During the school day they teach classes, patrol the hallways, meet with department heads and mark papers. But for many Stuyvesant teachers, the day is far from over when the bell signals the end of their last period. History teacher Josina Dunkel, English teacher Mark Henderson, biology teacher Jerry Citron and math teacher Gary Rubinstein, among others, go home to a second job—as diaper-changers, bottle-washers and even human punching bags. The job that encompasses all these different roles is a parent.
Dunkel gave birth in April to a son, Nelson. He was named after the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. She has already pinpointed one ailment that she shares with many Stuy students: exhaustion. “He wakes up frequently during the night,” she said of her newborn. “Having to be intelligent and lead a class is very hard when you are operating on just a few hours of sleep.”
Citron, the father of Eve, four, and Chloe, six, would probably agree. Balancing his kids with his work sometimes proves to be difficult. He spends his free time after school feeding, explaining things, and wrestling with his girls.
In fact, Citron was recently injured in the line of duty—Eve landed on his Achilles tendon while they tussled. Still, he encourages the sometimes painful activity of wrestling because he “wants them to be tough,” he said.
Of course, having young kids also has its perks. Dunkel loves taking Nelson to the park. “It’s amazing the people who talk to you when you have a baby with you,” she said.
The whimsical dialogue of the kids also is a plus. Upon seeing a fire extinguisher, Eve said, “It’s good we have that because then if there’s a fire, the fireflies don’t have to come.”
Henderson, whose wife gave birth to his first children—twin boys—less than a month ago, feels that there are similarities between parenting and teaching. “It seems like parenting is about helping your kids become the best people they can be—showing them the world, keeping them safe, encouraging them to think for themselves. That’s kind of how I think of teaching. There are differences, of course—like diapers,” he said.
Rubinstein, whose baby was born around the end of last term, believes he has more patience with his students now since the birth of his child. “Being a new parent has made me happier and when a teacher is happy, I think they teach a little better,” he said. Although his child is only three months old, Rubinstein said that being a parent has already affected his perspective in school, especially when speaking with his students’ parents. “I now understand, a lot more, how the parents feel when their child is struggling in school,” he said. “You don’t always have the power to make things better and it can be very frustrating.”
Although managing hundreds of moody teenagers and one crying newborn can be difficult, “the reaction from the administration, staff, other teachers and students has been great,” Rubinstein said. Principal Stanley Teitel offered Rubinstein extra days off if he needed them. Teachers gave him cards and gifts. A group of his fall-semester students “chipped in and got the baby some math clothes. One of them has an ‘i’ on it and says ‘I have an imaginary friend,’” he said.
Although their teaching and parenting lives are mostly separate, there is some overlap. Citron has taken his daughters to work. According to Citron, they run up and down the halls and become very excited about the escalators. Citron said Stuy students are better-behaved than his own girls, although he said he sometimes wishes he could give his students a time-out.
As for if some of the children of Stuy’s current teachers will go to the school themselves, Dunkel said it’s a little too early to be thinking about high school for Nelson—his main interests are eating and sleeping. “Who knows? It is a little difficult to tell his intelligence level at this point,” she said.