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UFT.org Home > News > New York Teacher > Noteworthy Grads > Noteworthy graduates: Susan Isaacs, best-selling author
Sigrid Estrada A politician campaigning in the boroughs chokes to death on a knish. A philandering periodontist is found murdered in his Nassau County office. A secretary in Queens becomes an international spy, not unusual in Susan Isaacs’ novels, in which a woman dropping off her son at summer camp can get a call from a CIA agent in the next breath.
It’s all vintage Isaacs, a world of murder, mayhem, mensches — and suspense in suburbia. Wickedly delicious as the ice cream calling from our heroine’s fridge at midnight, it’s social satire at its best.
Wicked yet warm, with sassy, vulnerable, strong women who have been charming millions of readers ever since the breakout “Compromising Positions,” published in 1978. Eleven best-sellers have followed for Isaacs, whose charmed life began on a Brooklyn-Queens trajectory, from PS 197 and IS 234 in Flatbush to Forest Hills HS to Queens College.
School was not one glorious cocktail party, but I certainly enjoyed elementary school and might have enjoyed high school if I hadn’t been an adolescent.
The teachers of my youth were mostly women who started teaching during the Depression and were like the British colonizing their little charges, seeing their job not only as educating us but teaching us manners.
I remember the entire class vying to be Miss Morrell’s tea monitor, which was like tea for two but was only tea for one — the job was preparing her tea.
What I remember most were closets filled with books. It was like somebody opening the vault at Tiffany’s.
I also remember being kind of bored. I learned to read very quickly and the other kids were still sounding out words and it took forever.
But generally elementary school was a pleasant experience; the teachers remained the same, there was always Miss May Moore and Miss Ruth Moore, and the scary Miss Chivvas. There was nobody less mischievous than Miss Chivvas.
I can’t say that any teacher changed my life, but I got a terrific grounding and free education straight through. In an ideal world the city wouldn’t bash teacher unions and would not only support public schools but give money to those students who met the criteria to go to a city college.
Brooklyn was a real neighborhood; there was watching the Coney Island fireworks from rooftops every Tuesday night in summer and the seasonal ritual of mothers putting slipcovers on the furniture. In our neighborhood, there were us Jewish kids, Irish kids and Italian kids.
The Irish kids had blue eyes, the Italian kids were the best fed, and the goal was to go over to the Italian kids’ houses during some school holiday and hope their mother asked if you wanted to stay for dinner.
Mr. Phillips, a high school English teacher, was Brooklyn’s answer to Noel Coward. I thought he was terribly clever and somewhat cynical, which was very pleasing to adolescents. That was the beginning of realizing that each teacher was different, that they were not fungible authority figures, which is part of growing up.
I remember my one bad-girl moment in high school, cutting class and going to a horror movie on 42nd Street. I loved vampire movies.
I remember not being able to use the bathroom at the movies because it was dirty and realizing that I had to take the E Train all the way back to Queens before I could go, and I was convinced that despite our red lipstick a truant officer was going to spot us as being too young to be out on a school day. So it was not exactly a carefree wild experience but an anxiety-ridden Jewish-Queens experience.
In Mr. Justin’s English class I realized I had an ability for English, not just for reading comprehension but more toward literary criticism.
I remember the kind and decent physics teacher, Mr. Lazarus. I liked physics but I couldn’t do the math. I got lost in math in elementary school, and never quite caught up. I had whooping cough, and it was serious enough that I had to stay home for around three weeks, and I missed long division.
Whooping cough was much more fun than long division. You got to read.
— as told to reporter Ellie Spielberg
The series “Noteworthy Graduates” features outstanding New York City public school alumni talking about what they owe to their education.
What is your favorite movie about a teacher?
Dead Poets Society
Stand and Deliver
Mr. Holland's Opus
Total votes: 647