Dorothy C. Finkelhor: The High School Dropout who Founded a University

Dorothy FinkelhorThere are many examples of talented teachers who can boast unusual achievements. One stellar example of this is Dorothy Cimberg Finkelhor, a business teacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who actually founded a university.

Dorothy Cimberg was born in New York’s Lower East Side on February 22, 1902. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. This is unusual for an academic, but Dorothy was a high school dropout. At the age of 25, however, she enrolled in Duquesne University, a private Catholic University located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s degree in economics, and a master’s degree in business. In 1941, she completed the requirements for her doctorate, which she earned at Pittsburgh University.

With her husband, Lawrence Herbert Finkelhor, Dorothy founded the Business Training College in downtown Pittsburgh in 1933. With an initial enrollment of fifty students, the school pioneered coursework in medical careers, accounting, engineering, and secretarial skills. At the time, it was extremely unusual for a woman to accomplish something like this. Dorothy served as the school’s only teacher, and she even filled the roles of registrar, admissions counselor, finance director, telephone operator, dean of women, social chairman, and janitor. Eventually the institution became a four-year university under the name Point Park College. Dorothy became the first president of the college, and served in this capacity, from 1960 to 1967.

After her retirement, Dorothy moved to Florida, but she didn’t live a life of leisure there. She published several books, including How to Make Your Emotions Work for You (1973), The Liberated Grandmother: How to Be a Successful Grandmother While Living Your Own Life as a Free and Happy Woman (1975), and The Triumph of Age: How to Feel Young and Happy in Retirement (1979).

The chalkboard champion died of cardiac arrest in Ocean Ridge, Florida, on July 19, 1988, at the age of 86. “She was always an inspirational person, a can-do person,” remembered Point Park College President J. Matthew Simon. “She really was one of a kind.”


Creative writing teacher Robert Boone: 2009 Chicagoan of the Year

Robert BooneThere are many examples of talented teachers who win national acclaim for their work. One of these teachers is Robert (Bob) Boone, a creative writing teacher from Chicago, Illinois.

Robert was born and raised in Winnetka, Illinois, although he spent some of his childhood in Germany. He earned his master’s degree from Columbia University and his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in 1975.

Robert’s career as an educator began in 1964. In the early years of his teaching career, Robert taught fifth grade at Staten Island Academy in Staten Island, New York. He later relocated to Highland Park High School in Chicago. About thirty-five years ago he began working at the Glencoe Study Center, which he opened in 1979 to tutor high school dropouts who were seeking their GED. Robert founded outreach programs that emphasized developing the writing skills of inner-city students, particularly those who have not been successful in traditional educational settings.

In 1991, Robert founded a scholarship organization called the Young Chicago Authors, with the mission of encouraging teenagers to write. The program currently serves more than 5,000 teen authors each year. For this work, Robert was named “Chicagoan of the Year” by Chicago Magazine. In 2009, he was honored with an award from the Coming Up Taller Leadership Enhancement Conference at a White House event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Robert is the author of several books and textbooks, including Hack: The Meteoric Life of One of Baseball’s First Superstars: Hack Wilson (1978), Moe’s Cafe (2007), Forest High (2011), Back to Forest High (2015), and the acclaimed Inside Job: A Life of Teaching (2003).

Robert currently lives in Glencoe, Illinois, and has been married to his wife, Sue, for forty-six years. The marriage has produced three children and five grandchildren.

To check out Robert’s web site, simply click on this link: Writing Teacher Hangout.


Elaine Goodale Eastman: The New England Teacher that Advocated for Her Native American Students

imgresElaine Goodale Eastman, originally from Massachusetts, was a talented teacher who established a day school on a Sioux Indian reservation in the territory of South Dakota. She believed very strongly that it was best to keep Native American children at home rather than transport them far away from their families to Indian boarding schools. She hadn’t taught on the reservation very long when she was promoted to the position of Superintendent of Indian Education for the Two Dakotas. In this capacity, she travelled throughout the five Dakota reservations, visiting the more than sixty government and missionary schools within her jurisdiction, writing detailed evaluation reports on each school she visited.

It was because of her work that Elaine just happened to be visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation when the tragic Wounded Knee Massacre took place. As a result of this tragedy, more than two hundred men, women, and children from the Lakota tribe were killed, and another fifty-one were wounded. In addition, twenty-five government soldiers were also killed, most by “friendly fire,” and another thirty-nine were wounded. Following the massacre, she and her fiance,  physician Charles Eastman of the Santee Sioux tribe, cared for the survivors and wrote detailed government reports to accurately describe what happened.

