choices.
Trayger: And they are?
Ruth: You can take the lump sum (nodding her head up and down vigorously, showing her approval of that choice), or, well, the second choice is just too idiotic to even consider.
Trayger: What is it?
Ruth: You can go back and teach for one month.
Ruth: You can go back and they said you would be assigned to something they called a teacher reassignment center for the month and that would fulfill your requirements so you get the full pension.
Trayger: A rubber room.
Ruth: What is a rubber room?
Trayger: You never taught in New York City. They are formally called Teacher Reassignment Centers. These are places where those teachers who have been accused of incompetence or misconduct wait to be sent to another school. Because of the union contract it can take years to fire a teacher who has been accused of incompetence or misconduct. Some of the teachers are actually innocent but the process can take years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars because while they are there they are still being paid.
Ruth: What do they do all day?
Trayger: Nothing, most of the time they sit and do crossword puzzles, read books, exercise and just kill time.
Ruth: Are you kidding me?
Trayger: No, you can look it up. There was a documentary about it. Others are charged with inappropriate behavior. There were some cases where they were accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student but sometimes the charges could not be proved and the system grinds on with appeals and judgments and more appeals. The teachers are removed from the schools but the union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire a teacher no matter what they do. Given the appeals process, it is easier to assign teachers to do nothing while they continue to draw a paycheck than to actually terminate them. No one cares because it is taxpayers’ money anyway.
Ruth: You won’t want to do that, let’s just take the lump sum and be done with it.
Trayger: No, I’ll go back for the month.
Ruth: Why? We really don’t need it.
Trayger: Hey, you never know, the stock market can go down again. I earned every penny of that pension and I am not going to let them screw me out of it.
Ruth: We don’t really need the money. You took over the business from your folks and you just sold it.
Trayger: What did you say?
Ruth: I said we don’t need the money.
Looking grave and stricken Trayger said with mock seriousness, “don’t ever say anything like that to me again, ever, do you hear me? Never, ever.” Ruth laughed and shouted “yes sir.” That was her way of dealing with him when he got bossy. “Jack, be serious,” she said.
Trayger: I mean we are okay but this is only a month. Any normal person would do this. If I go back I get two thousand a month for life; if something happens to me I will take the plan where you will get it.
Ruth: What if they send you to a school? I heard about all of that stuff you used to say to the students from Alan Lewis and the other guys. You can’t get away with that sort of thing now. The kids all have cell phones and they will record anything you say. You watch the news and teachers are always getting caught for doing and saying stupid things. We don’t need it, Barry is an engineer and his wife is a nurse. Rachel teaches and her husband is a lawyer, they are doing fine.
Trayger: You never know what can happen with investments or the stock market. I want to protect you if something happens to me.
Ruth: But we really do not need it.
Trayger: Ruth, I earned it.
Ruth paused, looked at him and said, “I know you did.”
Trayger: I can stay with Alan Lewis. He could put me up for a while. Do you want to come; can you take some sick leave?
Ruth: I really can’t, I have to finish the classes. I just can’t leave.
Trayger: You’re right. I didn’t think about that.
Ruth: You know this will be the first time we will be away from each other in thirty-two years.
Trayger: I know, but it is only a month and I can fly down every other weekend.
Ruth: You know how I feel about flying.
Trayger: I know, but it actually might be interesting and I will get to see a lot of the people I used to work with.
Ruth: You mean like Harry?
Trayger: I know, I know, but I like him and underneath all of that he is a good guy. I almost forgot, Alan told me he ended up in a rubber room.
Ruth: What did he do?
Trayger: I don’t know exactly what happened, something he said, I never got the whole story.
15. The Teacher Reassignment Center.
A few days later Jack Trayger flew to New York. He was picked up at the airport by Alan Lewis, the former UFT chapter chairman. Alan had a basement apartment in his home on Long Island. He had retired a few years before as had nearly everyone Trayger had taught with except Harry Rabkin. When he came to Florida, Alan always stayed in a condo the Trayger’s owned in Boca Raton, Florida.
Lewis: I talked to Harry and he really wants to see you.
Trayger: Yeah me too, I will end up in the rubber room for a month.
Lewis: You mean a teacher reassignment center. As the former United Federation of Teachers chapter chairman at Andrew Jackson, we do not call it a rubber room. Harry ended up in a rubber room, I mean teacher reassignment center. He is the same. You remember his wedding? That marriage didn’t last too long. Trayger: Yeah I remember; do you know if she had to go back to China?
