Back in 1970, while I was an undergraduate at MIT, a teacher from an elementary school in Arlington, MA called MIT and asked if someone could talk to her class about pollution. At that time, I was a freshman in a new experimental program called the Unified Science Studies Program conducted by the Educational Research Center. Students in USSP did not take classes but learned experientially. I had just completed a research project on radioactive water pollution for Ralph Nader so I was asked to give a seminar on pollution to that 3rd grade class. At the end, when the students were crowded around me, one little boy tugged insistently on my sports coat and, when I turned my attention to him, he said, “Mr. Cincotta, please come back when you learn something else.”
I was hooked. I went back to MIT and thought, “This is really cool and how can I do that some more?” Since USSP students were free to do just about anything we wanted, I volunteered to teach math and science to 4th graders at an elementary school in Arlington. That summer, they hired me to teach reading and math (K-2) in the summer The next year, I was hired under Project Male as a part-time math and science teacher in the 5th and 6th grades.
I was the only adult male (besides the custodian) in the Locke School. The female teachers were all too happy to dump their science fair responsibilities on me. (They all seemed to be afraid of science.) We had 31 teams of 4th-6th graders do projects for our school fair and I selected 9 teams to participate in the city-wide fair. We came home with 1st, 2nd. 3rd, and 3 honorable mentions. I wish I could say that I was a brilliant teacher at 20 years old but it was probably more that I was not afraid of science–in fact, I was excited about science–and that brought out the best in these students.
Though I loved teaching in the elementary school, my attention turned to high school chemistry. I won a grant to develop a chemistry curriculum for an alternative high school in Cambridge during the summer of 1972.
I did not teach during my senior year. (Though experiential learning is great, MIT expected us to take “real” courses for our degrees.) I went off to Berkeley to get my Ph.D. in Chemistry, fully expecting to become a professor. Instead, I entered the chemical industry where I spent the next 25 years but I did not stop teaching. My wife and I home school our children so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to do math and science with my elementary-age children over the years. I also conducted biology, chemistry, and physics lab classes for the high schoolers in our home school association. Finally, 2 years ago, I left industry and I am now teaching chemistry at an urban high school in Newark, NJ.
Anyway, I am writing to support the work that you are doing. There is tremendous need to get more men in the classroom at all levels. We have done a great disservice to our children by having them taught only by women: as wonderful as they are, female teachers cannot give their students the same kind of positive interaction comes from a male teacher. St. Benedict’s Prep is an all-boys school that draws its students from Newark and the surrounding urban area. To many of my students, I (and the other male teachers) are the only positive male influence in their lives–sometimes we’re even their “fathers.” (Many of our boys do not know their fathers. For many that do know, their fathers are alcoholics, unemployed, and/or abusers.) These street kids are tough and need male teachers.
Anyway, I think your program is super and I hope that you achieve great success with it.
David Cincotta, Ph.D.
St. Benedict’s Preparatory School
520 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
Newark, NJ 07102