Mr. Sheinfeld is Retiring

By Mila Maricic, 2027

Over 30 years, Mr. Sheinfeld has made many contributions to the art department and community at BHS. To commemorate his retirement, we asked him about working with students, creating artwork, and his experiences over the years.

Q: What subjects do you teach?

A: This year, I teach Photo I, Photo II, Art I, Art II, Digital Photo I, Digital photo II, though I haven’t had a section in a while, Digital Art I, and Senior Project, though I only have one Senior Project student this year.

Q: How long have you been teaching at BHS? 

A: This is my 30th year here.

Q: What initially drew you to education?

A: I had several experiences that made me aware that I enjoyed thinking about how other people think, and planted the seed of an idea, or set of ideas, the nub of which is that understanding how various people think is important to helping them to learn effectively.  My successes in “translating” teachers for various students in particular ways tailored to those specific students were, I think, the first experiences suggesting to me that teaching might be interesting and exciting.

I had several experiences in college that planted another idea in my head.  These were experiences of feeling as though a class was a sort of family, that we were greater than the sum of our parts, and that each individual’s insights were contributing to what all of us were learning.  One such experience was in a creative writing class in which we listened to and discussed each other’s short stories.  We had to be sensitive not only to what might, in our opinion, improve a story, but also to what the author (a fellow student) wanted the story to be.  In other words, since creative writing, like much visual art, is intended as a form of personal expression, it was important to respect the individuality of each classmate when critiquing her/his work. 

The latter instilled in me a kind of ideal of a learning community as both challenging and supportive. 

Q: What was your favorite topic/subject to teach?

A: I don’t feel comfortable with picking a favorite subject to teach. 

Q: What was your favorite thing/what will you miss most about your time at BHS? 

A: I will miss working with students, and probably won’t miss faculty meetings. I miss when students will get excited about making art and being proud of their work. I’ve really appreciated having students for all 4 years.

Q: What is something that has changed while you’ve been here? 

A: I feel as though students used to photograph outside of school, and had time to hang out with friends and spend time outside, but now I feel that students don’t have as much time for that. Social media is also changing things. 

Q: What advice would you give to a new teacher at BHS?

A: As a teacher, you have to be really prepared to work with students and support students who have trouble with procedural things. I see the most challenges with students in Photo I, and while it’s always been hard, it feels like students’ performance has gotten worse in recent years. I would advise the new teacher to be aware of many students needing help. 

Q: What legacy do you hope to leave?

A: I’m a bit dubious about the notion of “leaving a legacy” – both in general and more specifically as it relates to a teacher retiring from the school where he or she has taught.  While I believe it is very important to think about legacy in many contexts – for example, think of the necessity we now all face to preserve livable environment for future generations of living things – in many instances, individuals can exert only very limited control over what they leave behind.

Something I value very highly is working across boundaries such as the boundaries between academic disciplines.  But, while I engaged in several different sorts of activities aimed at promoting this value at our high school (some of which activities involved carrying out projects or work initiated by others, and some of which I engaged on more on my own initiative), I am leaving our school with no strong sense that any of my small (and some of my larger) efforts are having, or will have, a lasting impact.  

In relation to the notion of “legacy,” I think a useful dichotomy to consider is that between tradition and innovation.  A school must serve the society in which it exists, but that society itself has always got feet in both the past and the future (not to mention the present: it must be a kind of three-footed beast!).  In other words, the priorities and concerns of communities, administrators, parents, teachers, and students themselves all change over time.  (And, even in one moment, values conflict and collide.) What may have seemed to work before may no longer serve.  In other words, I see reasons why no school should feel entirely beholden to the past.  At the same time, those who have taught for a considerable length of time do sometimes learn a great deal, and through their experience and work gain perspectives that may, perhaps, only be gained in this way, slowly and over time.

An institution – a high school, for instance – is different from a person.  But one might draw useful parallels between the two.  Just as some individuals are perhaps better than others at learning from experience as they sift through their pasts – successes, failures, and outcomes harder to characterize – I think some institutions are better than others at maintaining, and making use of, their “institutional memories.”   This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit during my almost-thirty years at Bedford High School, and I’m hoping to make some small contributions to an effort at improving our institutional memory even as, and after, I end my teaching career here.  But I say this with a keen awareness of how unpredictable the effects of any individual’s efforts may be.  

Two images of “legacy” come to my mind.  One is of a former English department head, with whom I taught a section or two of Humanities (now Creativity and Culture).   Just after he retired, or perhaps it was right as he was retiring, someone remarked on how completely this retiring PA had cleaned out his files: he left virtually nothing.  I think, from something someone else may have said, that this retiring teacher didn’t want to burden anyone with his materials: he wanted a new person to feel free to make his or her own decisions and make their own way.  But I remember hearing some expressions of dismay at what had been lost.

Q: What are your plans for retirement?

A: I hope to keep photographing, and hope to keep drawing and painting more. I look forward to doing more creative projects and putting my creative work in order, or in exhibits.

Q: If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?

A: I think it’s good to be the judge of your own accomplishments. If you enjoy something or learn from it, I think it’s good to keep doing it. If you think you’ve made something worth sharing with others, then I think it’s worth trying to share with others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *