Teaching someone to fish...
(3. What level of interest does the nominee show in advising and mentoring students and expanding their development outside the classroom?)
Already noted in other parts of this website is the fact that I'm not a spotlight person. I'm more behind the scenes. I also like to get to the source of the problem more than cleaning up the mess. That's not to say I'm not able to handle being the center of attention or that I leave things in an untidy state. But the process of taking stock of my teaching life has been eye opening and I have learned a lot about myself and my students as a result.
I asked four students who had taken classes with me in years past to talk about what they've carried away with them after working with me. I was gratified and honored that each and every one of them jumped at the chance and responded.
The heading of this section refers to the old axiom about helping people help themselves. Giving fish to feed a hungry person tidies up. Teaching them to fish for themselves solves the problem. I like that.
This is particularly poignant for me because it reminds me of when I was in eighth grade and Mr. Jennings asked me to give an answer to yet another set of algebra problems that I had neglected to do for homework. While I was stalling rather than admitting that I hadn't done the work, he asked me if I was related to Izaak Walton. I said I didn't know who Izaak Walton was. He responded "500 words tomorrow." I went to the library and produced an oral report on the first English language published sport fisherman's guide called The Compleat Angler. Thus, my love for history was born in Algebra class. Thank you, Mr. Jennings.
Thank you, also, to the following students…
I remember that you used to give out nickels to everyone whose name you forgot. You never gave out many nickels. You only had to give up only five or six in the course of our whole history class.
I remember the way you always got so excited when you spoke of the Latin classes you were attending and your experiences with China and learning Mandarin. You are the only one of my teachers that has been such an active student while also being a teacher. One could see that you were passionate about what you were learning and that you were eager to share that knowledge.
When I heard that the 7th grade history curriculum would focus on New York, I was very disappointed. I was interested in knights and the Crusades. I predicted a dull year ahead; that was occupied with drawn out, in depth, looks at material about British colonization that I already knew about, but I was very much mistaken. You changed everything. We spent time studying dynamic figures in New York history that I would never had known existed. We studied Tammany Hall and the rising immigrant Irish class. I learned what the “third degree” actually was and you did your amazing impressions of policemen. You made the world of organized crime come to life and together we studied the implications of the prohibition with a sense of excitement and fervor for learning that I had never felt before. I still remember the one day you patiently coached us through the New York riots that occurred during the Civil War. We spent the whole period examining those few days in detail and at the end of it I felt like an expert. I still have that sheet because I could not bear to throw it out.
I remember when we took our trip across the Brooklyn Bridge. We spent a week studying it and a few days just learning about the architecture of the houses that we were going to look at. I talked about houses for a week afterward. I still attempt to analyze houses by seeing if they have Roman windows or not. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time and afterwards we got to the South Street Seaport. I remember it fondly as the best field trip of my life.
When it was time to take our first finals you handed out detailed review sheets and reminded us it only counted for 1/7 of our final grade. You patiently answered questions and assured us that “yes, we would be able to identify which landmark corresponded to which number on the test”. None of it really calmed me down, but when I saw that the directions for the test included drawing happy faces in the corners of pages, suddenly everything was okay. It remains the best grade that I have ever gotten on a final.
Throughout the years I have often referenced what I have learned in your class. I have many more memories of J.P. Morgan, the many times New York has had Great Fires, cholera, the sensationalist Newspaper Wars, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the Grid system for New York (1811), and P.T. Barnum and his egress. I have thought often of our days in class together and I miss 7th grade dearly.
- Winta Z., HM Class of 2012
Mr. Brooks is the most encouraging teacher I have ever had. He taught me to think in new ways that really helped me mature as a student. I had Mr. Brooks for two years as a history teacher, and of all the lessons I have learned from him, there is one that pops into my head every time I pick up a pen: “Less is more.” Mr. Brooks taught me to write concisely and persuasively. This skill has been invaluable to me and always will be. Can you tell?