Lewis: I don’t know, she might still be here. You know green card and all that. Do you still speak Chinese?
Trayger: I am a little rusty.
Lewis: Better knock off that shit these days. Harry got lucky; you know that house he inherited? He got lucky. The house is in Park Slope and is now worth more than two million dollars. He rents apartments to some tenants. Harry thinks that you are doing the right thing.
Trayger: One month in the rubber room should be a piece of cake. How did Harry end up in the rubber, I mean teacher reassignment center?
Alan Lewis: I am not sure, something he said. Harry was teaching one of his classes and a kid walked in late and had an attitude. I think someone recorded him on a cell phone.
Trayger: I rented a car near your home; I have to pick it up tomorrow.
Alan Lewis: No problem.
The next day Trayger picked up the car and headed to Brooklyn. He drove on the Belt Parkway, so named because it wrapped around the circumference of Brooklyn like a belt. The Belt Parkway connected to other highways that went all around the outer edges of the other boroughs also. He drove and saw the Pennsylvania Avenue exit. All of this reminded him of his childhood in East New York, Brooklyn. He arrived at the Board of Education headquarters and went to the Office of Personnel where he showed his ID and letter that told him to report to the teacher reassignment center.
“Everything is in order Mr. Trayger, you can go to the rubber room, I’m sorry, I mean teacher reassignment center down the hall,” the clerk said.
When Trayger walked into the teacher reassignment room he was greeted by Harry Rabkin.
Rabkin: Hey, Jack, it is so good to see you. I heard about you coming back.
Trayger: How are you, Harry?
Trayger How long have you been assigned here?
Rabkin: Three years.
Trayger: Three years?
Rabkin: You know how efficient the process is.
Trayger: Yeah I know, well, are you going to tell me?
Trayger: How you got here.
16.The Mother of all Insults
Rabkin: Some kid came in late to class and I started to give it to him and I heard him say “you motherfucker.”
Rabkin: This is the way I remember it:
Rabkin: What did you say?
Student: you motherfucker.
Rabkin: What did you call me?
Student: You’re a motherfucker.
The class gasped at such open defiance.
Rabkin, shook his head in mock disapproval and said, “Your mother should have never told you.”
There was stunned silence. At first all of the students including the late comer were not quite sure what they had heard. After a few moments of silence, some of the students began to laugh; others were still confused. The students who had understood the implication explained it to others in the class and they all started to laugh but most still were astonished. A couple of moments later, the classroom erupted in loud laughter. History of a sort had been made. The student who had uttered the curse sat there in stunned silence attempting but unable or unwilling to completely process the exact meaning of Rabkin’s response and its ramifications. Unfortunately for Rabkin, one of the students had recorded him.
Trayger: So the kid complained.
Rabkin: No, the kid never did.
Rabkin: His mother.
Trayger and Rabkin spent the rest of the day talking and sharing old times. Other teachers joined in and they explained why they were there. Some of them had actually been featured in a documentary about the rubber room. As the days went on Trayger learned why some of the teachers had been assigned there.
Two of the teachers, Richard Fox and Joe Rizzo explained how they had entered the teacher’s room at their school. They saw that another teacher, Fred Kowalski, had left some test papers that he had just graded and were to be given back to the kids in his the next period class. Kowalski had written words of encouragement on the test papers such as “good work” or “nice improvement.” To students who had not done well, he wrote comments like, “needs improvement” and “try harder.” Fox and Rizzo started to write their own comments on the papers like, “you’re stupidt,” “ dumbass,” and “time to quit school” on the test papers. After the prank, Fox and Rizzo left the teacher’s room. A few moments later Kowalski returned to the room and picked up the test papers. When Kowalski began to hand out the papers to the students, they saw the insulting comments and began to object. Kowalski looked at the papers and saw the insulting remarks and realized that something was wrong and collected the papers. After reading the comments he assumed that a student had somehow gotten into the teacher’s room and had written the insults. He reported the incident to the principal who also assumed that a student had somehow broken into the teacher’s room.
