Magazine article District Administration

Please Say Thank You: The Time Is Now to Thank Your Mentors and Heroes

Magazine article District Administration

Please Say Thank You: The Time Is Now to Thank Your Mentors and Heroes

Article excerpt

I FIRST LEARNED TO PROGRAM computers in junior high school, circa 1976. As a freshman I began hanging out in a cramped unfinished room in the back corner of the large high school. The space more resembled a sci-fi cave than a classroom. It was Henry Petersen's office and the home of an HP mainframe computer. Petersen was the visionary math educator who brought computing to Wayne (N.J.) Public Schools in the early 1960s. Other districts that paid for access to our timeshare system financed the gear.

My interest in computing and budding talent as a programmer earned me a place among a handful of kids trusted with running the mainframe. We had access to all usernames and passwords because we also created the accounts. We backed up the magnetic tape drives. And Petersen's secretary would graciously take messages for us when we gave out the office phone number as if it were our own. It was not uncommon for us to stay and tinker with the computer late into the night. I remember being told, "have fun, lock up when you're done," as one of the last adults left the high school.


As the microcomputer age dawned, Petersen created and led a nonprofit cooperative of New Jersey school districts interested in using computers in the classroom. In 1983, he called and offered me a job. His organization was offering a 12-week Logo programming course for educators, at a time when people would actually attend such professional development workshops voluntarily. The attendees complained that the workshop teacher was going too fast and losing them in the dust, and Petersen acknowledged that discomfort by arranging to offer a slower class to run simultaneously. I would teach that course, the first time I ever taught teachers. Two people volunteered to move to my more kind and gentler class.


Both were school secretaries. This was also a time when school secretaries would enroll in Logo workshops! I would introduce a new concept and then give my "class" some time to experiment. During that time I would peek around the corner and watch what the "scary" teacher next door was doing.

He was magnificent. I would have eagerly traded my position as teacher to be his student. We met one night after class. We were both named Gary. He was a professor at Rutgers. I was a sophomore at Rutgers early in my seven-and-a-half-year undergraduate career. Greenberg suggested that I enroll in his course--something like "Creative Arts and Education." It was essentially a Logo programming course with meta-discussions about learning, creativity and cognition.

We had to purchase our own copy of Apple Logo, and our homework assignments typically required more than eight hours of work. …

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