- Lori D., HM Class of 2011
Hormones start kicking in around the tender age of twelve and thirteen. Girls start shoving their faces in mirrors and makeup. They bathe lashes in mascara, which sometimes is caked into eyelids from overuse. They wet their lips with pink-red gloss, almost to a bloody effect. They text under the desk, behind books and in backpacks, praying the teacher will not look at them, that they won’t be called on. But even with the hormones kicking in, New York History was my favorite class.
“What is the main idea behind these terms? What connects them together?” A quiet yet attention-drawing voice would always lure me into thinking. Tammany Hall, Boss Tweed, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Irish immigrants. As I peeked through the generously sized window, I could see my friends having trouble staying awake in the Science Room. Oh, well. John Roebling was waiting for me to connect him to the Irish immigrants. I didn’t have time to spare when it came to New York History.
Mr. Brooks has taught me three important notions that perhaps many teachers ignore: don’t be discouraged when obstacles present themselves, but persist. It’s not easy but we come out stronger and smarter. Always think about the big picture. Although helpful in History, that concept always supported me when I was down. I learned to disregard a bad grade, but rather move on. A ‘B’ on my essay wasn’t going to kill me. I should learn what I did wrong and do better. And lastly, Mr. Brooks taught me the most important idea: to try to have fun through all.
So often students, stricken by their troubles (i.e: fighting with friends, a bad grade on a test) forget to enjoy their time in school. Things will always work out if your mind is in it. Mr. Brooks’ notions still helps me when my day has been bad. They will continue to help throughout the rest of my academic and actual career. Along with these notions, his classes were simply fun. I walked away from his classes, enchanted by all the new information I learned that way. Mr. Brooks is not only a knowledgeable, understanding teacher, but a teacher who also knows what being a teenager is like. Therefore, Mr. Brooks remains my favorite, most respected teacher.
- Adela K., HM Class of 2012
They always say that a picture is worth a thousand words. There are pictures that you create, pictures that you look at, and pictures that you remember - projects, art, and memories. But is writing a thousand words for each enough? For quantity's sake, possibly. But pictures, especially the ones that you remember, are worth a lot more than three pages worth of tiny black and white print.
Mr. Brooks was my seventh grade English teacher, a man of smiles and greying hair and enthusiasm in a small room with angular tables pieced together to create a jagged puzzle. He had a handwriting, albeit rushed and scrawled, all of his own. He would walk around the awkwardly formed puzzle of a table and place his large hands on the shoulders of a boy, or lift them up into the air, or brush them against the back of a girl almost comfortingly, as if he were part of your own family. He never ceased to find something else that excited him or caused him to return with a questionable point or create a twenty minute discussion on a subject that felt off-topic, but at the same time never leaving the boundaries of the conversation. I remember him personally as a man who loved and longed for life.
My memories of him are small and rather insignificant, but obviously not insignificant enough for me to forget them. I remember getting an A on a continuation of Lord of the Flies that I had literally spent fifteen minutes on. I remember wondering what it'd be like if he were my age. Maybe we'd be friends. Or maybe just acquaintances that longed to know one another, but never finding a reason to. I remember drawing in my writing notebook rather than writing. When I did write, it was to completely bash Lord of the Flies. I did so partially to see if he would ever become annoyed or tired of me. (It didn't work.) I remember reenacting Romeo and Juliet, trying to act as best as I could with a language that almost didn't seem to be an ancestor of modern-day English. He would always watch with a hint of a smile in his eyes, and yet it was impossible to know what he was thinking. I remember having an argument with him about the grammatical correctness of an extra comma that I found was not necessary when used. I remember a passion and a closeness to Catcher in the Rye, the only book that I even seemed to enjoy that year. He had an air of mysteriousness to me. He was the teacher that everyone wanted to know, to talk to. And yet at the same time he was almost above it all, keeping things to himself.