Coincidently, this was the end of the third quarter marking period and the master grade sheets were also kept in the teacher’s room. The grade sheets were there so that the teachers could record all of the grades on the master grade sheets and then write them on the student report cards. This was done so that the report card grades matched the grades on the master grade sheets. The report cards were to be distributed to the students that Monday. Since it was obvious that a student had gotten into the room and had written the insulting comments on the test papers, two assistant principals had to spend the entire weekend checking every student’s report card grade against every grade that had been recorded on the master grade sheets in case the student had also tampered with the report cards also. Later it was learned that Fox and Rizzo had been the only people in the teacher’s room and it was concluded that they must have done this. There was no definitive proof but the victimized teacher, the two assistant principals, and the principal wanted them out of the school and both ended up in the rubber room until the allegations could be thoroughly investigated.
As the days went on he heard another story about another teacher, George French, who had been accused of calling in a bomb threat to his own school while on his way to work. He was accused of stopping at a grocery store on his way to work and calling the school saying, “you white motherfuckers, you gonna get blowed up.” He had assumed the person answering the phone would know it was a joke but by the time he had arrived the school was being evacuated and the bomb squad had been called to the school. The police had traced the call to the grocery store and French was identified by the owner of the store as the one who had used the phone. French denied making the call and because they could not definitively prove that he had made the call, he was assigned to the rubber room, which he accepted.
After three weeks of listening to the various stories, Trayger had to admit that some of them deserved to be fired but others, if you could believe them, seemed to be wrongly accused. They were all being paid full teacher’s salaries and getting benefits. Trayger told Rabkin that he was bored with it and wished he could be put to better use. He started to volunteer to run errands or do paperwork.
At the end of each day, Trayger would drive through the traffic out to Long Island. He would meet Alan Lewis and other former colleagues at the East Bay Diner on Merrick Road. “There is nothing like New York diners,” Trayger said.
Joyce Foley, who had been a dean at Jackson and was now retired showed up. Eugene London also came. Harry Rabkin drove out from Brooklyn with Jeff Russo, who had become a guidance counselor at an elementary school. They all talked about politics, education, their children, and in some cases their grandchildren. They spoke about the trips and cruises they had gone on. They also talked about former colleagues who had passed away. Some spoke of the different medical problems they had experienced as they aged. Eugene London summed it up best when he said, “When we were in our twenties we talked about all of the girls we slept with, whether they were true or false. In our thirties we talked about our kids and our marriages. Now when we get together we talk about who can take a piss.” Everyone laughed. The group met there every other night to continue reminiscing about the “bad old days”, which actually brought back some good memories also. Trayger called Ruth every day; he told her how much he missed her and she told him that she missed him too.
17.Back to Jackson.
After three weeks in the Teacher Reassignment Center, running errand and doing paperwork, Trayger was nearly finished with the month. That Monday of the last week, a clerk came in to the rubber room and handed him an envelope. Inside there was a letter that explained that he was to report to Andrew Jackson High School the next day. A pregnant history teacher had developed a condition that required complete bed rest for a week or two. It was nothing serious but the doctors felt that she needed to be off her feet just to be sure. This meant that Andrew Jackson needed a history teacher. Because Trayger had taught history, and was not assigned to the teacher reassignment center due to any alleged misbehavior, it was determined that he would be of best use to the school system if he reported to the school the next day to fill in for the absent teacher. He was told to report to an assistant principal named Elena Vasquez.
When he was told of his new assignment Trayger felt a combination of relief and some trepidation. He had not been in a classroom for more than thirty years.
Rabkin: I am going to miss you Jack, I really enjoyed this time together.
Trayger: Me too but this doing nothing is driving me crazy, just sitting around.
Rabkin: Not me, I like it, I asked if I could bring in a mattress to sleep on but they told me no.
That Tuesday, Trayger drove west on the Southern State Parkway and went north on the Cross Island Parkway. He got off at Linden Boulevard in Elmont and drove west into Queens. He reported to Andrew Jackson High School as directed. He showed his assignment papers to school security and after passing through metal detectors he was told to go to the assistant principal’s office. The place looked the same but there were video cameras all throughout the school that helped maintain discipline. He was greeted by Elena Vasquez, the assistant principal. Vasquez: I am the assistant principal and you will be working as part of the history department that I supervise. Trayger sensed some hostility in her tone and attitude.
Trayger: I am pleased to meet you.
Vasquez: You don’t remember me do you?
Trayger: No, should I?
Vasquez: I was a student here when you were teaching.
Trayger: I don’t remember the name.
Vasquez: I had a different last name.