In her later years, when America was experiencing a back-to-nature revival, Elaine and her husband operated Indian-themed summer camps in New Hampshire. Read more of the life story of this fascinating educator in Theodore D. Sargent’s biography The Life of Elaine Goodale Eastmanor an encapsulated version in  Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Remarkable Teachers Who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students, both available on amazon.


Rebecca Pawel: High school English teacher and acclaimed novelist

I love to tell stories about amazing teachers, and one that certainly fills the bill is Rebecca Pawel, a New York City high school teacher who has published four widely-acclaimed mystery novels.

PawelRebecca Pawel  was born in 1977 in New York City and raised in the Upper West Side. She once revealed that her love affair with all things Iberian began in junior high school, when she studied flamenco and classical Spanish dance. While a teenager at Stuyvesant High School, Rebecca spent a summer abroad in Madrid. Once she graduated from high school, she enrolled at Columbia University, where she majored in Spanish Language and Literature. She then attended Teachers College to earn her teaching credentials.

Rebecca began her professional career as a teacher of English, Journalism, and Spanish at the High School for Enterprise, Business, and Technology in Brooklyn. She was employed there from 2000 to 2011. Between 2011 and 2013, she served as a college advisor for High School for Services and Learning at Erasmus Hall in Flatbush. In 2013, Rebecca returned to the Graduate School of Arts and Science at Columbia University, where she is currently working on a PhD in English and Comparative Literature.

Rebecca’s detective novels are set in a time period immediately after the Spanish Civil War. Her first book, Death of a Nationalist (2005), earned an Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author. She followed this triumph with Law of Return (2004), The Watcher in the Pine (2005), and The Summer Snow (2006), which was named one of Publisher’s Weekly Best Mysteries.

“I’ve always told stories,” Rebecca once confessed. “I dictated stories to my parents before I knew how to write them down. When I was in third grade, my dad taught me to touch-type on a Brother electronic typewriter.” The rest is history.

Meet the first Black woman to join the Screen Actors’ Guild: Teacher Mary Elizabeth Vroman

220px-Jet_Vroman_October_13_1955_coverMany talented educators can also claim fame as accomplished authors. This is true of Mary Elizabeth Vroman, an elementary school teacher who was also the author of several books and short stories, including “See How They Run,” an award-winning short story that became the basis for a movie entitled Bright Road.

Mary was born circa 1924 in Buffalo, New York, and was raised in Antigua in the British West Indies. Like three generations of women educators in her family before her, Mary attended Alabama State Teachers College, now known as Alabama State University, in Montgomery, Alabama, where she graduated in 1949. After her graduation, Mary accepted her first teaching position at an elementary school in rural Alabama. She later taught in Chicago and New York. Her teaching career spanned twenty years.

Mary published her first short story, “See How They Run,” in the June, 1951, issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. The story, based on her experiences in the classroom, generated five hundred enthusiastic letters from readers. Like most of her works, the story depicted the challenges of poverty and disadvantage. The plot revolves around a young, idealistic teacher who encourages her students to escape their poverty through education, and compares the forty-three third graders in the story to the blind mice in the familiar children’s nursery rhyme. Mary describes the teacher’s struggle to provide academic, financial, and emotional support for her students and their families so that they can achieve success. The piece earned the coveted Christopher Award in 1952 for its humanitarian quality. It was reprinted in the July, 1952, issue of Ebony.

Next, Mary served as a technical adviser and assistant screenwriter for the 1953 film version of the story. The title of the piece was changed to Bright Road, and starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Mary’s work on the film earned her admission to the Screen Actors Guild; she was their first African American woman member.

Vroman’s “See How They Run” tells the story of a young, idealistic teacher encouraging her students to escape from their impoverished environment through education. Comparing the 43 third graders in the story to the blind mice in the familiar nursery rhyme, Vroman details the teacher’s struggle to provide academic, financial, and emotional support for them and their families so that they can achieve success was published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in June, 1951. The piece earned the 1952 Christopher Award, and it was subsequently made into a 1953 film entitled Bright Road. Her work on the film earned her admittance to the Screen Writers Guild, the first African American woman to become a member of the distinguished organization.

Mary was married to Brooklyn dentist Dr. Oliver M. Harper. Sadly, Mary Elizabeth Vroman passed away on April 29, 1967, from complications following surgery. She was only 42 years old.