My life as a teacher...

[Editor's Note: The following was provided to Substance by Leo's wife, Sue Carrel. It is published here as Leo wrote it. I am hoping that many readers will add comments to this important story, and that we can also get more photographs from the different events mentioned herein. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance].

Leo Gorenstein and Sue Carrel were regularly in federal court supporting Substance's 1999 publication of the CASE tests. Above, in a 2002 photograph, Sue and Leo hold Sam Schmidt, who was also in the federal building in support of Substance and George Schmidt, who had been sued for $1 million for "copyright infringement" for the January 1999 publication of six of the 22 CASE tests following their administration in the city's high schools. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Except for a few important dates the following is done from memory only. Since the writing began in 2014 some memories are 44 years old and specific students and incidents are, while as accurate as I can remember, just my best representations of the events and the dates. This is intended for friends and family and probably will never be finished. Except for a few people full names are not given.

Fall, 1970 I was standing in line at the Chicago Board of Education’s (CBOE) Board of Examiners trying to get a provisional teaching certificate so that I could start teaching in the Chicago schools. I had all my records, all my college transcripts and I wanted to make that $40 a day subbing. What the heck! I was only paying $40 a month rent. But, way more than that, I wanted to try teaching as a career. I’d been struggling to find something after returning from a year long trip mainly in Europe and becoming radicalized, in other words I believed in the need for a revolution. And as many of those in the movement, I was convinced that a radical could only be a factory worker or a teacher or a social worker or something like that. And I was already ‘teaching’ sort of … at something called the Parents School in my neighborhood on Halsted near Armitage. It was a ‘free’ school meaning that the kids belonged to hippies, radicals and assorted others and that I wasn’t getting paid.

Now I was next in line when I heard the woman in front of me who was trying to get her teaching certificate too loudly say, “I want you to sign that you received my official college transcripts. This is the third time I’ve brought them in and your office lost them both times,” she said. “I ain’t signing nothing,” bellowed the woman taking in records for the Board of Examiners.

Welcome to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). I had already learned a very important lesson that you needed to understand so that you could survive the CPS. Leave no trace, never get blamed for anything. Well…not like signing that you’d received transcripts anyway. More on this skill later.


Subbing. The 1970-71 school year

By the time I finished my career at the board I had taken over 50 hours of education course credit hours. But in the fall of 1970 I was hired under a provisional certificate which meant that I had to take at least 12 hours of teacher courses during the school year. I took most of those courses at Chicago teachers college that was then at 68th and Stewart on the Southside. Most of the courses I took were methods teacher courses and beginning courses that, at the time, I didn't think were of much use.

At this time there were many teacher shortages around the country and it was not unusual for school districts to hire people who did not have either any education courses or a teaching certificate. I had heard that St. Louis would take you as a teacher on a provisional certificate with only two years of college credit. So it was a time when it is was easy to get a job as a teacher.

But as the 1970s went on, education courses, teacher training, and teacher conferences became very important to me. They had a huge effect on how I taught in my classroom.

I looked around as I stepped off the ‘L’ train onto the platform in the middle of the Westside. Ahh. There it was. I spotted the huge smokestack that most certainly must be the school that I was headed for that day. It was one of Chicago’s few remaining Upper Grade Centers for 7th and 8th graders only. The city had learned that upper grade centers didn’t work well for education but worked very well for gang recruitment. So the CPS was in the process of making all of its elementary schools K-8.

Another type of school on the way out were the EVGCs, Educational Vocational Guidance Centers. Those were for kids who hadn’t passed out of elementary schools but were too old to be in them. The powers at the board didn’t think that these schools were being very productive for the kids either.

It was a cold day as I left the ‘L’ train and started tromping toward the school. As I got close I could see that someone had written ‘Maniac Hustlers’ all over the outside of the building. This would certainly be quite a day. It sure was. Upon students entering into my room in a rowdy manner I was shocked to see the Assistant Principal (AP) right behind them. “Why don’t you go get a cup of coffee,” he whispered in my ear. He knew I wasn’t ready yet to handle that group. He was right. There were many people in the schools trying to do a good job. …………………………………………………………………

While it’s hard to remember individual students and incidents from so long ago, it’s easier to remember the overall affect the schools, the neighborhoods and especially the kids had on me. I believe being in the schools made me a better person, albeit slowly, and, eventually I laughed more, took myself less seriously and tried very hard to control my temper (took me a long time) so I wouldn’t be and my classroom wouldn’t be an unsettling place in their lives. Some of my students had enough turmoil in their lives and I hoped my classroom would be a relatively calm place they could count on. I never looked on myself as a “missionary” (that never works) but as a teacher, a decent role model and as someone who had much to learn from my students and their community.


During the 1970-71 school year I mainly subbed in District 8 in the heart of Chicago’s West Side centered near Madison and California. Chicago schools were then organized into three Areas – North, West and South – and 27 districts. District 8 was in Area B, the West Side. I didn’t have a car much of that year and took either the Lake Street or Congress “L” then walked to my school for the day.

Many of the schools where I went were burgeoning, overcrowded buildings as well as classrooms, many, but not all, with more than 40 kids. A few schools were on double-shift with half the students coming from 7 or 8 to 12 and the other half from noon to 4 or 5. Mason elementary on the southwest side had three buildings and about 5000 kids, Jenner, in Cabrini-Green had around 3000 students. I was an elementary school sub and, since almost all elementary schools were K-8, didn’t sub in high schools.

At the time, well over 50% of Chicago’s 560,000 students were African-American and less than 5% Hispanic. Today Hispanics outnumber African-Americans and there are only 400,000 students in the system. In 1970 overcrowded schools and race were huge issues in the schools. Race is still a huge factor in the schools today.


What’s a schome? It was a dark, dreary morning and I was headed to a schome. I found out that’s a classroom with 15 kids all the same age The youngest were in a classroom of 15 three year olds and the hope was that these same 15 would stay together for six years. During that time the plan was that they would have the same teacher for all six years or two teachers for three years each, from three to nine years old and that they would stay together as a class for 6 years. Of course all of these were just goals as the students’ lives and individual teachers plans were never that stable. I also found out that the schomes were pretty successful for the pre-schoolers to third graders.

As I approached the “Willis Wagon” in the Cabrini-Green Public Housing complex I learned that I’d be in with 15 cute three year olds that day. What was I supposed to do with 15 three year olds? [Willis Wagons were trailers used by the CBOE at overcrowded schools. School activists labeled these portable classrooms Willis Wagons after former Chicago Schools Superintendent Ben Willis who started the program. Many claimed that the trailers prevented integration.]

I opened the door and, thankfully, saw a teacher aide in there who was great all day long in letting me know what to do. Now, 44 years later, I can still remember some events of the day: 13 of the kids crawling into a big open-air box with a top and a bottom all made out of cylindrical wooden bars, a space that I couldn’t have gotten into; one girl carrying around a boy tucked under her arm and, after spotting a record being played on a record player promptly grabbing it off the spinning turntable (screech) and forgetting the boy under her arm. He fell to the floor and started crying loudly. Wow, what a day!

I did my best when subbing in classes of little kids. One morning as I entered a kindergarten room, a number of the mothers who were lined up with their kids started laughing and one little boy said, “We got a man teacher today.” The little ones didn’t care if I was a man or a woman, I was just teacher and in a few minutes they were grabbing me by my shirt and pants to get my attention.


Halloween. As I walked to my school on Halloween 1970 I knew that the kids would be pretty nuts. Sure enough, they looked cute as witches and goblins and all sorts of get-ups marching outside before school began. Ahh, another day to remember.


It was the last day of school in 1970 before Christmas vacation as I lumbered out to the Western edge of Chicago to the Plato School built to relieve overcrowding at Emmet Elementary in the heart of the Austin neighborhood. There were about 720 kids in10 classrooms and a multi-purpose room; 12 classes of about 60 each. I walked into a classroom of 60 sixth graders – some of their desks were half in the closet and some shared. Many of their families had recently moved to Austin as a result of Chicago’s “urban removal*” (See Melody School footnote below.) The students told me that their teacher had gone on sick leave and that I was their 19th teacher in the last 20 days. A little American-Indian girl walked up to me and handed me a Christmas card – “To whomever the teacher might be…”

*I subbed a couple of times at Melody Elementary on the West Side and started dating a nice teacher from the school. She lived in the 2400 block of North Janssen and told me she was afraid to go to sleep at night because so many of the apartment buildings, mainly two-flats and three-flats, were being set on fire, usually at night. At the time, many areas like hers had been low rent, but buildings were being bought, poor people pushed out and moving to areas with overcrowded schools as rents skyrocketed. Thirteen years later my wife and I bought a house in the 2300 block of Janssen which was rebuilt after burning down in the early 70s. …………………………………………………………………………….

Cold. Middle of winter and I was walking to my Westside school to sub on a 5 degree morning. I saw a city worker smash through some ice covering a frozen hole then partly get in the water to try to fix a broken pipe. It made me realize how lucky I was and that my job wasn’t so tough.


“You won’t need a key,” the clerk told me. My classroom was in the basement of the West side school I’d come to sub in that day. Sure enough, as I approached my classroom it was easy to see that the glass upper half of the door was gone and you just reached in to the inside doorknob to open the door.

