Mr. Birenbaum Retires (An Interview)

By Will Zimmerman
Volume 68, Issue III

Following winter break, the beloved Mr. Birenbaum will not be returning to Briarcliff. His career at Briarcliff was marked by his positive attitude and general affection from the students. Although the Briarcliff community will certainly miss him, we wish him well in his retirement and we hope he enjoys his new free time. “His humor and good nature will be missed,” said senior Westin Cooper. Sophomore, Gil Haleva added that “I will miss our intellectually stimulating conversation.”

Briarcliff Bulletin: How long were you at Briarcliff for?
Mr. Birnbaum: “I began at Briarcliff in September, 2012. Five and a half years is relatively short for a teacher, but as an Assistant that curve is different. The world of 2017 is of course different from that of five years earlier, yet there are underlying constants.”

BB: How has your job changed since you began working at Briarcliff?
Mr. B: “The only constant about my job here has been the changes. The first year I worked mostly with the focused and funny Mr. Perricone, in his Resource Room and also in the Library. They both could be intense at times. The Cafeteria had not yet been designated as the place to spend your “free time”, and the library was a bit of a rowdy lounge needing some crowd control. However, the library was also the place where news items rolled through the Smartboard for anyone interested.
Only a few years ago, there were multiple ongoing bake sales, students missing more classes and more crumbs in strange places. I have to admit all the baked goods were tasty.

The next year, I had the privilege and responsibility of being the leave replacement for three months in Mrs. Becerra’s three AP American History and two Regents American History classes. This gave me a deeper appreciation for the real-time commitment a teacher must make. Just like an iceberg only about 3/10 of what a teacher does is seen in class. I also was surprised into teaching the AP Computer Science course for the year. Note, my prior career was as a Mainframe Computer “dinosaur” – programmer, analyst, team leader.
Year three (2014-15) I worked with a superb Resource room teacher, since retired, Nancy Crosby. In that year and subsequent ones I had a rotating and varied schedule: testing center; sub-station; achievement center, library and any place else I seemed to be needed. This exposed me to many different adolescent student styles of behavior, the vast majority benign. I’ve enjoyed the less than predictable responses of students, especially as compared to the behavior of software and computers and bureaucracy in my former career.”

BB: What are some of your favorite memories from your time here?
Mr. B: “One of my most enjoyable moments came in AP History, when I was asked to explain how the Federal Government could shut down. Fortunately for me and the class, I was able to give a good explanation which coupled with the need to understand how a bill becomes a law in Federal or State Government. Another such was chaperoning the HS Band for their NYSSMA audition.”

BB: What was the most exciting day/days you’ve had in the past 5 years?

Mr. B: “As for exciting days, I had a couple, where the results were good, but the events not quite. One was in my first year here when a fight erupted in the library and I was the only adult with a great many students. About 20 of them really wanted the fight to escalate and the rest wanted to get out of the way. I remembered that once upon a time I had actually been a bouncer. No one got hurt.”
The second was in the former computer room when a student got careless with a paper clip, melted it, accidentally, when he shorted a socket and created a mini lightning bolt in the room. Reports had to be filled out, but again no one was hurt. We were all lucky.

BB: Is there anything you did here that people may not be aware of?
Mr. B: “Given the role that I played, in Study Halls, Resource Rooms and so forth, I don’t think there is much unknown. If I have succeeded in awakening curiosity or reinforcing hope that is all to the good.
In a similar vein, the best part was the “friendship” aspect where I had the chance to impart little “life lessons” to students who are in an early stage of nding out who they really are, which is a lifelong process. The contained unpredictability of questions and conversation derived from them were also a good thing. The chance to help someone think and also realize the ethical aspects of his/ her being with the unpredictability of response will be missed. A person can be highly intelligent and educated, but still be immoral. If I could leave any message, this is it. The moral framework is what makes us Human and sometimes civilized.”

BB: What was the response you received when people found out you were retiring?

Mr. B: “My preference was to retire quietly. That really did not happen. There was an outpouring of congratulations and good wishes. Moreover, I heard and saw first hand that there were good connections of all kinds made. Sometimes it can be a little unsettling to hear things that you’ve said come back in your direction. This means that you are responsible for what comes out of your mouth and that it really does affect others. Not a surprise, but the reality is more than the theory. I knew there was some of this, but not the degree.”

BB: What are your plans moving forward?
Mr. B: “My wife and I will be living in Israel. I hope to be able to swim outdoors nearly 10 months of the year, link up with some good musicians and see how far that goes. There are family and friends to visit. There may be tour guiding, tutoring English to non-native speakers, becoming a tour guide. There will also be travel to other countries. Who knows. We will see. The next chapter is not yet written.”

BB: Any final thoughts, anything else you want to say?
Mr. B: “Last, but certainly not least, I want to wish everyone connected with the Briarcliff Manor High School and District meaningful, productive and thus happy lives.”


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