South Orange Middle School teacher Steven Cohen has a Donaldson hearing scheduled for Wednesday, July 18th. In anticipation of that hearing, numerous colleagues, parents and students have spoken out and written to Board of Education. Former student Holly Lehren shares excerpts of her letter.
I was not overly fascinated by history when I first sat in Mr. Cohen’s eight-grade classroom. At that time, I considered it to be no more than a subject involving memorizing facts. I can truthfully say after sitting in that classroom that the subject became something more than just a textbook to me.
Mr. Cohen guided his students to look beyond the facts and start making connections between events in history. He had us write document-based essays. He gave lessons on primary and secondary sources, and gave us clear instructions on how to determine how such sources would be helpful in document-based essays.
In class, for the first few months, as an exercise to get the students to start making connections and drawing conclusions based off of certain information, Mr. Cohen would have the class evaluate a quote he would write on the board. This would get us ready for creating document-based essays. We had to connect events and people to the written quote, and Mr. Cohen, while not giving us full answers, would stimulate our minds with carefully explained examples of what such quotes would relate to, such as how Machiavelli’s views on government connected to the Legalist Dynasty in China views on how the government and people should act in reference to each other.
These quote evaluations set us up for evaluating primary and secondary sources from history for document-based essays. I was easily able to make connections between certain events that were relevant to the document and that would also enhance the point I would try to get across in my essay.
Debates also prepared us for high school. Mr. Cohen helped us gather the most useful information to argue our case. We would act well as a team because of his leadership, and were able to give strong arguments in the many debates over the school year because of Mr. Cohen’s guiding hand.
He also showed us how to make notes based off textbook reading. This skill proved invaluable during the debates as well as in my freshman year, because it was the most fruitful mechanism for gathering information for essays and debates, and also was needed for the majority of the time for homework in high school.
Other activities that Mr. Cohen guided us through that prepared us for high school included PowerPoint creations and presentations, writing techniques for essays, (such as the thesis, how to group the body paragraphs, and the most effective way to draw out the conclusion), and how to prepare an essay in a 45-minute time space. The methods that go into these projects were valuable for me to know in freshman year, as knowing how to do them set me apart from my classmates and helped me to perform to the best of my ability.
I would also like to say that not only did Mr. Cohen give his students well- taught methods for projects, classroom activities, and homework, he gave each students a tireless wave of enthusiastic compliments and constructive criticism. He made me believe that I could succeed.
Mr. Cohen not only changed my outlook on history, but the outlooks of many other students as well. This has to be clear from the many passionate students who have sent you letters and given speeches concerning their respect and gratitude toward Mr. Cohen. Furthermore, there have been numerous protests at South Orange Middle School on the behalf of Mr. Cohen and Ms. McCort.
In light of the voluminous speeches, letters, and protests, please understand that Mr. Cohen has meant more than a teacher to his countless students; he has been the person that prepared them for life by making them believe in themselves. With his daily advice and never-ending kindness, Mr. Cohen made the classroom a place for friends to meet, debates to occur, lessons to be learned, smiles to be shared, and a feeling of true joy to spread.
I want to believe that in our community and our country, people get jobs and promotions based on the quality of their skills, on who they are and what they do, on the effort they commit to succeed. That it is based on merit. The idea that you all now believe Mr. Cohen does not have a place in our schools shakes that belief at its core.