This school still sent its kids home for lunch from 12 to 1 as the CPS was in the midst of switching to ‘closed campus’ where students stayed in school all day. So I had a full one hour lunch. After eating I was roaming around the basement when I smelled some smoke. Then I saw smoke coming over the back of a big lounge chair with one of the teachers sitting in it. He was smoking hash in a pipe. “This is how I get through the day here,” he said.


Most of my subbing days were tough but manageable. Even though there were definite out of control times or times with little control most of the time was at least OK and the vast majority of the students were nice people. But they were kids and kids like to explore the boundaries and I wasn’t too good yet at control. Luckily, I got a little better as time went on.

That said one of the most out of control moments happened on a snowy day in a Willis Wagon with very few kids in a 4th or 5th grade mobile classroom. I sort of remember about nine kids on a very cold day and, after lunch, for a short time there was also a dog in the classroom that the kids had let in. My last memory was thinking things were alright again, turning around to write on the board and getting hit in the head with a snowball. When I turned back around I think there was one kid and the dog left in the trailer.



Deneen Elementary School 1971-72

I had grown up in a White world. I had gone to schools with almost all white kids and only had one non-white good friend, a Japanese-American. Even the golf courses where I caddied as a kid had white kids working, none of color. So my first year of subbing had introduced me to a whole new, mostly Black world. Almost all the kids on the west-side where I subbed were African-Americans as well as many of the teachers, principals and other school workers. During my entire CPS teaching career at least 40% of Chicago teachers were Black. This was a result of the 1967 FTB (Full-Time Basis substitute) strike where, led by Black teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) blasted away some of the CBOE policies that made it hard for Black teachers to become fully certified. Until that strike teachers had to pass a written test and also answer questions of a three-principal panel – a panel invariably made up of White principals. Many of the Black candidates were rejected by these panels. As a result there were few Black educators on the path to principalship. The strike won all teachers the right to become fully certified by passing the written test and being judged as Satisfactory or better three years in a row in the classroom. This was the way I became fully certified too.

This had a huge effect on Chicago teacher strikes (10 from 1967 to 1987) in terms of community support. So Chicago teachers didn’t have to go up against parts of the community like New York City teachers (with less than 10% Black teachers) did during the Ocean Hill – Brownsville strike during the 60s. Chicago teachers always had pretty good community support.

All of these were factors as I walked into the nearly 100% African-American student body Deneen Elementary School at 72nd and Wabash on Chicago’s South Side on the day after Labor Day 1971.

*Note: The above (dates of strikes, etc.) is done from memory only.

………………………………………………………………………………. There were a couple of veteran teachers at Deneen who tried to help me and gave me advice. Leon M, an 8th grade teacher and Deneen’s CTU delegate, gave me tips about my 7th graders and one piece of advice I never forgot, “Look for a pat on the back once every 10 years,” he said. “Then you will only be disappointed once a decade.”


The main Deneen teacher who took me under her wing was Iris B, a wonderful person and teacher. We also talked about Chicago’s desegregation program; how Mayor Daley got President Johnson to let Chicago avoid desegregating its students while only desegregating in the teacher ranks.

She said she had been one of the ‘pioneer’ Black teachers to head from the Southside to the Northside at a time when Chicago’s overall student population was about ½ Black and ½ white and faculties were not very integrated.

As she walked into her new school she imagined people saying…”Well here comes the _____.” I don’t quite remember what she told me they actually said to her at her Northside White school or if she just told me how the imagined questions made her feel…”Are you qualified to teach? teach Whites? teach here?” I was starting to get educated by her as she gave me a clear view into hers and others lives.

She told me about one incident her sons faced too. Her sons had gone to a White Sox game on ‘Bat Night’ when they were (I think) teenagers. They were among the first 10,000 and given a free bat. During the game a White guy told an usher that Iris’ kids had stolen a bat from his son. The usher took their bat from them and gave it to the White kid.


“Open your present now,” said the two broadly smiling seventh grade boys. They were from my homeroom and explained that the class had taken up a collection for a Christmas gift they wanted me to have on the day before vacation began. This was my first year to be in the same school and have the same daily classes since the start of the school year. I didn’t know what to expect about getting Christmas presents from students. I started to unwrap the gifts and noticed the students rapt attention and bright, happy faces. I took the gifts out: a tube of toothpaste and a bottle of mouthwash! The students exploded with gleeful laughter as I stared at the gifts. Of course, I’d brought some of it on myself by occasionally telling the students that I would come talk with misbehaving students face to face after I’d eaten my garlic sandwich for lunch. ………………………………………………………………………………..

Active Chicago Teachers (ACT) was a group started by some teachers who were members of or worked with Progressive Labor Party (PL) which billed itself as a revolutionary communist party. Though I was never a member, PL played a huge role in my life for several years.

I had met a PL member while working as a bricklayers helper at Finkl Steel Mill in 1970 after nearly a year of traveling overseas and had become active in the group. Soon after starting to teach, we started ACT to be a caucus in the union and to try to win other teachers and school workers over to revolutionary communism and to improve the schools. ACT became very important to me; I’d meet many who are still friends today as well as my first wife and spent many hours working with the group.

At that time there were many active caucuses in the CTU: the Independent Teachers Caucus (ITC), TAC (I don’t remember the full name) and it joined with the United Progressive Caucus (UPC). The UPC ruled the Union for about 30 years. ACT was definitely the smallest of these caucuses but we played a role, had a so called newspaper that we named the Actigator, and were recognized in the Union.

The tension within ACT, tension that would eventually cause the group’s demise, was between the hard line PLers who always wanted to advance revolutionary communism and those just mainly interested in the schools.


Barton Elementary School, Colorado, LINK and Tanner 1972-85

“Mr. Gorenstein, Rodney called me a garden tool,” Tammy said from the back of room 308. This was during 1972-85 part of my career when I taught mainly 7th graders and spent about 10 of those years at Clara Barton Elementary School at 76th and Wolcott on the city’s South Side.

It was the heart of my career and many ways my life. I’d get married, have a son, divorced, move to Colorado, try an out of the classroom school job, get very involved in school and Union matters, spend a great deal of time with a muckraking Chicago teachers paper and married and divorced again. There were many great days and only one truly horrible day. And it was the period of time when I fell in love with teaching.


At one ACT meeting during my first year at Barton there was a teacher Linda Roberts, looking for a roommate or to share an apartment. I had room in my basement apartment on Sheffield. Why not! Linda soon moved into the empty extra bedroom and it wasn’t until three days later that we were sleeping together. After a while we moved into the coach house behind our apartment with another couple that got together at ACT, Noreen Delaney and Mike Davidson. Soon both couples would marry and have children. All four of us remained in ACT for the next two or three years until the first meeting with Noreen as president. At that meeting the tension exploded, all four of us left the group and soon ACT ceased to exist.


250 students a day for 7th Grade math! 250 students a day for 7th grade math in six “tracked” classrooms! As the 1973-74 school year began at Barton –my second year at the school—we had six classes of 7th graders with at least 40 in each room in our departmental. I taught all six classes every day.

At that time, early in my teaching career, I learned all the names pretty quickly and, with the confidence of a young teacher, soon felt that I was inside their heads for where they were and what they needed mathematically.

Of course there were many problems. The classes were organized by ability as judged by standardized test scores and many of the kids acted their parts as everyone knew where each class ranked, 1 to 6. Still, most of the days most of the classrooms were pretty good as we had some very good and strong teachers in our departmental. I was getting to be a better teacher and was starting to have a decent rep with the students.

The last few years kids had been coming to Barton in droves as African-American families moved into houses west of Ashland. Many of the parents, quite a few who had grown up in public housing or in the South, were buying houses, trying to make life better for their children than it had been for them. And, while a dark economic cloud could be seen on the horizon, Chicago still had thousands of good paying jobs even though the steel mills and some other big factories (like the nearby shuttered Campbell soup factory) had just started closing. But due to the overcrowding in Barton at least some of the negative elements of the ghetto followed their move.

Barton’s enrollment climbed dramatically as the school’s population grew from about 400 almost all White students to over 1800 nearly all Black students. Along the way the school went through a double shift where half the students attended mornings (about 7:00 to 11:30) and the other half afternoons (probably 12 to 4:30) – a parents boycott for a while when very few students came to school – and an addition built onto the school which added to Barton’s capacity but left it still overcrowded by at least 600 students.

And as Labor Day 1973 drew closer all the talk was about the CPS buying the closed and vacant Little Flower parochial school standing a few blocks away on 79th St. As the school year began Dr. William Finch, Barton’s District Supt., told the parents and teachers that the Board was negotiating with the Archdiocese, and we’d be in the empty school soon. Despite Dr. Finch’s sincere assurance the teachers went to the CTU and the Union Delegate (me) asked them to support a single school strike at a monthly Delegates meeting because of Barton’s terrible conditions. We didn’t trust the Board to do the right thing and secure Little Flower. CTU President Bob Healey told us that the Union couldn’t support a one-school strike but that he would bring the matter up with the Supt. of Schools at their monthly meeting. Parents and teachers met together after school, including at parents houses as more students kept coming and conditions in Barton continued to worsen.

