Doreen Burnston's Learning Story


In 1953 my parents moved our family into a New York City housing project in East New York, Brooklyn. How absolutely demeaning! I hated it and I hated my parents for making us live there. I hated my new neighborhood; I hated my school. I felt so lost. I missed my best friend from the old neighborhood and I missed my grandparents. I missed my old school. I was always a good student in spite of my parents. They were never encouraging. They were never supportive. I didn’t have a quiet place to study. I didn’t have anyone to check my homework. I was the middle child sandwiched between two brothers. I think they held to the old adage that girls didn’t have to be educated; girls were supposed to go to work. School became my sanctuary. There I could excel and be noticed and praised for my accomplishments. In my new school I was placed in the “one” classes; those groupings for bright students. I did all my homework and handed in my reports on time. I sang in the Christmas choir after I washed, starched, and ironed a white dress I borrowed. I came in second in the school spelling bee. I always loved books and soon discovered the public library within the project complex. I was old enough to walk there by myself and that is where I spent much of my spare time. I loved the smell of the books and the quiet atmosphere where I could read and study in solitude. It seemed inevitable that my destiny led me into the teaching profession again in spite of my parents and their lack of support. I worked, married,had children, went to college, and finally got a Master’s degree in education. My career took me into a similar neighborhood in which I grew up. I could identify with my students who also had no support, no help, and no quiet place to study. I was encouraging and supportive and offered a safe and quiet place to study and there were always those students, who like myself, were self motivated and were successful in spite of all the distractions around them. They came early for help and stayed late to do homework. My closet was always opened if they needed any supplies. I was so proud of them for persevering in order to achieve their goals. I retired from teaching in June, 2007 and left with the greatest accomplishment a teacher could experience. One of my students, so motivated and dedicated, who came early and stayed late, graduated from the high school with the highest honor achievable. She was the school VALEDICTORIAN. I couldn’t have been any prouder had she been my own child!