Trayger was going to respond to the evident hostility by asking her whether she was a transsexual and had been a man but he had promised his wife Ruth that he would behave.
Trayger: Did you get married?
Vasquez: Yes, I am married.
Vasquez: You can cut out the phony politeness. I remember you and how rude you were. I was there when you ridiculed the Chinese kid.
Trayger: He refused to sit down when I addressed him in English so I communicated with him in his native language. He must have understood because he sat down right away.
Vazquez: Right, and I was in the classroom right next to the boy’s room and I remember how you would say all of those homophobic things.
Trayger: What do you mean homophobic? Everything I said referred to the cigarettes those boys had in their mouths and nothing else. You misconstrued what I said. You must have a dirty mind.
Vasquez: I know what I heard and I know just what you were doing. I just want to tell you something before we even get started. All of that stuff you said and did doesn’t fly here anymore. These students will record you even if you think they do not have cell phones. I know about the four days left and your situation. Do one thing wrong and I will report you. We do not humiliate our students here like you used to. This is for your own good as well as the feelings of the students.
Trayger: Oh dear, will the little snowflakes melt?
Vasquez: Alright, alright, I see that you have not changed your ways. If I have to deal with you for four more days so be it. I have a teacher on maternity leave.
Trayger: Male or female.
Trayger: Are you sure? I was just checking,
Vasquez: What difference would that make?
Trayger: None to me but you know these days anything is possible.
Vasquez, exasperated said: Alright, enough already, I know you worked under a history license so you can teach her history classes. They will assign someone here when you finish at the end of the week.
Trayger: Yeah, no problem.
Vasquez: You can cover her five history classes and work one period in the dean’s office. Hopefully the time will pass quickly for both of us.
Trayger: Agreed. When do I start?
Vasquez: One of her history classes is about to start next period.
Trayger: Okay, which class is it?
Vasquez: American History..
The class was up to the American Revolution and Trayger knew that subject well. He started the class with a do now assignment and when the students entered the room he introduced himself. He went over the do now and began to teach about how the British Army had to use hired troops from Germany called Hessians because their army was not as good as their navy. He taught about the divisions in the colonies over the rebellion and the different cultures and religious beliefs that existed.
Vasquez watched the lesson from outside the room and saw that the students seemed attentive and interested. Trayger asked the students a lot of questions and called on many different students, even the ones who did not have their hands up. He did not seem to permit any nonsense in the class and when a student started to act up Trayger told him to move to a desk right in front of him instead of putting him at the back of the room like most other teachers would have done. In this manner, Trayger could more closely supervise the student and correct any nonsense. He had them take out their books and called on some of them to read out loud and corrected their pronunciation. Trayger also kept the kids busy with a lot of writing and looking up concepts and words by using the book index and glossary.
Over the next two days, Vasquez observed that while his teaching methods were old fashioned and teacher directed she had to concede that they seemed to work. Trayger always had a do now assignment on the board and as soon as the students walked in they were expected to get to work when they entered his class. He told the students that he believed in the direct instruction method and gave the students a lot of in class writing assignments. He used old school methods but they seemed to work and his classes seemed to be under control. Vazquez had to admit that he seemed effective.
There was not much for him to do in the dean’s office so Trayger patrolled the halls. Andrew Jackson had been officially closed and then reopened as a school with far fewer students than when he had been there. There were still hall roamers but because of the video cameras, security could respond to them more quickly.. One day as he entered the dean’s office, Ms. Jones, a guidance counselor, came in and said to Ms. Vasquez, “Laura James is here with her mother. We have the conference scheduled in a few minutes.”
Trayger: What is this about?
Vasquez: This student Laura James is here with her mother for a conference where we will ask her to accept a transfer for Laura to the Cambria Heights Learning Annex.
Trayger: What did she do?
Vasquez: She doesn’t go to class a lot of the time and just wanders the halls. One of the security cameras caught her trying to open an outside door to let intruders in the building.
Trayger: Is she a hall roamer?
Vasquez: I guess you could call her that.
Trayger: What measures have you taken so far?
Vasquez: We have had numerous conferences with her and her mother but she keeps cutting class.
The official cause of the hearing was that Laura attempted to let intruders in the building and was an offense that she could be expelled for. When questioned, Laura denied she was letting intruders in “I was just leaving the building,” she said. The parental conference was mandated by the Board before an expulsion hearing could be held in Brooklyn. If Laura’s mother signed off on her transfer to the Cambria Heights Learning Annex, the formal hearing would not have to be held and the school would be rid of her. Most likely, Laura would never go to the learning annex and based on past statistics, she would most likely drop out.
