Ask Izzy. He’ll tell you a lot of worthwhile things you need to know in life from solving quadratic equations to how to return a lemon of a television. Izzy Pivnick, San Francisco native, always knew he wanted to be a teacher and knew how it should be done thanks to the example of a couple of his own teachers who did it so badly. Yes, we can learn valuable lessons from negative example, how to do it right from seeing it done wrong. Twenty years later he was the supervisor of these teachers and was still saying about them, “Those poor kids.”
Izzy earned his teaching degree from San Francisco State University, where he was the 1946-1947 student body president who led 2,000 students in a peaceful City Hall demonstration that resulted in a property sale to the state that is now the SF State University campus.This was not the last time Izzy smiled at the status quo and went his own way.
He was a physical education major with a minor in math, and his first choice was to be a gym teacher, but, terrified as he was of the water, the requirement to master swimming and diving sent him running from the physically rigorous to the mentally rigorous. On his last day of swimming class, he had to tread water and dive off a ten-foot board. He did it, but he was scared to death and never wanted to have to do it again. Math was so much safer. But the pull of kinetic joy stayed with him forever and found expression in his dance classes for the parents of his students. Izzy, remember, is a man who knows how to lead others onto his own path, so at a school open house one night, as the auditorium was filled with parents, he offered to teach them folk dancing. They went for it in a big way, and Izzy had six hundred parents dancing in the yard. He laughs as he recalls, “Some neighbors called to say, that man out there is teaching dirty dancing.” His laughter intensifies as he explains, “It was the Hokey Pokey. During recess I would teach kickball or soccer of volleyball.” The plus here was that Izzy got a call from the superintendent saying, “If you can do that, you can be an administrator.” His leadership abilities led him from one interesting success to the next. And, always there was that “ask Izzy” tendency of people who counted on him for support and straightforward trustable judgment.
A year after being an assistant principal he was asked to supervise one particular teacher. He observed for 3 days and had no choice but to tell her she was not going to make it. She was thrilled. She never wanted to be a teacher. “Mr. Pivnick” she said, “I never wanted to be a teacher. My father wanted me to be a teacher.’” So, he took matters into his own hands and called her father to tell him she had no future as a teacher. She wanted to work at Macy’s and would be good at that, but not with kids. She happily resigned and found a job meant for her. He laments, “There are parents who persuade children to go into teaching when they have no desire or talent at it. Not good for anyone, teacher or students.”
Izzy gets real joy at letting others shine. One day in front of the classroom he pronounced a judicial word and was told by one of his brightest students that he pronounced it incorrectly. Because he knew that letting a student be right is empowering in its own right, he asked her to pronounce it and welcomed the correction. He had the insight and grace to ask her opinion. He did not silence her. He says, “Teaching is a two way thing.” About learning from your students, he says “And how!” Side note here; Many years later the man Izzy recommended for outstanding teacher of the year was the husband of the student who long ago had corrected his pronunciation.
Izzy never needed to be the focus of attention, and in line with his profound appreciation of his students’ talents and wanting them to be known for their best, he once called the music supervisor to say that although he himself had a terrible voice, he had some students with beautiful voices, and he arranged for them to lead the other children.
As grammar school classrooms were, at one time, the province of women, there had been only two men before Izzy who, in that era, taught elementary school. His practice teaching was third and sixth grades, but, because he likes the grades where students already have some knowledge to build on, he settled into seventh and eighth grades. He is aware that there are separate abilities to teach at different levels.
Izzy, ever with an eye towards improvement, knew that learning should not stop at the end of the school day, so he began a volunteer program to read stories on tape that kids could take home. He says, “Teachers do not generally like assistants. They do not want to be observed and often do not know how to use an assistant,” but he feels there should be one-on-one tutors if a child is having difficulty with a subject. As the district did not have enough money for hiring special tutors, Izzy began the SF Education Auxiliary.
He was also involved in raising money to hire staff to end bullying that may go unnoticed by the classroom teachers since more of it goes on in the yard than in the classroom. He remembers a child whose mother had cancer lost her own hair. “We got her a wig. The kids in the yard would pull the wig off and throw it around. What is the best way to handle bullying. First is to be aware. Which of them are doing it. Call on them and have a one-to-one conversation. What happens when parents are notified their child is a bully? It is a tricky business to get parents to acknowledge their child’s bullying and act on it.” He says, “Sometimes nice endings sometimes not.” Because constant finding fault with children can make parents wary of a conference with a teacher, Izzy, ever on the vigil to make people comfortable, once actually visited a parent at home to say that a student was doing something right. Out of the ordinary? Yes. The power of the uncommon, as you know by now, defines Izzy Pivnick. And, as they say, “This is just for starters.”
He says he is a dual personality, truly an introvert who, because he loves people, gives the feel of an extrovert. He has an easy familiarity, so people come to him for leadership. Izzy retire? Nonsense. His next chapter is still solving problems but of a non-mathematical sort. He was in the hospital when someone called him to ask if he could start a program for people who had problems. First KRON and then KPIX. How could he resist. This is a man whose specialty was getting from point A to point B without stumbling and successfully teaching others how to do it. Presto change-o, here we have Ask Izzy. He is now shrewd investigator at a consumer help radio program.
His first call for help was a man who bought a tv only to find that once he got it home it was not working so he brought it back. He was met with an sales person who insisted on having the original box in order to return it. So Izzy went to this same store. He bought a tv, paif for it and asked if there was anything the sales person needed to say. No, nothing to add, the salesman said. “Anything you want to tell me in case I have to return it,” Izzy asked, The salesman gave him a definite “No.” Izzy brought the unboxed television back the next day. The salesman said, “You need to have the original box it came in if you want to return it, “ the salesman said. “Ahhhh,” Izzy purred. “Is that what you forgot to tell me?” Job done. Both televisions got returned. Another man bought a brand new vw. When it was serviced it fell of the hoist. Not to worry, the service place said they would fix it. The man whose car was smashed wanted a new one. They refused and warned him not to talk to any tv people. He called Izzy. Problem got solved. If you want to hear about the woman who went for Botox treatments and was injected with plaster of Paris instead, listen for yourself to Izzy talk about this and the rest of his life so far and what he is doing these days.
Love Letters? Of course. He has every letter ever sent to him, the condolence letters on the passing of his wife each of which he answered, letters from students (he is still in touch with several and has lunch with various groups of them every three months). He has letters from his grandchildren that specify what they have learned form him. But he says they are all jumbled together and need to be filed. Yes, exactly. Put them in order for your own joy as you reread them while filing, and file them for the joy of your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who will still be reading them someday and learning what a fabulous pedigree they have as Izzy Pivnick’s descendants.