At the time, I wasn't sure whether or not I respected him or wanted to disturb him, to see if he could act any differently than the cheerful, enthusiastic personality that everyone saw. Looking back on it now, and all my other previous English teachers, I have realized that he has been a great influence on me and my writing, and that he has made my English experience the best out of all my school years. The little nuances of seventh grade English aren't exactly what people think about when sitting in a musty old chair mulling over his or her midlife crisis. But, you do have to admit they contributed to your sitting in that musty old chair in the first place. Even now, I recognize they've changed my life. And so has Mr. Brooks, in that small conference room with the puzzle table, with his large, comforting hands writing in his personal handwriting on the whiteboard. Thank you.
- Mia F., HM Class of 2013
I was fortunate enough to be in Mr. Brooks’ history class in grades 7 and 8; now a jaded 12th grader, I fondly look back on those happy days. They were certainly “happy” days as Mr. Brooks’ classroom was unfailingly a happy one, even in the face of academic and social anxiety common amongst many preparatory middle schools. He quelled our anxieties about the dreaded “bad grades”, pulled us back down to Earth (where a B is actually not apocalyptic), and replaced those anxieties with a genuine interest in our academic explorations. In so visibly loving the cloisters, the subway, Charlemagne and Boss Tweed, among other historical events and figures, he inspired his students to do the same. We were never punished for experimentation in our writing or for our more eccentric questions and so we were unintimidated by history.
What I remember most vividly, though it was the least tangible aspect of Mr. Brooks’ class, is how clearly glad he was to teach us everyday. Never was there a trace of cynicism, blasé or frustration in his teaching- and young students are surprisingly sensitive to such attitudes in their teachers. Mr. Brooks was thus able to gain the rare and excellent combination of respect from and camaraderie with his students. I was comfortable in his class. I was understood, personally and academically. And please do ask me how to say “the big apple” in mandarin because he taught me how.
- Amelia R., HM Class of 2010
Mr. Brooks was the most engaging teacher I had at Horace Mann. I had him for seventh grade History, and eighth grade English. In both classes he taught our class how to apply our knowledge in a constructive manner. He taught us literary terms, as well as ways to observe historical documents and literature with a keen eye. When preparing for my junior US History term paper I reflected on my time in Mr. Brooks’ New York City history class, which enraptured me. I remembered learning about the creation of Central Park, and the destruction of Seneca Village. I realized that that particular topic was when I first began my strong interest in history, and decided to write my paper on it. I wrote to Mr. Brooks to ask him for any documents he had, and he so kindly sent me many primary source documents which are not available on the internet. Mr. Brook’s class will forever leave an imprint in my mind, for he helped me discover my love of history.
- Becca S., Hotchkiss (formerly HM) Class of 2011
My main memory of having Mr. Brooks as a teacher in middle school was his amazing advice. No matter what problems I had I knew that he could solve them. Our English class became like a family. Every day we learned something new about grammar or how to improve our writing, and Mr. Brooks was there to guide us. I remember once we had to write a memoir about something in our lives that was important to us. I wrote about my family in Uruguay, how much I missed them and how nice it was to spend Christmas time with them. But Mr. Brooks saw through it. With his help I was able to really open up and get my feelings down on paper. I wrote about how awkward it was seeing people I barely knew, and how sometimes I felt like we spoke totally different languages (metaphorically, because in reality we did speak different languages). This felt like a turning point in my writing where I learned to be true to my experience and not be embarrassed to say how I feel.
His kind way of giving advice and encouragement inspired me to achieve. Mr. Brooks accepted us exactly as we were and only saw the good in people. The way class was held, everyone had something to say and conversations about one sentence in the grammar book could take up a whole class. Our little English class on the third floor evolved into a community where students could share ideas and personal experiences that I’ll never forget.
- Clara P., HM Class of 2013
Hopefully, you remember teaching me in both seventh and eighth grade; once in history, and once in English. What an excellent opportunity this is not only for you to hear from your students, but also for your students to share their memories of your classes. There definitely is something that I recall that has made a major impact on me. To be honest, it's not the history or the English material that I still consider daily, but rather the value of mutual respect. I never understood the true meaning of this until you demonstrated it.
