What we have lost
It is somewhat difficult to explain how education today differs from what it was 15-plus years ago. Much is the same, but the differences are both subtle and obvious.
There are still textbooks, homework, tests, classes kids enjoy and those they don’t. Heights High has not changed as much as people might think. (Most of the building is new and we finally replaced the 1970s windows that allowed snow and rain to come inside.)
When I was in ninth grade at Wiley Junior High, more than 40 years ago, I worked on the school newspaper. I am not sure how this happened, but it was probably through the prompting of my English teacher, Mary Chaitoff.
I have been thinking about Mrs. Chaitoff recently because she passed away, at age 90, not long ago. How did this teacher encourage me to work on the newspaper? Why did I enjoy her English classes so much, even with her constant pushing everyone to do better?
I had never really had much interest in English, but somehow Mrs. Chaitoff inspired me to work pretty hard. The newspaper was hard work, but I enjoyed doing the layout. Stories were written, edited, and sent to the typesetter. Then we would lay them out by hand, with scissors and glue—not computers! The finished layouts went to the printer who did the rest.
We produced several Wiley Wigwams that year, including one introducing the new principal, Jim Cippolletti, to the school. Chip, as he was known, stayed in that position for 20 years, before filling in at the high school, after I became a teacher there.
After my ninth-grade year, Mrs. Chaitoff invited several students to her house for a swim during the summer. She lived way out near SOM Center Road and a few of us decided to bike out there. She was a welcoming and terrific host. I kept this tradition of visiting once during the summer for many years. Later, I would bring my family to visit for lunch or a cookout. By then Mary Chaitoff was my colleague at the high school.
After she retired, she continued to substitute on a regular basis, well into her 80s. She was an amazing person with so much energy it was hard to imagine her ever standing still. I suspect that there were many former students who had similar relationships with her.
There are currently all sorts of board policies that probably inhibit, or at least discourage, fraternizing with students and former students. I am not all that certain that Mary and I would have had this long-standing relationship had we not been able to meet outside of class.
Nowadays, so many concerns about liability and lawsuits exist, especially for non-sanctioned events involving students and staff. For example, there was never any thought about having a lifeguard on duty for our get-togethers. Today, administrators and school board members would cringe at the thought of this taking place.
I know that board policies are meant to protect everyone from injuries and lawsuits, but so much has been lost.
There were freedoms that we had years ago that are gone, and that saddens me. There are still teachers who find opportunities through clubs or sports to create and nurture close relationships with students, but in the litigious nature of today’s world, obstacles exist that make it hard to create and nurture those relationships.
Being on Facebook with former students is nice, but it is not quite the same as a real, in-person relationship. Although many aspects of school life remain the same as they were, other intangibles have been lost as society has changed.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.