The Mayor of NYC or a Math Teacher?

Ms. Cohen has been teaching math at FSSA since the school opened.

She is a tall 5’1, with light brown hair that falls below her shoulders, she fashions light grey sneakers color coordinated with her light grey cardigan, and her usual jeans (in this case, black). She wears a pair of too-big glasses that sit comfortably on her smiling face. She has a reputation for being strict although many students don’t actually know who she is. As she walks through the hallway, she says hi to students that yell out her name, and talks to any teacher that happens to be walking her way.

Sitting at her desk under the fluorescent lighting of the first floor math classroom she explains that her life is not what she had expected. Ms. Cohen has been teaching at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) for 16 years. The fact that she has spent her life teaching math to 9th-12th graders is something she never expected.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that I was gonna be a math teacher, I would have been like on the floor laughing hysterically,” Ms. Cohen said.

Ms. Cohen explains though that her dream jobs were either to be the major of New York City or the manager of the Yankees. Unfortunately, as she points out, the mayor job requires a law degree, and the manager job would take a lot of coaxing because the Yankees have never had a female manager. 

Married at 17, Ms. Cohen didn’t go to college right out of high school. When she was able to go back to school she thought that her teachers were explaining math in overly complicated ways. She ended up getting a math degree because she felt she definitely could do better. 

Ms. Cohen has worked at FSSA since the beginning and her own son graduated with the school’s first graduating class. However, she sometimes finds it difficult to work as an academic teacher at an arts high school.

Ms. Cohen gives an example of a former student who was giving her a lot of attitude and who was disruptive in class. She couldn’t get the student to listen to her, but when the drama teacher reprimanded him he backed down right away. This was because otherwise he would have lost his role in the musical. Ms. Cohen feels that she couldn’t do the same because she doesn’t have the same leverage.

Even though Ms. Cohen doesn’t feel that she has an artistic side she really enjoys the creativity of the Frank Sinatra students and even enjoys going to musical theater shows both inside of school and outside of school, in her free time. Ms. Cohen thinks the artistic kids at Frank Sinatra can be sensitive and dramatic, but also super open and interesting to talk to.

“They are much more open about stuff, I don’t want to say shy because there are a lot of shy kids in this school, but it’s sort of like, some of the crazy things I talk about with students in this school, I can’t imagine talking about with non art kids, you know? It’s just a different kind of personality, where they are just much more open to whatever,” she adds.

Although Ms. Cohen’s life might not be as she had expected and she doesn’t have the power that the mayor of NYC does, the life of a high school math teacher seems to suit her well.

She loves the thrill of teaching students something new, and for her nothing can beat the feeling of being able get a student who hates math to finally understand it and sometimes even love it.

— by Alice Baum ’19