One day an 8th grader threw a chair at a teacher Chicago Tribune photo 1/18/74 substituting for Pete S, the excellent 8th grade departmental math teacher.

During the resulting hearing the student was expelled and, during the hearing, the 14 year old boy told Principal Dr. Rudolph Jezek that he would come back and kill him. The student was sent to the Montefiore school that was at that time a school for Chicago’s most difficult students.

Christmas vacation came and went and as the New Year began we still weren’t in Little Flower. We heard that the Board and the Archdiocese were haggling over the parishioners right to use the building for Bingo. We never knew whether that was the case or not.

January 17 I was teaching math to one of the 7th grade classes in room 204 when I heard, “Pop-pop-pop-pop,” and it seemed like some of the kids said, “Steven.” Room 204 was one floor above and almost directly across from the first floor school office where the expelled student, I would learn later, had just shot and killed Rudolph Jezek. Soon after we heard chaos and hundreds of feet running on the third floor above which housed the 8th grade departmental. I immediately knew that my job was to keep my students inside room 204 and asked Lloyd W, a student, to guard the back door as I moved close to the front door and continued teaching the math lesson. I glimpsed Pete S running down the 2nd floor hall past our room full speed holding his right arm. I strongly told the students to stay in their seats and pay attention implying that the math was important. The kids stayed in their seats and we didn’t exit the room until the police told us to much later.

What had happened was after shooting the principal the gunman had shot the assistant principal in the groin, the unarmed Board security guard in the neck and grazed his 8th grade teacher Pete S in the arm. Then he returned to the office where 8th grade teacher Ollie Holmes was calling the police. When the shooter’s gun misfired for some reason, Ollie grabbed him and held him for the police.

The killer had entered Barton with a 45, a 38 and reportedly still had 55 bullets when caught. We later heard that his dad, a Chicago policeman, had started teaching him how to shoot at around age 10 and that he had somehow taken the guns and bullets from his dad’s apartment (he lived with his mom) that morning. Very soon afterwards the Board bought or leased the Little Flower building and about 600 Barton School students were transferred to the new Scott Joplin school.


After the horrific shooting at Barton a number of the school’s teachers appeared on local radio and TV shows. I was asked to be on a morning TV show, Kennedy and Company. They asked for me because the news media had learned that the Barton teachers had asked the CTU to support a one-school strike long before the shooting, and, as CTU delegate, I had made the request at a Delegates meeting.

I didn’t want it to appear on TV that some young, White teacher was the leader at Barton because that was very far from the truth. Black parents, teachers and other community members had been fighting for years to fix the school’s problems. For example, a parent-led boycott resulted in an addition being built onto the school. Both teachers and parents had engaged in many other attempts to fix the Barton’s problems. So the TV show okayed my request and Annie M, an African American teacher who in the 60s was part of a sit down protest with her students in Mayor Daley’s office, said she would come with me. During the show Kennedy concluded while interviewing us that we need to listen to teachers. When teachers ask for a single school strike we need to fix the problem. But more than that remark, I remember a comment he made to me during a commercial break. Kennedy, who seemed like a nice and thoughtful person, asked me, “Why don’t you teach in Highland Park or a place like that?” Highland Park was a Chicago suburb that was nearly all white and very well off. As Annie and I were going back to Barton, Annie said to me, “Did you notice he asked you, Leo, not me about teaching in Highland Park?”


After the principal was killed the board sent extra personnel out to Barton school. This was an attempt to help the students and also to help everyone else in the school. Some community leaders also came to the school in attempt to settle the place down. One African-American leader that came to the school was Judge Eugene Pincham.

Judge Pincham met with all of the school’s students in the assembly hall. It probably took four assemblies at about five hundred students a crack to see all of the kids. I took my sixth grade class down and will always remember one set of questions the judge asked the students. He asked them to raise their hands if there was either a doctor or a lawyer in their family or if a doctor or lawyer was a good friend of their family. There was a small buzz and a few kids raised their hands.

Then the judge asked the students if there was a family member or a good friend of the family who was in jail. There was a loud noise, and some laughing, and most of the students at the assembly raised their hands.


Students were moving all over the room. Some were working on geometry with tangrams, a few had tape recorders with my lessons about order of operations, some others were taking quizzes on many varied topics and skills. Individualized instruction was a major trend in the 70s, and I had put in a lot of work setting up an individualized classroom that I ran two days a week. There were quite a few outside influences that shaped my classroom by the late 70s. Most influences came from other teachers and especially from conferences like The Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference. Some courses I took at local colleges also helped me arrange my classroom, especially from talking with fellow teachers in those classes. I had a strong desire to be a good teacher, and worked very hard to make my classroom better. Barton school had settled down some, instead of over 40 students per class, classes were from the low to mid 30s. Instead of 250 students a day for math I had about 175. My classroom was pretty normal three days a week and individualized the other two days. On those two days the students would come into the room and check the chart on the wall or with me to see what they were supposed to do that class.

While much of the individualized program was skill-based (adding fractions, finding perimeter and area, and other common topics in middle school curriculum) some of it was fairly creative and included incidental learning. For example, when a student was learning how to properly read decimals, they might incidentally learn how to write that decimal as a fraction. One creative project involved using yarn and nails to make pretty geometric designs. The students seem to like it, and it kept me very engaged with their progress.

I kept using the individualized program for several years in the 80s. When I moved to high school in the fall of 1985, I boxed up the program and put it down in our basement. I didn't have the heart to throw it out until 1998 when we moved. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears in those boxes.


“Well, Leo, we know you aren’t married cause ain’t no woman would let you out of the house looking like that,” laughed CTU Field Rep Norma White as she entered the Union’s monthly Delegates meeting at the Bismark Hotel in the Loop. I was standing in the hotel’s outer lobby selling Substance, a muckraking Chicago teachers newspaper, and wearing grey bell-bottoms speckled with red lines and a red and black checkered lumberjack shirt. Getting involved with Substance newspaper would become a big part of my life. I had found what seemed to be a good way to channel my political feelings while putting forth effort outside the classroom too.

I initially got involved with the paper after one CTU Delegates meeting somewhere in the last half of the 70s. Some of the teachers from Substitutes United for Better School, ( S.U.B.S.), another group working to better schools, approached me about joining their organization and working with their paper. This included George Schmidt, the main person behind Substance and who still publishes the paper online today (See . After ACT ended and my son Danny was born in 1974, a year before Substance started publishing, I wasn’t ready to get involved in anything that would take up my extra time. I needed to concentrate on raising my son and striving to become a better teacher. S.U.B.S. was created as a group fighting for better sub pay and conditions. In the mid seventies substitute teachers were still making $40 a day, the same pay as in 1970. Besides articles about unfair practices for this group of teachers, their paper, Substance, also took on both the Board of Ed and the Union. Although S.U.B.S. would eventually disband, the paper remained and my participation with Substance served to balance my life. I was not only doing something worthwhile and in sync with my political beliefs, but I was meeting people whose friendships have remained important to me. I not only wrote many articles, mainly on the budget, but also served as editor for seven years. Besides my family and my job, the paper became part of who I was, and I continued to write articles until I officially retired from CPS in 2000.


All my students were working diligently on their assignment even though it was later in the afternoon. It was productive; the way it should be. I wasn’t a brand new teacher anymore and the classroom was getting better for the students and me. But for some reason that day I didn’t want to leave well enough alone. All of a sudden, on the side of the classroom I started singing:

I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine

[The students were stunned and were staring at me]

I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine

[A few students had started beating on their desks]

I loaded 16 tons of number nine coal

and the boss man said well bless my soul

By this time all the students were banging rhythmically on their desks and it was so loud I wondered if I’d get fired.

…………………….I owe my soooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuul

to the company store

One of my strong points and one of my weak points as a teacher was that I liked to have fun with the students.


Tanner Elementary School

“Would the Sixth Grade teachers in rooms 117, 124, 208, 212 and 216 all send six students each to room 230. We are opening up a new 6th grade. Mr. Gorenstein, the new teacher, is already in the classroom and ready to receive the students.” As a teacher of a little over 10 years I imagined who I would send to me if I were one of the senders. Fortunately the other teachers were veterans too, knew they had a principal who really didn’t think things through very well and, while sending some kids they wanted to see less of, sent a reasonable group resulting in an ordinarily tough group in an ordinarily tough South Side neighborhood.

The school year was only a couple of months old and I had just lost my job at LINK, a government-funded program that tried to bring ‘Exemplary’ government funded programs from around the country to Chicago schools. When schools learned about a program they liked those of us at LINK would help them adopt them and replicate the program in their school. I lost my job because I had filed a grievance against having to work an extra hour as compared to last year even though the job classification and pay hadn’t changed, and, according to the CTU contract, I was not supposed to work the extra hour.

Before taking the LINK job I still liked teaching at Barton. But I had been approached about taking an out-of-the-classroom government-funded job, applied for it, got it and started with the job at the start of the school year in the early 80s. I was classified as a “Teacher on Leave” with the same job rules governing a classroom teacher.

After the first year on the job I was called in by Dr. Mendelson who was a high-up government-funded administrator. He said that next school year Dr. Byrd, the Chicago Schools Superintendent, wanted all non-classroom teachers who were not in schools like me to work an extra hour daily. Mendelson said that if I didn’t want to work the extra hour they would help me return to Barton or transfer to another school.