Trayger: Is she a troublemaker? I mean is she a mean kid, does she hurt people?
Vasquez: No, not that I know of, she just does not go to class much except lunch.
Trayger: You mind if I sit in with you on this?
Trayger: I just want to see how these things are handled today, if you don’t mind.
Vasquez: I guess so, but you are only supposed to listen and not to speak at all.
Trayger: I would like to look at her disciplinary record and her academic grades.
The record revealed that Laura James would come to school on some days and skip school other days. She would attend a class here and there and not go to others. She would eat lunch and then just walk the halls and often just left the building. Based on her test scores, Laura was intelligent enough to do well in all of her subjects if she actually went to class and did some work.
After looking at the records, Trayger walked into the office and saw Laura waiting with her mother. He guessed that part of her problem was how pretty she was. Girls who looked like Laura got more than their share of attention from boys. Laura looked at school as a place for socializing and did not care about getting an education. Sometimes she stayed in the cafeteria for all three lunch periods.
“Good morning, I am Ms. Vasquez the assistant principal and this is Mr. Trayger, who is also working in the dean’s office. If it is alright with you, he will sit in on this conference.” Mrs. James nodded her approval and said it was alright with her.
Vasquez started the conference and went over Laura’s attendance record. Laura sat there and looked defiant and uncooperative. Vasquez told Mrs. James that it would be in Laura’s best interest if she left Jackson and was sent to the Cambria Heights Learning Annex. The less formal setting also had on line classes that Laura could complete from home. This might be more suitable for her since she did not seem to want to go to class. Vasquez knew that if Mrs. James signed the paper the school hearing in Brooklyn would not be necessary. Mrs. James seemed to be willing to sign the expulsion papers. “Maybe this would be for the best,” Mrs. James said. Trayger could see that she had deep sense of sadness and final resignation. She seemed to know that Laura would probably drop out but she was tired and weary of being called up to the school and was ready to give up and sign the papers. Once she signed the papers, Laura would be officially transferred from Andrew Jackson High School to the Learning Annex. Everyone in the room knew that Laura would most likely continue her ways and never even show up to the Annex. Perhaps in the future she could earn a General Equivalency Degree or G.E.D.
Trayger listened to Ms. Vasquez outlining the value of the Cambria Heights Learning Annex and said: “Mrs. James, do you mind if I ask Laura a question?”
Vasquez glared at him with obvious disapproval.
Mrs. James said, “yes, go ahead.”
Looking directly at Laura, Trayger said, “Laura, I have been listening now and I read your record and I have only one question for you.” “What’s that?” Laura asked with a snide tone and defiant look.
Trayger: Why do you hate your mother?
“What?” Laura responded with a look of shock and outrage.
Vasquez also looked shocked and was about to interrupt Trayger.
Trayger: “Why do you hate your mother?”
Vasquez was taken aback and almost interrupted Trayger but decided to wait and see how Laura answered the question. Laura looked angry and protested that she loved her mom.
Trayger: Once again, why do you hate your mother?
Laura: I don’t hate my mom, I love my mom.
Trayger: No you don’t, you’re a liar. I know that you hate your mother and I want to know why. Your mother seems like a nice lady to me and I want to know why you hate her so much.
Laura: I love my mom.
Trayger: Does your mom beat you?
Trayger: Does she work hard to provide for you?
Trayger: So what is that she does to make you hate her so much?
Laura: I don’t hate my mom, I love my mom.
Trayger: Yeah sure. Mrs. James, how do you feel about having to come to school and dealing with what Laura does? How do you feel about Laura skipping all the classes and failing everything?
Mrs. James: It hurts me so bad that she is doing this. I’ve tried my best to get her to do right but she won’t listen to me. I work hard every day so that she has food and clothes and a place to live. I tell her to get educated but she won’t listen to me. This is breaking my heart and I cry about this all of the time. Mrs. James started to cry as she spoke and Trayger gave her a tissue. Mrs. James wiped her eyes. Trayger folded his arms and gave Laura a stern look.
Trayger: Yeah, I can see you really love your mom. Look at what you are doing to her. At least admit that you hate her. When someone loves someone they do not hurt them like this. You are making your mom cry so don’t tell me you love her. You hate her and I want to know why. I never did this to my mom or dad. Ms. Vazquez, did you ever do this to your mom?
