Back to the Future: Rebels Return to Teach

Pride that never dies—South alumni Mr. Schwartz and Mrs. Drucker grew up in Great Neck and continue to contribute to the community. Both serving as teachers in the district, they keep their Rebel pride alive today.

Reproduced by permission of Alan Schwartz and Leslie Drucker

By Elina Malamed

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” your first grade teacher asks as you doodle a firefighter, doctor, singer, or even your favorite Yankees pitcher. This was a person you looked up to and aspired to become––your role model. However, these aspirations probably changed as you inched your way toward adulthood. Nothing is certain. Everything seems like a mystery. Somehow, the future paves its way—sometimes in totally unexpected ways.
As a seventeen-year-old at South High, Alan Schwartz never dreamed of a specific future for himself. He never expected to become known as Mr. Schwartz, the band teacher, to his future students at South Middle. Starting his musical career in Theatre South and Choir, he had zero idea where music would take him and no interest in becoming a teacher.
One day, the opportunity to teach introduced itself. “I was working with a small music arts organization in Seacliff, that now actually houses Pirate’s Booty…” he said giggling. “I got a phone call from my old high school band teacher saying that they needed an assistant teacher to work between South High School and South Middle School.” As soon as he took the job, “the love for it was just–was there,” he said.
Another South High seventeen-year-old, Leslie Relkin, had ideas of where she wanted to go in life but wasn’t certain of what she wanted to pursue. Little did she know at the time: her last name would soon be Drucker and she would become the mother to three daughters, raised in the same district where she grew up.
Her visions of her future varied. “[My goals] changed all the time. I went from wanting to be a broadcaster to being a lawyer.” However, she discovered a passion for education as time went on. For a year now, she has been working as a substitute teacher at Parkville and Lakeville.
After school hours, you may find the two alumni at a concert. Stage lights shine on Mr. Schwartz as he raises his arms to cue anxious musicians for “Jingle Bell Rock.” Lively music plays and power resonates from his conducting baton. Meanwhile, in the audience, Mrs. Drucker waits for the choir to sing and for her daughters to perform their solos in festive songs.
Neither of them anticipated their futures involving the same district they grew up in. “There’s always a deja vu moment for me,” said Mrs. Drucker. “Some of the same teachers that I had were here when the older ones were in school. It’s just constantly bringing me back.” She even recognizing a teacher whom she remembered teaching her typewriting class almost 35 years ago.
Whether it is catching the bus, fitting in a four-minute cram before those DBQs, or joking around with friends to let energy out before another 40 minutes of learning, these halls create memories. Thinking of walking through them, years after graduating, can be both exciting and spooky.
Mr. Schwartz said, “And every time I pass it, I touch my locker–I touch my locker for four years. My locker was 4574. And don’t ask me, I can’t remember to bring home milk, but I remember my locker was 4574 right in the middle of the language hall.”
“I just want to continue learning to be a better teacher than I was yesterday. I’m very lucky. Very, very lucky, that I found what I wanted to do.” He loves the students and directing. “As long as I can keep being a creative teacher, I am happy.”