I thought about it, I had thought about teaching high school math, but, I liked the job at LINK and since I had become the main responsible parent for my son Dan, it was great to have more free time than a classroom teacher has. But the main thing is I didn’t think that Supt. Byrd, Mendelson or anyone else had the right to unilaterally change the CTU contract. I would not have taken the LINK job a year earlier if the job wasn’t governed by the contract. I’d made my decision.

The next school year began and I informed my boss I wouldn’t work the extra hour. When she informed Mendelson he went nuts. Time passed. I won the grievance and the Board simply closed the LINK program to get rid of me and sent me off to Tanner Elementary, which someone must have seen as a punishment, and I began teaching 6th grade.

I wanted to get back to Barton and the Barton principal tried to get me back but it didn’t work. So I went in to see Tanners District Supt. (DS) Dr. Finch who had been Barton’s DS at the time of the shooting, We knew each other pretty well due to those tumultuous times.

I picked up some donuts and went into his office at 6am one morning when Dan was at his moms. I knew Dr. Finch got in early to get work done before the phone, people and events consumed his day. He was definitely not on my side, but he listened. I explained to him that, to me, Mendelson’s offer was like “You still have your job but you have to pay me $50 a week…or clean my house…and about only taking the job because it was covered by the contract. In a while I was back at Barton.


I was sick. It was night before school, and I called sub-center and my friend Noreen who taught one school south of Tanner. She said she’d pick up some lesson plans I’d make for the next day, run into Tanner and drop them off at the office on her way to school.

The next day Noreen called and said she had handed the lesson plans to the principal who promptly asked her, “What should I do with these?” She said she told him to give them to the sub. Sure enough, when I returned after being out one day, there were my untouched, unused lesson plans in my mailbox.


Barton Elementary School

I got on the 79th Street bus heading west with 44 Barton School 7th and 8th graders. It was in the early 80’s, all the kids were African-American, and we were going to the District 15 Math Fair hosted by Bogan High School. A few years earlier Black students going west on 79th to integrate Bogan High were met by White parents protesting the integration of Bogan.

The schools played a huge role in the segregation of Chicago neighborhoods. There essentially was a 12 mile line down Ashland Avenue dividing Blacks and Whites. Barton which was on the west side of Ashland, was one of the schools that broke that line as some Black kids from east of Ashland were assigned the school. Over a period of a few years the school zoomed from about 400 White kids to 1800 Black students. Then the new racial Divide line became Western Avenue, one mile west of Ashland.

I briefly thought about this as our 79th street bus crossed Western and dropped us off at Pulaski, three miles from where we had got on. Bogan High’s Math Department held the contest for upper graders for a number of years to encourage top students to go to Bogan rather than the Magnet select-enrollment high schools. We were competing that day against schools that were still nearly all White.

The results came in. We had won! My students were shouting “We’re number one! We’re number one! ” They were very excited and very happy as was I. For some reason I shushed them and for some reason they shushed. Barton students had the highest average score of all the schools taking part—all 44 kids scores counted, and we took two of the top three individual places. I was thrilled.

That day was the most wonderful day of my whole CPS career. But I knew it wasn’t just because of me. Barton had many wonderful teachers from Kindergarten on up, including some great math teachers throughout the grades: Helen M, Ede I, and especially Dorothy B in 5th grade, and Pete S in 8th grade as well as others I’ve forgotten. We had all done a good job. We could hope that this would be a meaningful and positive experience in some of our students’ lives.

Before we got on the bus to return, I had an 8th grader, Linda G, call the Barton School office, and the clerk announced our victory over the loudspeaker. Teachers told me the next day that a loud cheer went up. We got off the bus at 79th and Wolcott and the 45 of us walked back to Barton holding our trophy.


One of the benefits of winning the math tournament at Bogan was that the high school would recognize our algebra class at Barton. So when our students entered Bogan as freshman they were programmed directly into geometry and given credit for algebra. Because of this we started using a standardized algebra final exam so that the high school could be certain of the results.

Students who went to other high schools weren’t so lucky, however. We tried to inform the schools that some of their students should already be given credit for algebra but were unsuccessful. Two schools did call us during the course of the next year and asked why their students were so advanced in algebra. However, it was too late in the year and the students, unfortunately, had to repeat algebra.

Barton Short Stories 1972 – 1985

I was kind of drunk and found myself sitting with my wife and across from my new principal Mr. Jezek and his wife. It was my first year at Barton school, and we were at the Christmas party. We started talking about teaching and the effect you could have on the students. Mr. Jezek said to me, "you can teach anyway you want when you close your classroom door.” “But you can't shut out the ideas of society by just closing the door," I replied. Mr. Jezek looked at me and said, "You have held up very well in this discussion, Mr. Gorenstein." As a first year untenured teacher at his school, I knew I had better shut up for the rest of the night……………………………………………………

Smokers were in the teachers lounge at least twice a day. Here are a few memories…An agitated Holly F, upper grades science teacher, came in and said to the Chicago police officer assigned to our school since the 1974 shooting, “Officer O’Neil! Can I borrow your gun?”……………………………………………………..

Middle grades teacher Mary M entered, got an aggravated look on her face while looking at several male teachers when she said, “You men. You don’t know pain. Giving birth is real pain. Here, grab your upper lip and touch it to the tip of your nose. Now pull it over the top of your head!”……………………………………………….

I hadn’t been very long at Barton but was already feeling comfortable with the school, students and teachers. It was crazy though as more and more students arrived and new teachers were assigned to the school. While on lunchroom duty, always if not a chaotic scene at least VERY noisy, I walked up to two newly assigned veteran teachers (Bessie D and Dean L) and whispered, “The revolution is starting tomorrow. Meet outside the principal’s office at 10:15.” They both had incredulous yet smiling looks on their faces as this teacher they didn’t know walked away……………………………..

8th grade teacher Ollie Holmes had a party at his house and many of the teachers came to the party. I was sitting on a bar stool when Betty B came over and sat on my lap. We immediately crashed laughing to the floor as our combined weight collapsed the bar stool. Many of the other women teachers unmercifully kidded Betty about her weight for a long, long time to come………………………………….

(A note about Ollie Holmes: Ollie had been a teacher in Mississippi and once in a while a parent would come into Barton and recognize him as their teacher when they had been a kid in Mississippi. He was also on the phone in the office calling the police right after Mr. Jezek was shot when the shooter walked back into the office, pointed the gun at Ollie when the gun misfired. Ollie grabbed him and held him for the police. He was also our picket captain during our numerous strikes.)…………………………..

It was the last day of school. The kids were gone. Pat Glover, a middle grades teacher and wonderful person, handed me a greeting card. She was not only a leader but as union delegate I looked up to her for advice and thoughts about certain situations. I later learned she gave cards to others also. I asked her why she had and she said she had just wanted to. I asked others about the cards but no one had an answer. Next September Pat wasn’t back and we learned she was very ill. She died soon after. Goodbye Pat. You were one of the most wonderful people I ever met……………..…………………..

For a number of years when I got my homeroom back at the end of the day I’d like to read a story from Julius Lester’s Black Folk Tales to the kids. If it was warm out we’d pull down the shades, open the windows and turn the lights out then I’d read them a short story for 15 or 20 minutes. The students liked it and were into the tales and so was I. Nice memory


“Hey, mister, you know what time it is?” I was walking towards the Chicago stadium with my eight-year-old son to see a Chicago Bulls basketball game.

“Sure. It's a 6:45,” I said. The man looked at me again and asked, “ Are you Mr. Gorenstein?”

I said yes.

“You were my seventh-grade math teacher. I had you for unified math. It changed my life.”

Tom E re-introduced himself to me and told me that my math course had been a big help to him. We said a few more words, I thanked him, and we both continued towards the game in our separate ways. It was special to have my son there. Chicago is a huge city, and I very seldom ran into former students.

NOTE: Unified math was a terrific pre-algebra math program in the 70s. It made the students explore, discover and work together while incorporating many of the good ideas from the “new math” of the 1960s while discarding some of the new math’s other ideas that drove everybody nuts. I used facets of the unified math program throughout my career, even at the university level. ………………………………………………………………………………………………

UNNNHHHHH! was the deep, loud, guttural sound that came from deep within me as the students initially became silent and, at the same time, their hair stood up on the back of their necks. My left shoulder had fallen out of its socket when I had pointed back with my left hand to the blackboard during a lesson. My left shoulder had been dislocated during a street football game when I was 20 and fell out from time to time as it just had. I’d then swing the left side of my body and get the left arm swinging back and forth and after a minute or two the shoulder would snap back into place.

All the students silently and intently watched me as I went through the process. After it went back in I told the students that if I only could have their attention like that for a while everyday we’d be able to accomplish everything we wanted to in the classroom. I wonder how many of them went home that night and said to their parents, “You should have seen what Mr. Gorenstein did today.”……………………………….