Vasquez said in a quiet voice: “No.”
Trayger: Laura, I think that you hate your mom because you don’t care how you make her feel. You would rather stay in the lunchroom all day and hang out in the halls with a bunch of losers than use the opportunity she’s providing for you. I see from the record that your mom has been here for the same thing over and over.
Mrs. James wiped her eyes again but tears were welling up. As she watched her mother cry, Laura’s arrogant attitude began to fade and she looked upset. She tried to fight it but a few tears formed in Laura’s eyes. She slowly began to cry.
Laura: I don’t hate my mom, I love my mom.
Trayger: Anyone can say they love someone, but it is not what you say that matters, it is what you do. I have been married for thirty-two years and I know. I have two kids of my own. They never did what you do and I never did this to my mother and father. What you do is to hurt your mom and you make her cry and you don’t care. You hate her so much and I want to know why, what did she ever do to you that causes you to hate her so much?
Laura fought it but she lost control and was crying. Trayger waited a little and said, “Mrs. James, would you please tell Laura exactly what you want her to do.” Mrs. James, softly sobbing, looked at Laura and told her, “I want you to go to class and do your work.” Laura, now crying loudly, reached out to hug her mom. “I’m sorry Mom, I’m sorry.” Laura said. She and her mom hugged and both were crying. Vasquez remained silent. Laura, still crying, hugged her mom and promised that she would go to class and do her work.
Trayger: What class are you supposed to be in now, Laura?
Trayger: Ms. Vasquez, would you please give Laura a late pass to her English class?
Vasquez wrote a late pass and Laura dabbed her eyes, hugged her mom, and left to go to class still crying.
Trayger: Mrs. James, I am sorry that this had to happen.
Mrs. James: No, please don‘t be sorry. I am glad you said what you said. I want her to finish school and not end up like me, working three jobs just to make ends meet.
Trayger: She is probably going to have to go to summer school and make up the missed work if she intends to graduate. What I would suggest is a report card that each teacher signs every day. I think we need some back up on this with one of the guidance counselors and someone needs to check up on Laura every day to make sure she is where she is supposed to be. We should have the office make up the daily report card to prove that Laura went to class and the teachers will rate her work each day so you can see she is making progress.
Mrs. James: Mr. Trayger, could you be the dean who checks up on her?
Trayger: I am only going to be here until the end of the week. I think it will be best if Ms. Vasquez signs it at the end of each day and Laura needs to bring it home for you to sign. The school will need to see your signature on the previous day’s card. Please sign your name here so we can see your signature in case Laura gets creative.
Mrs. James: You said you won’t be here; where are you going to be?
Trayger: It’s a long story but I actually live in Florida.
Mrs. James: Thank you, Mr. Trayger. We have seen so many people but you’re the only one who ever got through to her. Thank you so much. I wish you were staying.
Trayger: Thank you for saying that and deep down while I think Laura’s gotten off track, the fact that she got upset shows me that she cares about you. I think there is hope because she has a conscience.
Mrs. James stood up and shook hands with Trayger. She said. “I want to thank you for caring about her.”
Trayger: I have kids too. Both of them gave us some issues in high school. They drove us a little nuts but they turned out fine. I think Laura will too.
Mrs. James hugged Trayger and then left the office and headed out of the school.
Vasquez: In all the years I have been teaching I have never seen anything like that.
Trayger: I don’t doubt it.
Vasquez: I mean that was one of the most insensitive things I have ever seen.
Trayger: Some of these kids don’t think about anyone but themselves. I remember all of those idiot psychologists who used to say it was a lack of self-esteem but I think these kids have too much self-esteem and don’t give a damn about anyone else but themselves. That is why this society is so fouled up. This was necessary and in the long run if Laura goes to school and graduates it will have been worth it.
Vasquez: Where did you learn that?
Trayger: From my father. Anyone can say they love you but it is what you do that makes love real, not what you say.
Vasquez: Well, I don’t know that I like what you did but I have to admit it did seem to get to Laura. I guess this is better for her than the Learning Annex; that is if it holds. I hope it does..
Trayger: Me too.
The bell rang and the school day was over.
18. Last Day.
Finally, it was Friday, Trayger’s last day. A city councilman would be visiting the school. He entered the building and went over to Mrs. Vasquez’s office to say hello. He knew her because he also had gone to Andrew Jackson High School at the same time she had.
