By Damali Ramirez ’18
Every year just under 1,000 people accept the daring challenge of climbing the 29,029 feet mountain known as Mount Everest. Throughout their journey, they face multiple obstacles but overcome them in hopes of getting to the top. For 31 years, Ms. Catherine Kaczmarek accepted a “mountain” of challenges as the Argus adviser, a mentor to new teachers, and Midwood’s Journalism and Art and Literature teacher.
“You give me a mountain, I’m going to climb it,” said Ms. Kaczmarek.
As a seven-year-old, she was like a young Matilda, traveling to the library and taking out as many books as she could. Her love for literature morphed her into becoming an English teacher, instructing future generations how to express themselves through writing.
“I’ve always pretty much wanted to become a teacher. I love school, I love learning, I love the whole structure of school, it always made sense to me. It was always very comfortable in school. I’m a little bit of a geek,” she said. “I love kids, I love watching the light bulbs go up in people’s heads when they have a lesson and they’re getting it. That kind of magic — I’ve always been attracted to it.”
Ms. Kaczmarek started her teaching career in 1987 and later became the adviser of Argus in 1989. Ms. Kaczmarek met her husband Mr. Paul Milkman in 1988, and they have been together for 28 years. Her daughter Caitlyn Milkman attended and graduated Midwood High school in 2010.
When she first started teaching Journalism, it consisted of a mix of literature and journalism. However, she later changed the curriculum to focus on non-fiction writing as Journalism began to change. Technology had a huge impact on designing the course to focus on the real world.
“I had to teach it to myself. Nobody taught it to me because there was nobody in this building who could teach me because it was brand new,” she stated.
The process of publishing Argus also adjusted to modern day technology. Often, she would take computer classes to learn about desktop publishing.
“We didn’t have computers back then. We had to type everything and use x-acto knives to cut everything out. It was so different. Today it’s light years worth of difference,” she said. “As much as I love what you do with the computer — the wrap around text and the videos we put up today — I never imagined we would be doing that when I first started.”
In 2003, Ms. Kaczmarek was inspired to start an Art and Literature class after reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
“That book made me realize there’s a whole industry of books about art out there that kids would really be interested in and that I’m interested in. I love art,” she stated.
Unlike Journalism, Ms. Kaczmarek found teaching Art and Literature easier. As a high school student, she was enrolled in a humanities program that integrated art, social studies, and English, inspiring her to visit art museums.
“It’s just one of the things that kids frequently do not get in schools because it’s not funded,” she said. “There’s not enough money for art education.”
Art and Literature focuses on teaching art, history, literature, and writing all together utilizing books as a center point. Students regularly go on trips, as Ms. Kaczmarek thinks it’s important for students to learn about the cultural institutions New York City has to offer.
In the future, Ms. Kaczmarek is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and is considering teaching at colleges, perhaps at Brooklyn College. She wants to mentor new teachers and develop their teaching styles.
For her retirement, Ms. Kaczmarek plans on traveling to Italy in July, going on safari in Africa, and visiting Australia and New Zealand. No matter which continent she lands on, she’ll continue to climb mountains.