Throughout middle school, let's just say, I wasn't the best behaved student. I'm not saying I would cause riots in classrooms or anything, I just didn't really give my teachers as much respect as I could have. The only reason I would moderate my behavior was that I feared the possibility that my poor behavior would ultimately lead to my getting into trouble with my parents, whom I did respect. My teachers were feared, not respected. The reason for my lack of respect towards them stemmed only from their lack of respect for me.
When I got to seventh grade, I was finally astonished by a teacher who actually respected his students. Having previously met no such teacher, I had come to the conclusion that there were no teachers like this. I was wrong. You demonstrated this value in its entirety. One specific instance which I remember vividly was when a girl in the class asked if she could take a nap because she hadn't slept well the night before. Without hesitation, you allowed it. In middle school, bringing food and drinks to class was unheard of. That, too, you allowed. Finally, I realized, if I had been sitting in the back of the room playing a computer game on my laptop, you would not have disciplined me. This is when I l finally earned the value of mutual respect. Because you were willing to allow me to take a nap, call out, or eat in class, I did none of these things. I simply could not return your generosity with disrespect. If you were willing to sacrifice class time to allow a student to nap, I was willing to sacrifice daydreaming time to pay attention in class. Learning, after all, is what I was there to do. Although some may call this a teenager's rebelliousness, I call it the value of mutual respect.
- Siddharth S., HM Class of 2011
You were one of my favorite teachers in Middle School and I was fortunate enough to have you in six and seventh grade. Your English and History classes are one of the main reasons why those are my two favorite subjects today. Today, history is my favorite class, and my interest in the subject started with your sixth grade class. I remember being fascinated with the histories of Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and I even remember my Renaissance presentation on Copernicus. I also remember our class always changing where we would sit so we could get that nickel from you. English is now my second favorite class, and my interest too started in your class. In seventh grade, I distinctly remember reading The Catcher in the Rye. It was the first book that I had truly enjoyed reading in school. I remember reading it right when I got home and trying to figure out the meaning of the title. Although grammar is rarely the most riveting topic in English classes, you managed to keep me interested. I have never said "Can I go to the bathroom," since that class. I wanted to use this space to thank you for shaping me as the student and person I am today and share with you some the great memories I have from your classes. You were the best and most caring teacher I had in middle school. Thanks.
- Nick H., HM Class of 2010
In 7th grade English you encouraged us to write in Journals, by writing whatever was on my mind in my journal I was able to improve my creative writing skills and learn to love writing. After reading Lord of the Flies as a class I learned to analyze books, and read between the lines of what the text was actually saying. Lastly being in the safe and welcoming environment of our classroom I was able to get over my nerves and act out a Shakespeare monologue. 7th grade English was my favorite English course I have taken yet, and the skills I learned have been very useful. Thank you for that great year, and the tools you've taught me.
- Alexa B., HM Class of 2013
Zach and I Wrote Some Of Our Memories Down From Our Experience Of Having You As A 7th Grade History Teacher.
Jigsaw! - It was good that we could teach one another further information that we had learned from reading the previous night. This allowed us to really have time to come to terms with one concept rather than having to focus on multiple different ideas.
Nickels For Name Calling – This encouraged familiarity with the class and made the classroom environment more comfortable.
Chats Before Test – These were helpful for the last minute questions that might have risen during our studying. You also never left the chat unless everyone was satisfied with his or her answers so we were confident that we knew everything that was going to be on the test.
Web Study Guides – These were extremely helpful in finding connecting themes and significances of IDs for the test and helped organize the IDs into groups so studying was more efficient and easier.
You were also always available to meet with us during our free periods to answer any questions we had or meet about anything that was bothering us in history class.
Chinese Menu – The Chinese menu was a good way to write essays because it made the structure clear and easy to write.
We also remember all the stories of your Chinese sister and family that you shared with us over the course of the year.
We also remember fung shui – even though we don’t exactly remember what exactly it was.