Vasquez: It is so good to see you, how are you?
Randy Brown: I am fine, how are you?
Vasquez: Wonderful. Things are good. Oh, by the way, do you remember Mr. Jack Trayger?
Brown: I certainly do. I heard that he was here, some sort of pension thing.
Vasquez: The board screwed up with their calculations about his pension. This is his last day. Wasn’t he the one who got you kicked out of this school?
Brown: Yeah, he and Mr. Rabkin.
Vazquez: I remember that.
Brown: I came here to thank him.
Brown: I am here to thank him.
Vasquez: Thank him, thank him for what, wasn’t he the one who got you kicked out? You had to leave Jackson and go to the Learning Annex, didn’t you?
Brown: Not exactly.
Vasquez: What, I mean how, what, what are you talking about?
Randy Brown: I remember that Mr. Trayger and Mr. Rabkin were already at 65 Court Street in Brooklyn the morning of the hearing when my mom and I came in. Mr. Trayger told my mom how sorry he was about the whole thing and said that he thought it worked out for the best. My mom said that it was not his fault. We all went into the hearing office. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. The hearing officer’s name was, I think it was someone named Claire something or other. I never knew how she got assigned but I was lucky she was the hearing officer.
Randy Brown: I remember it like it was yesterday:
19.Expulsion Hearing for Randy Brown.
Claire Braddock: This is an expulsion hearing for Randolph Brown. Randolph is an eleventh-grade student at Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, Queens. Randolph Brown has been accused of bringing an illegal weapon to school: in this case, a knife. As required by law this hearing will be recorded.
Trayger: Here is the written report of the incident and the confiscated item. Mr. Rabkin is here to testify that he found the weapon in Randolph’s book bag.
Claire Braddock: Mr. Rabkin, how did you come to find this in the student’s book bag?
Rabkin: It kind of just fell out.
Hearing Officer: May I see the knife please?
Rabkin: Here it is.
Claire Braddock: I call for an immediate recess. Randolph, Mrs. Brown, would you two please leave the room? You too, Mr. Rabkin. Mr. Trayger, could you stay behind please.
Randy Brown: After the recess we came back in. Claire Braddock: Randolph, what is this, is it a knife or a tool? Randy Brown: It is a tool.
Claire Braddock: Randolph, in your own words, please tell us what happened. How did you come to bring this to school?
Randy Brown: I was helping my neighbor install some carpet after school. He gave me this tool to help him open some boxes, too. I guess I put it in my book bag and forgot about it; the next day I accidentally brought it to school.
Claire Braddock: So Randolph, you admit bringing this to school?
Randy Brown: Well, yeah, but I didn’t know I had it.
Claire Braddock: Mr. Rabkin?
Rabkin: That’s what he told me at the time.
Claire Braddock: Well, this young man seems to have a clean record. This all seems to be an honest mistake. I think that the best course of action would be to permit this youngster to return to Andrew Jackson since there is no proof of malicious intent. Mr. Trayger, do you have an objection?
Trayger: Yes, I have an objection. If you let him back into our school, what’s to stop other students from bringing weapons to school and just claiming that they are just tools? We can’t function in a situation like that. Discipline would be impossible to maintain.
Claire Braddock: Yes, Mr. Trayger, you certainly have a point. Well, I am not sure he will find another school that will accept him. So he will probably end up at the Cambria Heights Learning Annex.
Mrs. Brown: If another school will accept him, can he go there?
Claire Braddock: Yes, but because he was caught with a knife it might be impossible.
Mrs. Brown: I’ll go along with what everyone thinks is fair.
Claire Braddock: In that case, this is what we’ll do. We will withhold judgment and we won’t find Randolph officially guilty of the offense, but he will be permanently removed from Andrew Jackson. Any objections; Mr. Trayger, Mr. Rabkin, Mrs. Brown?
Trayger: That is fine. As long as he doesn’t come back to Jackson I have no problem.
Claire Braddock: If Mrs. Brown and Randy can find another high school that will accept her son, then it is the order of the New York City Board of Education that he can attend school there. Furthermore, if Randolph Brown cannot find another school in Queens that will accept him, he will be assigned to the Cambria Heights Learning Annex. I am Hearing Officer Claire Braddock and I declare that this hearing has now ended.