For a couple of years at Barton, room 308 was not only my homeroom but where other homerooms came to me for departmental math. The classroom was along the school’s back wall overlooking the parking lot and the houses on the other side of Winchester Avenue. Also across the street was a big tree whose branches spanned at least 100 feet. When the kids would really get to me I’d try to look at that tree, count to 10, calm down and not yell and, especially, not swear. It didn’t always work! One day I looked at the students and said, “(maybe yelled) Don’t give me that bullroar’” to which the whole class immediately said, “BULLROAR?” happily laughing as they knew they had really gotten to me. Next day a student named Larry presented me with a beautifully drawn crayola picture of me with a red face, striped shirt, steam coming out of my ears and a word balloon with what I said. I’ve treasured that drawing ever since…………………………………………………

When we had faculty meetings at Barton they were held in the library. At two of these meetings over the years my name was brought up because I was the union delegate and I was talked about by two different principals.

Dr. Charles K was the next assigned principal after Mr. Jezek was shot. Assistant principal Hedy O became acting principal right after the shooting and, (if my memory serves me) finished the 73-74 year as our principal. I was the union delegate during 73-74 and still was when Dr. K began his term in September 1974.

In my opinion Dr. K didn’t respect the CTU contract, or at least did things he saw fit to do even if it meant that the action may be at odds with the contract. When he did take such actions I would call a union meeting, ask the members if they wanted me to file a grievance and would then file one if the teachers agreed that was what we should do. We had only filed class-size grievances to get more teachers sent to Barton when Mr. Jezek was principal, and he was happy to see them filed. Under Dr. K we filed a number of grievances about several of his actions that we felt broke the contract.

I don’t remember how many years Dr. K was at Barton before he applied to and was chosen by another school to be its principal, but it was a few years. One of those years when I had filed a number of grievances he called a meeting for all teachers in the library. During the meeting he said he didn’t know why I’d filed so many grievances and, in my opinion, unfairly attacked me.

So I stood up, defended myself and the CTU contract while he kept saying, “Sit down Mr. Gorenstein” repeatedly. I kept talking over him and when finished said, “I think that’s all” and sat down. I wasn’t proud of what I had done or happy I’d done it but felt it was necessary. The fight for what we felt was fair went on until he’d left the school. I know that many of the teachers had wished it wasn’t happening, but I also knew -- especially with all we had been through together -- that many of the teachers supported me as long as they felt the actions were fair.

NOTE: I had to give up being delegate at the start of the 76-77 school year. I put a note in the CTU members mailboxes and soon a smiling Dr. K said he’d seen my notice announcing a new delegate election date but giving no reason for my leaving the position. Teachers wondered why I was quitting and if Dr. K had gotten to me or what. At a Friday after work get together at a bar Ollie Holmes asked me why I was quitting. “Linda is leaving me, and I have to raise Danny by myself,” I told Ollie. I was glad everyone would finally know.


The second time a principal brought up my name at a library faculty meeting it was very different. “When my friends heard that I’d applied to be the principal at Barton,” he began, “they asked me if I was nuts. That’s the school where the principal was shot! That’s the school where Leo Gorenstein is the union delegate! (I had become delegate again.) But I have found out that Barton is a good school and Leo Gorenstein is a good teacher and person. (Quotes not exact)” Mr. B went on to say that Barton students were doing well in math and math contests and that was because the school had many fine math teachers, not just Mr. Gorenstein. He then said, “But Mr Gorenstein does a very good job when he gets them.’

I felt embarrassed and great at the same time, felt the warmth from the other teachers and was sure I knew why Mr. B feel good about me.

As I came into the office to sign out at the end of the day a very angry Mr. B said, “You don’t work here anymore! You’ve been assigned to Lindblom High School.” I told him I had applied but had told downtown to assign me over the summer, that I wouldn’t switch schools once the year began. Mr. B asked me if I’d decline the assignment and I said sure. He called downtown and I told them I wouldn’t leave Barton. I told Mr. B, “I wouldn’t leave in the middle of the year when you couldn’t replace me with an actual math teacher. I wouldn’t do that to the kids.”

………………………………………………………………………………. 'What's the matter Chris?' I said to the seventh grader in the hall. He was walking with his head down coming from the office, and it was easy to see that he was depressed.

" I feel sick and I called my mom to come and get me. But she said she had a guy there and I would just have to stay at school," he said.

Chris was a student who was very disruptive in my class, and I had never found a good way to work with him all year. I tried not to dislike students that gave me a hard time in the classroom, but if there were any students that I disliked Chris was one of them. After that day I don't remember how he behaved in my classroom, but I stopped disliking and getting angry at him.


Substance reporter and high school English teacher George Schmidt had just written a story for our teachers’ muckraking journal, Substance, claiming that Kelvyn Park High School principal and former number two man in the CPS system Dr. James Moffat had been having sexual relations with students in his office during the school day. Myself, another reporter and the Substance editor were going over the story line by line to make sure that everything could be proven. We may have been only staffed by volunteer teachers but our motto was the same as every other professional journalist: “If your Mother tells you she loves you , check it out.” We not only wanted to avoid a lawsuit but also wanted to be prepared if George had to take the stand in a possible trial. Later he did have to take the stand at Moffit’s trial.

George had already written other stories in Substance where we had been threatened with lawsuits. But because we had checked and double checked our facts, the paper was never sued.

For example, Shelly Lulken, a bigwig in the CTU, was going to sue Substance and George for calling her a police spy. Except, she was a police spy. Then there was a CPS high school swimming coach who threatened to sue Substance when the paper reported that he was sexually abusing swim team members at the school. Nothing came of that. Moffat said he was going to sue the paper too. But then he was convicted.

Before the Moffat story, George had zeroed in on the infamous Marva Collins and consequently wrote over fifty articles to expose her claims. Collins also threatened to sue the paper. The Collins story was huge because she had gained national attention. She was publicly stating that she could teach “The Unteachables,” the students in the Chicago Public Schools who she said the system had given up on. She also touted she could do this without any additional monies and accused the public school teachers of failing them.

Of course the students were teachable, and Substance proved many of Collins's claims false. Not only did Substance articles show that supposedly unteachable students being served very well by their classroom teachers, but one article published a picture of a check to counter Collins claims that she had not received extra funds.

The news story of the “Miracle” had gone to the national media before Substance was able to counter Collin’s claims. Besides a 60 Minutes segment there was a made-for-TV movie with Cicely Tyson playing Collins. President Reagan was even considering making her the Secretary of Education. Eventually her claims were countered, and Substance played a large role in that.

Because of these sensational stories but also because the paper featured stories exposing the shenanigans of not only the Board of Education and Union bureaucrats but also principals, stories that all took the teacher’s side, the paper was able to attract many talented people from the schools. Some offered their services as reporters, production workers, sellers and artists, who drew wonderful political cartoons and beautiful illustrations to accompany the articles. One creative contributor wrote the poem “I are a Nova Doctorate” supporting articles exposing that nearly one third of those in the board held doctorates through the Nova University of Florida. This program, believe it or not, was run by none other than Dr. James Moffat, who later was convicted and received an 105 years sentence for having sex in his office with students. Other popular articles fell under the heading of “Out of the Classroom and into the Money.” My own stories mainly concerned the board’s budget

At that time the articles were produced as long columns from a Mergenthaler press, and it required many of us sitting around large tables cutting and pasting articles, while keeping our beer bottles on the floor to avoid any accidents. When we’d run out of beer many times I would go out under the L tracks late at night on Van Buren to get more. I think they asked me because I was the biggest guy. There was great camaraderie then, and even today I am still friends with many who worked there.

Although the paper served many good purposes including giving many of us a positive outlet problems abounded. There were numerous blowups and fights, delayed deadlines, financial calamities and power struggles. But one of the biggest failings of Substance was never attracting and retaining even a few African American teachers, at least by the time I left the paper in 1997. Despite this failure I know that Substance played an important role for many individuals, the system itself and certainly for me.


"Please come with me to the Teachers’ Lounge, Mrs. S," I said to one of my student’s parents. We were in the second-floor hall and it seemed that she was going to physically attack one of Barton's teachers, Mr. K. Mr. K had had an incident with her son Danny the day before.

Mr. K., in my opinion, had a racist attitude. Soon after coming to Barton he came to me privately and said these people were so loud. He had intimated to me that there was no use trying to teach these students because they were not able to learn. Of course the kids clearly saw his attitude and gave him no respect and a very hard time. The principal had used him, as one teacher put it, as a “movie boy” to relieve other teachers in our very overcrowded school.

In the teachers’ lounge I asked Mrs. S to please try to calm down. I said that if she hit Mr. K she might end up in jail. I promised her I would keep Danny away from Mr. K, and I would even keep him with me or put him with another teacher from then on. Fortunately she trusted me and the incident came to an end.

Later as Union delegate I would have to make sure that Mr. K got all of his rights as the principal started procedures to fire him. Soon he was gone -- probably to another school.


“Could I talk to you privately Leo?” asked one of Barton’s primary teachers. I had no idea what it was about. As union delegate teachers usually came to me with work-related issues, but I didn't think this was a union problem. And I was curious to find out what it was about.

The teacher told me that her daughter, a kindergarten teacher at another Chicago school, was in jail accused of molesting one of her students. She told me that although she knew her daughter was definitely not guilty, the police had come into the school and arrested her. They accused her of molesting one of her students during recess. Furthermore, her daughter was still in jail. My coworker hoped that Substance could help her daughter by putting a story in the newspaper about the horrible situation.