- Gabriela N. & Zachary D., HM Class of 2013
The one thing that really stuck with me was an idea about our class and fudge. The concept that our class community, like fudge, took a lot of time and energy, but could end up being wonderful. As I reflect on our year of English 8, and the last day of class, I realized two things. Firstly, I had never before, nor have I since, had a piece of fudge as good as that which I received on the last day of English class. Secondly, I never had an English course, or possibly any course, I enjoyed as much.
- Ben K., HM Class of 2013
Mr. Brooks has to be one of the best teachers I have ever had at Horace Mann. Every day no matter how stressed you are, worried about that science test you have or the Spanish paragraph that you forgot to translate due latter that day he always greeted you with a smile, asking how you were and would listen if anything was wrong. He was never afraid to admit he was wrong, and correct a mistake or meet with you if you need help. With multiple interesting class discussions and stories, that made me understand the history and geography of New York, so much better and made it so much more interesting. To this day, if I ever need help on something I know that Mr. Brooks is always there to help. He is genuinely one of the best teachers in the middle school.
- Rachel K., HM Class of 2014
Whenever I look back on my middle school experience, one teacher always pops into my memory: Mr. Brooks. Over the course of my 4 years at Horace Mann, the one English class I looked forward to and that truly excited me was Mr. Brooks’ class. Mr. Brooks always managed to capture my attention every single day, unlike most other teachers. I will always remember how he allowed us to freely state our opinions and never once doubted us, or told us that what we thought was “wrong.” He gave us second chances on our writing assignments, and instead of simply stating we did poorly, he would allow us to look back on our text and repair it. In seventh grade English, we read Lord of the Flies, a book I will never forget and that frequently comes to mind. I looked forward to going home and reading the next few chapters of the book because of the exciting and engrossing talks we had about it each day. I was able to take more information and symbolism out of that book than I would have guessed was possible. One assignment Mr. Brooks gave us was to imagine what would happen in the next chapter of Lord of the Flies, after it had ended, and write it down. I don’t remember ever having “fun” while writing a paper for school, but I sincerely enjoyed using my imagination while incorporating schoolwork at the same time. This assignment made me realize that I am very fond of creative writing, and it helped me develop a sense of what good writing really is. Surprisingly, Mr. Brooks even made learning and practicing grammar motivating and enjoyable, two adjectives I never would have used to describe grammar before I met him. I haven’t seen another teacher who can keep a class on its feet and get students excited about school as well as he can. Today, English is my favorite subject, and I am certain that Mr. Brooks is one of the reasons why I am so fond of it now. I have never enjoyed a class as much as I enjoyed Mr. Brooks’ English class in 7th grade, and I know that everyone who was able to share the experience with me certainly agrees.
- Eliza D., HM Class of 2013
I had Mr. Brooks as an English teacher in seventh grade, who stood out by bringing creativity to the classroom. One of his projects, called a "jackdaw," involves reading novels outside of the English 7 curriculum and sharing an aspect of the novel with the class. In my experience with Middle Division (and Upper Division) students, the majority of them read only assigned books. Jackdaws led me and my fellow students to investigate literature. To this date, I remember my jackdaws on 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Gulliver's Travels.
Another project involved interviewing someone and bringing the story back to the classroom. I interviewed my housekeeper from Guyana and obtained her story of immigrating to America and her life with her husband. However, I did not only bring her words back to the class but was able to truly embody her through mastering her dialect, accent, and mannerisms. It was a performance, and an experience that has forever stuck out in my mind. It was with Mr. Brooks where I really performed for the first time, and to this day, as a frequent participant in the theatre, I look back at Mr. Brooks' class as my first instance in performance and exploring observation. But more importantly, it was a moment where my creativity and motivation for learning was awakened. This enthusiasm is something which I have tried since to bring to every class at Horace Mann and something that I learned with Mr. Brooks.