Randy Brown: After we left the hearing room, Mr. Rabkin shook hands with me and whispered something to my mom. She came over to Mr. Trayger and shook his hand and hugged him.
Mrs. Brown: Mr. Rabkin told me what you did for my son and I want to thank you.
Trayger: Good luck, Randy.
Vasquez: But why did you guys have to do all this?
Randy Brown: A few days before the knife, I mean the tool incident I was outside on Hillside Avenue and I saw some little kid being beat up by some other kids, so I broke it up. One of the kids who was doing the bullying had an older brother who was part of the Hillsiders gang. The cops came but I wouldn’t tell them what happened. Because I had broken up the fight but I did not tell the cops anything the Hillsiders wanted me in their gang. I had a choice, I could either join the gang or I could get the shit kicked out me every day. If that didn’t work, I knew it would be worse. I told Mr. Rabkin about it and he told Mr. Trayger. It was Mr. Trayger who came up with the knife-tool thing.
Vasquez: What do you mean the knife-tool thing?
Trayger: I never brought it to school.
Randy Brown: Yeah, I never did, I think it was Trayger’s. He and Rabkin knew that the quickest way to get me out of the school was for me to be expelled. They talked to my mom and she agreed. Trayger knew something about some hearing officer he had dealt with before. I never fully knew what they were up to. They arranged for the whole thing and they told us to just keep quiet.
Vasquez: But why couldn’t you just transfer out due to your being threatened.
Randy Brown: Are you kidding me? You know how long that would take with the bureaucracy? This had to be done in the fastest way or I would have had to stop going to school.
Vasquez: I see.
Randy Brown: So many students wanted to get out of Jackson and everyone had a good reason. The quickest way to get me out of there was to get me expelled. Mr. Trayger and Mr. Rabkin made up the whole thing and they took the knife to the hearing. I admitted to bringing it to school. Trayger talked to a friend of his who was a dean at Bayside High School and explained the situation to him. The two of them arranged for the principal there to let me in. I was able to finish high school at Bayside and I got into college. After that I went to law school. Teachers at Bayside helped us find a place to live and my whole family got out of here. Like I said, I don’t think I could have made it here.
Vasquez: You guys kept a good secret.
Randy Brown: No one, not even Dr. Johnson knew what was going on except me and my Mom and them. Like I said, I think they saved my life and I was not the only one they did it for. There were others too. They got a bunch of people out of there who were being threatened. I was sorry to hear that he had to leave.
Vasquez: Yeah, I guess you would have been.
Trayger walked into the dean’s office and was immediately given a warm greeting by Randy Brown. Vasquez left the room to give the two some privacy. Over her radio a voice said, “There are a group of boys smoking in the bathroom.”
Vasquez: I hate to interrupt you two but there are some boys smoking in the boy’s room.
Trayger: Why don’t you go in there and get them to stop?
Vasquez: I can’t go in the boy’s bathroom.
Trayger: I thought these days anyone can use any bathroom they want to.
Vasquez frowned, but Randy Brown laughed.
Trayger: Okay, I’ll do it.
Vasquez: None of that anti-gay stuff, please.
Trayger: No, me, of course not, I‘ve changed.
Trayger slammed the bathroom door open and barged in. He saw a couple of boys at the urinals with cigarettes in their mouths. Three other boys were also smoking. . In as loud a voice as he could and so that everyone in the nearest classrooms could hear Trayger yelled, “What is going on in here? Get those things out of your mouth. What do you boys think you are doing in here? You, pull your pants up and stand up straight and put that thing away. What would your parents think if they saw what you boys are putting into your mouths and doing with each other in the boy’s bathroom? You all should be ashamed of yourselves. Get that out of your mouth and you there, stand up straight and put it back where it belongs. You, you there, I don’t ever want to see you boys doing this again. What you boys do with each other is your own business but we don’t go for this kind of thing around here. This isn’t a rest stop on the highway, you know.” Vasquez looked shocked and could not believe it. Trayger was doing just what he had done thirty-three years before.
As they were leaving, Trayger said. “boys, just one more thing, I just want to say that I think you should be able to do what you want with each other and get married. We just don’t want you boys to do these things in school.”
The boys threw their cigarettes out and ran out of the bathroom as fast as they could. Randy Brown, who had been the student who was waiting to use the bathroom thirty-three years before, started to laugh. Vasquez, against her will, smiled, but slightly.