Reflections on “The Angel Inside Went Sour”
Dr. Esther Rothman’s book, “The Angel Inside Went Sour” documents her position as the principal of Livingston School for girls in New York, beginning in 1959. Rothman, a well experienced teacher with a doctorate in psychology was highly qualified for any principal position by the time she was assigned to Livingston. This school was special in that it was the final destination for troublesome girls; a place where they were sent when they had been suspended from multiple public schools and even failed in the correctional schools. As a principal, Dr. Rothman drastically changed the daily routine and methods of Livingston. She hired teachers who could not only teach, but who loved teaching. Teachers at Livingston had to love learning from their students and be willing to put up with and love students who: used dirty language as their main vocabulary, acted without a sense of purpose, were frustrated with life, yet, fought to survive and keep above the water of hopelessness (Rothman 1972). She describes many examples and scenarios in which she both failed and succeeded in reaching out and showing girls that they were loved and could make something better of their lives.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Angel Inside Went Sour”. Through Dr. Rothman’s words, I was able to step inside the inner city school of Livingston and catch a glimpse at what real teaching is all about. At first, I was a bit shocked at the attitudes and vulgar language that the girls used; Rothman thoughtfully included word-for-word language of the girls for authenticity and honesty. But as I continued reading, I was thankful for the exposure to the everyday experiences that the teachers at Livingston had.
As an inner city school, Livingston was filled with girls from extremely rough home lives. Girls faced situations and experiences I could never dream of living through. I loved how Rothman took the school day and flipped it upside down by having the students choose their own schedule and which subjects they wanted to learn. This not only showed me the importance of giving students choices, but even a bit more control when they have none in their personal lives. I realize that this exact example is next to impossible for most schools, but in principal, the idea of breaking the mold, and molding education to fit the needs of students is revolutionary and very applicable to the classroom today.
Livingston was also a very multicultural school with the minority being white students. Rothman treated students of different ethnicities equally. She seemed to see race as a cultural boundary (Banks, 2010). Her staff was comprised of a mixture of races. Through her eyes, whether it be a student or teacher, she saw them as people. Dr. Rothman and her teachers did not simply overlook race and culture when teaching, they embraced it. They allowed the culture to change their curriculum so that it was designed specifically for their students (Banks, 2010).
I was continuously inspired by the way Dr. Rothman handled difficult situations and difficult students. Her methods were grounded in getting students to understand why they were hurt, why they felt the need to lash out at others, and how they might better fix the problem by being in control of themselves. She rarely “punished” girls. Punishment seems to be the easy way out of a problem, without really solving it (Rothman, 1972). Instead, Rothman worked through problems with students and found ways of rewarding those who were able to work through problems on their own.
As I continued to read, I was awestruck and challenged by the lives of the teachers at Livingston as well as by Dr. Rothman herself. They were able to see past the behavior of a student, and look deeper into the lives and hurts of students, in order to heal their broken self-worth. Students, no, people, came first. When a girl was at Livingston, she was not there to improve her reading, writing, or arithmetic; though she often did so. She was there to learn about herself, and hopefully come to the realization that she could be more. Teachers needed to be good at their subject. So good, so as to attract the attention and curiosity of girls who chose what they felt they should learn. But more than experts in their field, teachers needed to be invested in the lives of their students. They had to care more about the girls than they did about being cussed at. They had to care more about making a difference in the lives of their students than their test scores. These were real teachers.
When I am teaching, I hope to be able to model myself after the teachers at Livingston. They saw past race, social economic status, and reached out to hurting lives. Through respecting the students, and treating them like breathing, feeling, human beings, teachers were able to connect with students and make a difference. I want to put my students first. I will put their personal growth before my classroom agendas and be sensitive to the lives which they live. From a multicultural standpoint, I will defy racial and ethnic stereotypes and treat my students with respect. Doing this, I hope to also look through the behaviors of my students and dig deeper into the hurt causing their angel inside to be sour.
Banks, J.A., & Banks, C.A. (2010). Multicultural education: issues and perspectives. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons
Rothman, E. P. (1972). The angel inside went sour. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books.