Remembering Dr. Marilyn Aronson

April 25th, 2010

Dr. Marilyn Aronson was one of those rare teachers who truly made a difference, and left a profound impact on all of her students.

Dr. Aronson taught Freshman English and the Senior year A.P. Literature class at Staten Island Technical High School. She liked to say, she loved to teach the Freshmen when they enter, and the Seniors when the leave. I was fortunate to have Dr. Aronson for two full years of High School

I will never forget my first class with her. On my first day of High School, in September of 1998, I had Dr. Aronson for English during First Period. Immediately after we walked into class, she handed out a syllabus–a document totally unfamiliar to me from my previous schooling.

The theme of her syllabus was “Everything Counts.” What does that mean? She explained your grade would not be based on an arithmetic average of your exam scores, essay scores, or class participation. Rather, your grade would be based on a totality of everything you do; not just in the class, but outside the class. She was grading you based on what kind of student you were, what kind of classmate you were, and perhaps most importantly, what kind of human being you were. That message stuck with me, and I think about it all the time. I always remember that with respect to reputation, everything counts. Sage words for 14-year-old students.

After she explained the syllabus, she handed out a thick textbook, and asked us to read Edgar Alan Poe’s The Cask of the Amontillado for the next day. In my previous English classes, all books and short stories were read together in class. Never before had a teacher assigned a reading at home, let alone on the first day of school. Almost all of the students ignored her warning. On the second day of class, we walked in, and bam! Pop quiz on the Cask of the Amontillado! Few of us had ever even had a pop quiz, let alone on the second day of school.

Fortunately I had read the story. I received a 92 on the exam. I’ll never forget the question I got wrong– I forgot whether the story took place in France or Italy. But the vast majority of the class failed the exam, many students receiving zeros. With this sharp move, Dr. Aronson set the tone for the course. She did not treat this like a Freshman English class, but as a college-level course. And she expected all of her students to perform at that level.

During my Senior Year, I took Dr. Aronson for A.P. Literature. This class was like a blitzkrieg of the Classics. From the Greek Classics to the Book of Job to works of the Bronte sisters (Dr. Aronson loved the Brontes) to Steinbeck  and more. It seemed every week we were reading some other great work. Never before, and never since, have I been exposed to such amazing literature. On a number of occasions we stayed late into the night, reading entire plays from Shakespeare–Lear Lunacy as she called it, when we covered King Lear in one sitting. We would come to class on weekends to write practice essays for the A.P. exam.

She expected so much from her students, but if you met her expectations, the rewards were immense. If you came to class prepared–and failing to do so came with significant risks–Dr. Aronson always provided the insights and explanations of the works that made them come alive.

Outside the classroom, she was also the leader of the Manhattan Theater Club. She would frequently take groups of up to 50 students on field trips to Broadways shows. Her love of theater was immense. Her classroom was decorated with Playbills from every show you could imagine. And she would never hesitate to break into song during class.

But beyond being an amazing teacher, and a connoisseur of the arts, she was an inspiration. She taught you to always look for the hidden meanings in things, and to never accept anything at its face value. This is not only an essential skills in the interpretation of literature; this is a capability that enhances all elements of a person’s life.

Dr. Aronson, you were one of a kind. Thank you for being that special teacher that we will never, ever forget.