After doing some investigating we discovered that it was alleged that the teacher purposefully kept a certain student in from recess. It was during that time the teacher allegedly molested the kindergartner. We also discovered that it was the mother of the child who made the charge against the teacher. The police had come in and arrested the teacher based not only on the mother’s story, but because of the physical evidence of molestation. We wrote a couple of stories in Substance supporting the teacher but were unable to find any new facts about the case.

Later, it was discovered that the mother's boyfriend had molested the child, and the teacher was let out of jail. Substance didn't play a big role in getting this teacher off, but we did provide the teacher’s side of the story.

NOTE: Several years earlier Richard M Daley, while running for states attorney, was given the chance to speak at a Chicago teachers union delegates meeting. In his speech he cited one reason for teachers to support his candidacy. He promised that if a teacher was to be arrested, he or she would no longer be arrested in front of the students but in a private spot at the school. You can imagine how the delegates reacted to that ludicrous statement.


Teaching high school, biking, and Sue: 1985-97

I had thought about wanting to teach high school for many years, even though I liked grade school kids I took a refresher Trig course in 1977 at the University of Colorado while on study leave during the 77-78 school year with an eye towards moving into high school teaching eventually. I applied for a high school math job in the early 80s but ended up refusing it because it was offered during the school year when I’d have to leave my students in the middle of the year. I wouldn’t do that to the kids knowing that it would be very unlikely that they would get a qualified math teacher.

Many of these thoughts swirled through my head as I entered Metro High School on the 2nd floor of the 33 East Congress Building in the Loop. “Don’t sit in the middle seat,” Mildred, Metro’s office clerk, urgently warned me as I went to sit down on the sofa. “You’ll fall through to the floor,” she said. Between that, the screeching wheels of the CTA trains going around the corner nearby and the uniqueness of Chicago’s “School Without Walls”, I knew I’d found a good home. I’d start teaching there in September 1985.


Metro was a different kind of high school. It was called the school without walls where students had some art classes at the Art Institute, business classes at the Harris Bank and a science class at the Indiana Dunes. Some classes were only 10 weeks long and most classes met two or three days a week. This was very different than the general high schools of the 70s and 80s.

The school was formed as the70s began by a group of educators and others with interesting, open and fresh ideas, and the school was led by its principal Nate Blackmon. So the students were used to very different classes and freedom than students at other schools. These facts presented me with a very different and very interesting challenge to try to run good classes when I started at Metro in September 1985.

The first 10 weeks had ended and I tried to evaluate how it had gone. What was good, what was bad, what needed to change. Dealing with 14 to 18 year olds was certainly different than 12 to 14 year olds. One difference was the creativity the older students used to get out of the classroom. This needed to change so I had a plan for the first day of the second 10 weeks.

“Some of you tell me you have to leave class because you don’t have a pencil – so here are some pencils,‘ as I set down a coffee can full of sharpened pencils on my desk. “Some of you say you need to leave because you don’t have paper – so here is paper,” as I put a ream of paper on the desk. “And some of you say you need to leave because you have to go to the bathroom. Well here’s something for that too.” I pulled up a toddlers plastic toilet and put it on the desk as the students exploded in laughter.


"Where's your homework Mia?" Mia was a student in my Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus class at Metro. She always did her homework and did it very well.

"They started shooting last night, and my mom wasn't home so I just got into the bathtub and stayed there all night," she said. Mia lived in the sprawling Robert Taylor Homes that ranged about 20 blocks alongside the Dan Ryan Expressway on the city's south side.

Later that year Mia said to me, "You know, Leo, I'm the only one left; I'm the only one still in school from my 8th grade class." Later that summer when the AP scores came in, we found out that Mia had passed the Calculus exam.


The air felt good on my face as I rode past the sea lions, cheetah and the flamingos. Soon I was pedaling onto the bridge which took me onto Chicago's 18 mile long lake front bike path. It was the day after Labor Day my first day at Metro high school and the start of my over 25 years of commuting to work by bike.

Bike riding had always been a part of my life but now it would become a much bigger part. That summer before starting work at Metro I took my first solo bike- camping trip in Colorado. I started up in Colorado Springs and went out Ute Pass to the junction by the Arkansas River and followed it back down out of the mountains. I made an over 200 mile loop back to Colorado Springs. After that trip I planned to start riding to and from work.

Riding along the lakefront path with over 3 miles more to go I stopped as I got near the loop. I looked across the water through the bow to the field museum and to the west at Chicago's skyline. It made me feel great. Sue and I rode up Congress and stopped in lock up my bike near Michigan Avenue. Then I walked the remaining block and a half to metro high school. I already knew that biking to work with Adam and let locked my daily life.


“ I thought we'd see crosses burning on the lawns out here,” said Darryl, one of Metro’s senior student council students. We were on the bus coming back from Glen Ellyn, a mostly white, mostly middle to upper middle class western suburb a little over twenty miles from the Loop. The student councils from Metro high school in Chicago and Glenbard West high school in Glen Ellyn had just completed a day together. And the visit went very well, although Darryl’s statement shocked me. But he explained that he didn't think the people in Glen Ellyn would be very welcoming to mainly black and Latino students from the city. Even though the students in the two schools live about 15 miles apart, in one sense they were worlds apart. The integrated Metro student body was largely black and Latino, and the vast majority of Glenbard West’s student body was white. But the students had had a great exchange, and the Glenbard students were going to come to our school at some future date.

Even though I wasn't a sponsor of the student council I got to come along because my wife-to-be Sue who taught at Glenbard West and I had come up with this idea. We had thought it would be a great idea for the student councils to meet and went to work on it. Other teachers in both schools thought it was a good idea and started planning it while Sue and I stepped back.

During that first visit Metro students paired up with West’s student council members and went to some of their classes. Many of the students wanted to go to gym classes because Metro didn't have its own gym using a Park district gym for classes instead. The last part of the day the two student council's met together and discussed many issues.

Darryl’s opinion had certainly changed during the day, and it was evident that most of Metro students were pretty happy with the exchange also. Later that year when the Glenbard students came down to the city the two groups got along very well. They attended classes together and watched a special dance presentation by the drama students. When it was time to say goodbye, the students began exchanging addresses and phone numbers . There were lots of hugs and even tears. It was a good idea and two good days.


“The Board told me that we would have to vacate the building and move our school to Crane High School tomorrow,” said Metro principal Nina R. There was a stunned silence as Metro’s faculty and staff took in the news. It was the day after Labor Day, the first day of the 1991-92 school year, and we had just learned that we would be leaving the Gold Coast part of Chicago where our building was located, and move to the near West Side just west of Chicago's huge medical campus.

A number of the top bureaucrats at the Board of Education had never liked Metro High School since its inception in 1970. They had tried to kill it before. The concept of a school without walls was different and it operated differently from other high school in the system. I had only arrived at the school in 1985, but many of the teachers and staff had been there since 1970. They related stories to me of their fights against the board to keep the school alive. Metro, under the strong leadership of its founding principal, Nate B. along with its staff, teachers and parents, had always been able to fend off the Board’s attacks. But this time was different

A couple of years earlier the Board had come up with a plan to get rid of Nate B. Nate was nearing retirement, and his last four years would determine the size of his pension for the rest of his life. The Board lowered Metro’s rating scale and consequently this lowered the principal’s pay. So if Nate were to remain at Metro his pension would be reduced. As a result he applied for and was hired as the principal of the high school at Cook County Jail which had higher pay. After an interim principal, Nina R. was hired as the principal. She was a very good principal, but she didn’t have Nate’s experience of fighting for the school’s existence against the Board. Another difference was for the first time, Metro was no longer in the Loop’s business district but had relocated to Chicago’s Gold Coast, an exlclusive expensive residential neighborhood. It seemed that some of the residents in the Gold Coast didn’t like having a high school with 350 mainly black and Latino students in the neighborhood every day.

After the announcement, some of the teachers, staff, parents and students met to discuss a plan to take over the building. We would refuse to leave. But in the end we decided not to carry out that idea. No one knew for sure why we were removed. Was it because there were over 350 mainly black and Latino kids in Chicago's Gold Coast? Was it some kind of Chicago real estate deal? Was it just a great dislike of the so-called school without walls by board bureaucrats and others? No one knew for sure, but only 50-some metro students reported that fall to Crane, while all of Metro’s 30 teachers were sent for the first twenty days of the school year.

By the end of September we teachers knew that almost all of us would lose our jobs except for a very few. During the month of September teachers not only looked for jobs for themselves, but helped some students find a different school or progras. By calling my friend Ann H, I helped one Metro student get into her early morning AP Calculus class at nearby Whitney Young High School before to returning to the rest of his classes at Crane. (He passed the AP Calculus exam the next spring.) Then I received a call from the principal at Kenwood academy who was looking for a calculus teacher. Kenwood had just lost one of Illinois’ most famous math teachers Steve V to a suburban school. The Kenwood principal offered me the job. I told him that I’d told the kids that I would go down with the ship. He said he respected my decision. Neither of us knew then that in one more month I would be teaching at Kenwood.