I have also had experiences with Mr. Brooks outside of the Middle Division arena. Last year (2007) he voluntarily served on a three-member committee of teachers to review one-act play submissions for the Student Written One-Acts Festival. After my play was chosen, I still felt that I needed to revise my piece. I emailed Mr. Brooks, asking if he could offer some feedback, and he characteristically sent me a flood of his thoughts about the play. From his vast knowledge of theatre, he sent me valuable suggestions and recommended that I read a few playwrights. His help, offered so freely to a former student, allowed me to finish my play which was performed in February.
Through his imaginative methods of teaching, Mr. Brooks enabled me as a Middle Schooler to learn, explore, and imagine. Outside of the classroom he has been a helpful resource and guide. Mr. Brooks is an invaluable member of the Horace Mann faculty who has allowed me to think creatively and independently. I am truly grateful to have had him as a teacher.
- Jed F., HM Class of 2008
Funny how some material just sticks. But it is not serendipitous that so much of what Mr. Brooks taught me in 7th grade history is readily recallable. Just a few months ago I wrote an English essay and used as an example P.T. Barnum’s business techniques such as his novel sign, “This Way to the Egress.” We had great fun talking about P.T. Barnum in Mr. Brooks’ class. What I love about Mr. Brooks is he was equally happy to learn our take on the material as he was to impart what was important for us to know. He is also a great story teller. He has a wonderful sense of humor and looked for the irony and relevance in each story that he told. That’s why I remember so much of the material we covered.
But even more importantly, it was Mr. Brooks’ who taught me how to think about history. That is was not just a bunch of dates and people but what really mattered was the significance of the events and the people who shaped them. Mr. Brooks was a magician who turned me into an historical analyzer. I know this because he helped me “get” history, which is not a small challenge for someone who thinks of herself as a science person who is energized by empirical evidence to prove hypotheses. He made history exciting through his enthusiasm for the subject. His enthusiasm was contagious. Could it really be that Mr. Brooks has not already won the Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award? It is long over due. Mr. Brooks was and one of my best teachers in the Middle School and more importantly, what I learned in 7th grade history still dictates my approach to History, English and possibly, even Science!
- Marissa M., HM Class of 2009
Throughout my middle school years, Mr. Isaac Brooks has served not only as an English and History teacher, but also a mentor. During my 7th and 8th grades of my middle school career, Mr. Brooks helped me a countless amount of times. He has earned his place in my life as my favorite teacher. I was very fortunate to have Mr. Brooks as a History teacher in 7th grade and an English teacher in 8th grade. Normally, I despised history with a passion because I found it quite boring and dense. English was my second least favorite subject because I hated writing. He was the person who helped me start a habit of meeting with teachers whenever I did not understand something in class, as well as other important skills in studying.
One day, in 7th grade, after he handed back a history test that (shall we say) didn’t go so well, he asked me to meet with him. Whenever a teacher asked me to meet with him/her, I tried to avoid it because I thought I would be a very awkward experience, but I was wrong. When I met with Mr. Brooks for the first time (and every time after that), I found him very approachable and easy to talk to. I started to meet with him more often and my grades started to go up. During the meeting we talked about history and English, but once in a while, we talked about some off topic things, or “shiny, red balls.” After a while, I found that I started to enjoy history and English more and more.
Of all these experiences I had with Mr. Brooks, I will cherish one memory, which took place during a normal day in 8th grade while we were reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula in class. I remember on that certain day in 8th grade, while discussing themes, symbols, and motifs during a meeting outside of class, I wondered if writers created these hidden concepts in their essays intentionally. Mr. Brooks explained to me how everything an author or a poet writes has some type of meaning behind it. He explained to me the “concept of close reading” to me. From that point, I gained the ability to recognize what authors and poets were writing about. I recognized themes more often, which was something I could never really do. I owe most of my good grades in English to him because of this explanation of close reading. Mr. Isaac Brooks has been the most valuable teacher to me in my life so far. He has helped me in innumerable amount of times and I thank him.
- Michael H., HM Class of 2011
- John A., HM Class of 2013
- How students see me at Horace Mann
- Though I asked only a subset of my former students, I am gratified that many were eager to respond. I wish there were more opportunities to connect with my former students while they are still at Horace Mann!