Q&A with a Retired Teacher
Irene Hewitt, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general education, was at Brockport when returning service members were taking advantage of the GI Bill to enroll in college.
Over the years, Irene Takacs Hewitt ’48 has observed changing trends in educating teachers and changes to the philosophy in educating students. When she enrolled in college, each SUNY school had its own approach to teacher education. At Brockport, she found faculty who helped her accommodate those differences.
What was it like to grow up on a family farm in Middleport, NY?
My parents were immigrants from Hungary and attended public schools through eighth grade. Although my family had a large farm, my father primarily was a cabinet-maker. He farmed in his off time. I had two sisters and one brother. We all helped, and when we turned 14, we got our working papers from the high school so we could get jobs outside the family to earn money. I remember picking green beans, stooping over in the summer sun. It was hot, hard work.
When did you decide to become a teacher?
I always dreamed of becoming a teacher. It is what I saw myself doing when I was grown up.
How did you decide to attend Brockport?
My older sister went to the state college at Albany to study business. In those days that meant typing and shorthand. I followed her there. I enjoyed my classes, but I was could not pass the language requirement, and I was afraid I would not graduate. At the Thanksgiving break of my junior year, I went to the college at Brockport and spoke with Dr. Blaine DeLancey. I told him about my situation. He said that since I was a student at Albany, Brockport would accept me. I came home from Albany at the end of that semester and entered Brockport the next.
Who were your favorite faculty and why?
Albany and Brockport organized their education programs quite differently. Albany offered most of its education courses at the end of the program. Brockport, on the other hand, interspersed education requirements throughout its curriculum. I knew I needed more background in education to keep pace with my classmates. Two faculty members helped me, Dr. Raye Conrad and Dr. Orlo Derby, who were popular education professors. They provided me with additional instruction, especially Dr. Conrad who assigned me a one-hour a week class in the philosophy of education.
What did you have to overcome to teach?
My first student teaching assignment was in Kendall. It was rewarding and uneventful. Then, I came back to Brockport and student taught under master teacher Marion Sortore in the Campus School. She was an imposing woman with had strict expectations for her student teachers. I was self-conscious about my singing ability, and she made me learn a song to teach to the students. It took all my courage to overcome my fear and not only teach the song, but teach it in front of her. By the end of my student teaching though, I could teach not only music, but art and physical education.
What was it like to attend classes with returning GIs after World War II?
Many former GIs were going to classes when I was at Brockport. They were a lot older than we were — they were at least 25- or 26-years-old, and they were much more serious. The students attending Brockport on the GI Bill lived in Quonset huts on campus and studied a lot.
They were there to get an education, not to be entertained. They were all business, and many were trying to get through the education program in three years. Sometimes, if a faculty member was telling a story only slightly related to the topic, they would interrupt the professor and explain that they wanted to learn not just listen.
Many of those former GIs became principals of schools in Rochester and surrounding districts. I would see the announcements in the newspaper and remember them as students from one of my classes. Several went on to become administrators. It was a great thing for them to have this opportunity. Some of them never thought they would be able to go to college, and they were thrilled that they were.
Where did you teach?
After I graduated, I was a third-grade teacher in the Rochester City School District. Then, I began teaching second grade in Spencerport Central School District. I was married, took a maternity break, and returned to teach in Spencerport for a total of 24 years.
How did Brockport contribute to your knowledge of teaching?
When I look back on my Brockport courses, I recall not being sure why we were learning what we did, but when I was teaching, all the lessons came back to me. I was able to understand the reasons we learned specific methods in specific ways.
Styles of teaching change. When I was in school, teachers learned how to be more controlling in the classroom. Today, there is room for children to express themselves. I now realize that there were times when my pupils would have done better without so much control.