There were many sad stories told as Metro went from a fully functioning high school to just a program inside of another high school. Many of Metro’s wonderful programs that took place outside of its walls were lost. But perhaps the biggest tragedy was that the Board destroyed a school where some regular Chicago kids had found a place that matched their learning style, was a haven from gangs, or both. I remember one mother telling us how proud she was of her son because unbeknownst to her he had found this school for himself and was just about to start his freshman year at Metro. It took several years for Metro to be completely disappear. It existed for a few years as a program within Crane high school, but it was only a shadow of its former self. Why did they do this? For year Chicago bureaucrats had decried the fact that only 50% of its beginning high school students graduated. Then they turn around and shut down a high school which had over 90% of its incoming freshmen eventually graduating. But even though the school had only lived from 1970 to 1991 it had a great impact on many Chicago students, teacher,s parents and the community as a whole.


I was feeling pretty good. It was the end of the first semester, and the students were taking their final algebra exam. This class was filled mainly with sophomores who had failed algebra as freshmen. They seemed to be trying hard on the test. It was my second year at Kenwood Academy High School and in addition to this algebra i was teaching BC calculus. I had always felt it was important for the teachers of the top classes of the subject to also teach students who had the most problems. I really didn't like it when teachers who were heads of departments or had seniority took all the top classes for themselves. As the math chair at Metro I had made sure I taught a variety of classes. At Kenwood I was a newcomer but I had asked to teach Lower level math classes as well as the calculus class. As the test dragged on I had high hopes for the kids. The atmosphere seemed pretty good. But all of a sudden from the middle of the room I heard a little metallic robotic voice, "You're an Asshole!" I looked around and immediately noticed Deon. The smirk on his face told it all. I went over to him and found a little plastic push button object. I took it from him. I used everything I had to calm the situation as the classroom had gotten noisy and unsettled. Pretty soon the class went back to work. When the exam ended, Deon came up to me and said, "Can I have my toy back?" I said "not on your life, Deon!" After school I took the push button thing home and discovered there were other buttons to push. "Fucking Jerk! You're an asshole! Eat shit! Fuck you!"

Later Deon's toy became a huge hit in our family. Everyone just had to have one, so Sue and I gave them as Christmas presents. We realized it had gotten out of control when my brother-in-law, who was confined to a wheelchair, rolled up to some lady in the Nelson Art Gallery and pressed a button, "Fuckin' jerk!" and she started looking around. He looked angelic and wheeled away; Sue's sister could have killed him!


"Hey, Leo, could I come over and see you? "asked Kenneth K who had been a senior in my first AP calculus class at Metro high school. I said sure. I was happy that he wanted to see me and wondered why. It was summer, we had learned that Ken had passed the AP exam and maybe, I thought, he just wanted to say thanks.

The day he came over I soon found out why he wanted to see me. He was selling knives as a summer job before he went away to college. I was surprised and not surprised all at the same time. We bought a knife, and we still have it now 30 years later. We call it the “Kenneth K Knife” and it cuts cakes and pies real well. When we returned to school the next fall I told one of the other teachers about buying a knife that summer from Kenneth. She said, "He got me too!”


“Leo, I woke up at midnight last night and sat bolt upright in bed,” said Foreman High School’s Joe G., my new principal. “ I thought, ‘oh no, some burnout is going to walk in here for that math position I forgot to close,’ and here you are!”

Somehow, illegally as it would turn out much later, I had been dumped out of my math position at Kenwood Academy high school by the new principal. Even though I had successfully restored the AP calculus program at Kenwood The new principal just did not like me.

The year before Kenwood had to scramble to get a calculus teacher after its terrific teacher Steve V left the school. They wound up with a grad student from the U of C, and eight of their 20 students pass the AP exam that year. The school had a much better pass rate when Steve was the teacher. The next year when I taught the course 13 of the 19 students passed the AP exam. Despite that pretty good record the school let me go, and I found myself down at the Board of Ed the first day of the 1993-94 school year looking for another math position.

One of the counselors at the board sent me out to Curie high school for a vacant math position. When I arrived there, the principal said, “Are you the new bilingual Polish math teacher?” I never knew if the principal was telling me the truth and it was really a bilingual position or if he just figured I was some burn out that the Board sent to him. So I just headed back to the board to see the couselor again.

Back at the Board I decided to go see my friend Jimmy Stewart who worked down there. It was late in the morning so he said, “Let's go out for lunch,” and we did. We had a burrito and later walked into his parents apartment in Bridgeport. They were both napping, and we left without disturbing them.

When I went back to the Board some of the other teachers looking for new jobs said that two employment counselors had been looking for me and had called my name. They both knew I was editor of Substance which they disliked. They had both been supporters of James Moffett, the Kelvin Park principal who had been convicted of having sex with students in his offce. They told me that the principal of Kenwood wanted me bad. However she didn't want me to teach the calculus class, she wanted me to teach their eighth-grade program. I said to the counselors that would be like handing me a plate of crap and telling me to eat it. I said that because I had restored their calculus program and was very proud of it. They said, “Okay, here's the book; find a job.” I found the job at Foreman high school, and they told me to report there the next day.

Foreman turned out to be a very good move for me. I had known Joe G for a long time as he had been the principal of my son’s grammar school. I ended up teaching the AB Calculus program there and enjoyed my years at Foreman.

Note: That year only three of Kenwood’s calculus students passed the AP exam. Nick L, the best math teacher I ever knew, took over the following year and, unbelievably, one hundred percent of the students passed the AP exam.


Subbing at the end of my CPS Career 1999-2000

Teaching adults: Shanghai, Prague, Chicago and Seattle 1997-2012

“Wow, my back is really sore! I hope I can bike today,” I said to my wife Sue in the tent on June 25, 1997. We were in western Illinois on the fourth day of our bike trip from Chicago to Seattle, and we hoped to cross the Mississippi River in Iowa later that day. Luckily, a few hours later, while straining while riding up a steep hill, my back popped back into place, and I was OK.

I was very concerned about my back because a few years earlier I had had a herniated disc. . I was able to get past serious problem without surgery because of my wonderful chiropractor Toi Suddeth and a steady regimen of exercises she had given me .

Sue and I were making a huge change from our regular lives. We were leaving our public school teaching jobs, friends and family and heading towards a new adventure to teach English as a foreign language to Chinese Phd science students . Sue thought it would be a great idea to bike from Chicago to Seattle because “after spending all those nights in a tent, our apartment in Shanghai would look like a palace.

As we pedaled over the Mississippi River and towards our first destination on the trip, St. Joseph, Missouri, where she was born and raised, we thought about all that we were leaving behind. Besides leaving public school jobs and taking a 96% pay cut, we were saying goodbye to our three adult children and many friends as we sought adventure overseas. My son Danny had graduated from college the summer before and Sue’s youngest daughter Aly was supposed to graduate by the time we left on our trip. As it turned out she would not graduate until December. Carrie, her oldest daughter was married and living in Seattle.

Sue's mom was alive and well and looking forward to our arrival in Saint Joe , our first stop on our journey. In fact Sue had given her mom Betty her computer so that she could send our messages from China to the rest of the family and our friends. While both Sue's dad and my dad had passed away, my 94-year-old mother was still living in a nursing home a mile and a half away for our Chicago house.

I had made a huge decision months earlier to go oversees for a year even though I might never see my mom alive again. Six years before she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and, for the last two or three years, didn't really know who I was. But she was still my mom. I had thought long and hard about leaving Chicago, and in the end I decided to go, just as I hoped my son would decide if there was a similar circumstance. On Saturday, June 21 I had spent the day with my mom saying goodbye then rode out Sunday morning the next day with Sue and our friend Jerry as we headed 50 miles west of Chicago. Sue was giddy as we rode into Saint Joe and to her mother’s house to complete the first leg of our journey. We spent the next few days with her mom and other family and friends before renting a car and going to Colorado to our friends Bob and Paula Fling. We thought we would not have enough time to ride all the way from Saint Joe to Seattle so we cut Kansas out of the riding equation.

After riding out from the Fling’s in Colorado Springs, we went over Ute Pass near Pikes Peak. We would ride over 14 more passes on our way to Seattle and see many many beautiful sites in our beautiful country.

When we had biked out of Chicago on June 22 we had both soured on the United States a little bit. We felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. We sensed a meanness and a dismissal of the values from the Sixties. But along the way we met many wonderful people. For example, Sherry, a waitress in a Jeffrey city, Wyoming café greeted as we took a break from a long, hot day through what we thought was a bleak and colorless, rocky landscape. She told us her story about moving there with her son and loving the vibrant beautiful colors all over countryside. As we walked out the restaurant, the purples and the pinks of the land took us by surprise and we could see the beauty through her eyes.

By the time we rode into Sue’s daughter Carrie's house in Seattle we had talked with many wonderful Americans in campgrounds, in stores and restaurants along the way. We had reaffirmed our love for both the land and the people. We were ready to go to China.

We had biked over 2600 miles and had spent 50 nights in our tent. And Sue was right. As we entered our apartment in Shanghai, it looked like a palace.


"Do I like my job? Ho, ho, you Americans." replied Mr. Fan to my question during our regular Friday talks in his office. He was our overseer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai. He had spent 36 years in the People’s Liberation Army.

Sue and I were having one of our regular Friday talks with Mr. Fan in his office. Topics ranged from how to make tea using tea leaves in your glass all day long, to what happened in 1989 in Tiananmen Square. We were on very friendly terms, but make no mistake, Mr. Fan’s job was to make sure that we stayed between the lines that the Chinese government had drawn for us as well as all the other foreign teachers in their country.

Sue and I had taken a job at the school for the 1997-98 school year. We had found the job by going to a teacher's job fair in Iowa the previous school year. That job fair was one of about five that headmasters and principles from all over the world attended in the US to hire teachers for the next two years. While no one had come from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to interview teachers for their jobs, they did have a job offer sheet in the notebook we received before attending the conference.

We interviewed for several jobs at the conference, but by the end our choice came down to two jobs. There was a two-year job in Istanbul, Turkey teaching seventh and eighth graders math. We were enamored with Istanbul where the West meets the East, and our students would be young Turks. But Sue would need to wear a dress, and I would need to wear a suit, and the students would stand clapping while we entered the class for each lesson. In addition, we really didn't want to go back to teaching junior high after teaching high school for so many years. Also the job in Turkey was for two years, and the job in Shanghai was only for one year. We had made a decision. We would try to be English teachers in China rather than math teachers in Turkey. One day when Sue came home after work I was jumping up-and-down with a piece of paper in my hand and shouting “We’re going to China! We’re going to China! We're going to China!” We had come a long way from when Sue said when first considering the job in Shanghai "…but, we can't teach English; we are math teachers." It was the spring of 1997 already and we had a huge number of things to take care of before we left for China in late August.


Although I was definitely feeling at home in my Chinese classroom, there were several things that took real getting used to. I had always prided myself on getting to memorize the students’ names quickly. But in China with three names for each person, many that I’d never heard before like Qing Hai Xia and with pronunciations difficult, it became almost impossible.

The textbook for one of our classes was put together by Chinese and American university people and suggested that the Chinese student take an American name while learning English. Many students wanted to be called Lincoln, Roosevelt, Washington or Clinton. It did make it make it easier for me. A few students didn’t want the English, so I tried my best to remember at least one of their names.

Another strange experience was the result of a dictate from Mao Tse Tung who said no building south of the Yangtze River needed heat. So by December most students were wearing their coats in class. Some even wore gloves as they took tests, their breaths visible to me in the cold classroom. Another unusual experience was the caused by my six foot four frame. I was always bumping my head in places that I wasn't used to. I knew I had to duck my head going into the classroom, but several times I bumped it on the ceiling as I was going down the stairs in the building. I discovered the first day of school that my legs wouldn’t fit under my teacher desk so I just propped it up with some books. Finally, it took them a while to find a big enough Chinese bicycle that I could pedal without banging my knees on the handle bars.


“ Sue, Leo, come in here quick,” said Mr. Fan emphatically, has he always spoke to us. Mr. Fan and some of the school’s office staff were standing around a new computer and couldn't wait for Sue and me to come into the room. Mr. Fan said, “Leo, sit down and press this button,” as today's date appeared on the monitor. A voice with a Chinese accent said in English, “What is today’s date?” So I said, “March 13, 1998.” The voice promptly replied, “That is incorrect!” The entire group of Chinese smiled broadly.

Then Mr. Fan sat down at the machine which asked, “What is today's date?” He replied in his heavily accented English , “Mahtch terd, ninetin, ninety et.” The voice enthusiastically replied, “That is correct!” Mr. Fan and all his colleagues exploded in laughter and clapping, and looked very, very happy. Sue said, “Let me try!” and took a turn at the machine but also was told her response was incorrect. It seemed the voice only like Chinese people speaking English.

Everyone, including Sue and I, were happy and laughing. We turned around walked out and went to teach our classes for another day.


The students were taking a test, and I was walking around my classroom, something I had always done since I began teaching. Near the back of the room I saw a student who was about 40 years old just staring at his neighbor’s paper. I couldn't believe it. I quietly said to him, “Please, just look at your own paper,” and he just stared at me. In a few minutes I looked back , and there he was looking again.

That night at home Sue and I discussed what had happened. It was not the first time we had talked about our Chinese students cheating, and we had read about the problem before we left home. But it really bothered me although I hadn’t found a good way to deal with it. I respected my students. In fact I thought highly of them, but I couldn't stand what I thought was their blatant cheating including getting answers off other students’ tests and plagiarizing.

It bothered me enough that one day we had a long discussion about cheating in class. I told them I had the upmost respect for them but that I had strong feelings about copying someone else’s answers. However I also told them that I had never taught adults before, that my students were always children and teenagers. But I tried to explain that I couldn’t turn a blind eye to a written paper that was obviously written by someone else. Nor could I keep silent when I saw someone just copying from another's test. At the time we did not have access to any computer programs dealing with plagiarism nor did we have the Internet.

Many of the students gave passionate views of the subject. They did not feel that they were cheating in any way. When all was said and done I felt a little better after taking the time in class to talk about the subject. Perhaps some behavior changed, but I realized it was their country and their ways. I still had a great deal of respect for them.


"You will teach extra class for the next six weeks, okay?" Mr. Fan said to me. "A group of about 15 workers will be coming from a factory in a town about 400 miles northwest of here. You would just need to speak with them you will not have to give any grades."

This sounded very interesting to me. It would be nice to meet a group of Chinese people from another Chinese city. I learned that it would not take up that much extra time and I could have my glasses around Shanghai where I wanted them. It almost sounded like fun.

Sue helped me with the class and we met the workers at various locations in the city. For example we went to the Shanghai zoo and had a class there. We also went to a botanical garden and had a crash there. It was all very laid back and seemed worthwhile for them. Plus I was enjoying too. We'd talked about what they they thought of Shanghai, places they had seen, things they did. I asked them to tell me about their daily lives. The 15 factory workers were from different parts of the factory. There were two leaders who were the main English translators for the company as well as people from different parts of the company. Each person was supposed to be the English liaison for their section of the business. So hopefully they would all be good English speakers. However while the two leaders were fluent in English there were others who could barely speak English at all. But since this was only conversational English without quizzes, tests or grades, the students as well as myself, didn't have to worry about things. it was relaxed and even fun!

Then a few days before the workers were to return to their factory, Mr. fan came to me and said that I had to give each a numerical grade from 0 to 100 where sixty was passing. I was terribly upset. I had kept very few records. I really didn't know what to do. So after talking with Sue and getting my thoughts together, I began to assign grades that ranged from 58 to 90. After I'd given the grades to Mr. Fan, one of the leaders came to my office and said, "If you give this man a 58, he will lose his job." I changed many of the grades to a range from 62 to 90 something. Even though it was the worse grading experience of my life, it was not my country, I didn't want to hurt anyone, and it was time to move on.

There was always something new to learn in China.


April 13, 2018 at 6:39 PM

By: John Whitfield

! Leo Gorenstein presente !

I didn't know Leo but he looks familiar, and his name even more so, associated with Substance, and even was once editor of it as he stated. What an interesting read ab out someone who cared deeply about his teaching, and the progress of his students. They could have made the movie, 'Stand and Deliver', about Leo's Chicago teaching experience, that is the success his students had performing so well on the Advanced Algebra placement tests, one subject area where such tests were most worthy. Thanks Substance for publishing Leo's memoirs in part, and the work you did for students safety and security. Our own three graduated from CPS high schools, and never complained about not feeling safe, or afraid of going to school. Though most has been a tooth and nail fight with the Board of Ed., the rest of the country could learn a lot from Chicago schools, with respect to safety and security. Yesterday I read down to where the shooting happened, but thank God that was the only one he had to write about. In almost three decades with the public schools in Chicago, I can't recall one such tragedy inside a school, and like Leo, was at some tough schools in tough areas of the city. It is an honorable experience to teach in the public schools, as Leo so humbly writes about. Great lesson to all to ride their bikes more too, get to know our beautiful country, and pleasant people from all walks of life. ! Leo Gorenstein presente !

April 14, 2018 at 12:38 AM

By: Amber Skjelset

I think you did a great job!

What an amazing story. You've left a legacy of kindness and tolerance and turned differences into comfort and unity.

Thank you for setting such a good example.

April 15, 2018 at 12:11 AM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

How much teachers care

I was really moved rereading Leo's memoir even though I had read it a few years ago when he wrote it. To me it shows how tender-hearted teachers are in regard to their students and their own and the students' achievements. How much teachers care and how much it means to them to have students remember them and signify how they learned from them. I wish I could have been a student of Leo because he sounds like a terrific teacher to have.

December 1, 2018 at 4:56 PM

By: Leslie Larson Donley

About the Barton shooting

I was a teacher that day at Barton. When Sandy Hook happened it brought back those horrific memories. I wrote a book called "the Pink Gun" a social commentary about gun ownership. I dedicated it to Principal Jezek.I checked Leo's rendition of the incident and it is exactly as I remembered it. Wish I had contacted Leo before his passing.

April 26, 2021 at 6:17 PM

By: Brenda Gaines Hunter

Mr Gorenstein

I do remember Mr. Gorenstein. He was my 7th grade math teacher at Clara Barton back in 1973. He was a very good teacher.

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