One often hears about teachers who were an inspiration to their students, who were beloved for their kindness and understanding, or even their toughness. Those stories are touching and true. This story is about a person who was all of that and more to thousands of teachers who never even knew her.
Nancy Finkelstein, our friend and colleague, passed away on Leap Year Day 2016 after a short, intense bout with leukemia. Before retiring in 2009, she was project manager for the Science Media Group (SMG) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA. Before that, she was the president of Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). But at her core, Nancy was a teacher, having taught for Malden, MA public schools. And her mission was to empower teachers.
In its condolence message to its members, MTA leaders shared this memory of Nancy: “Nancy said to the 1988 Annual Meeting, ‘When people have asked me what I do, I never respond that I am a union president. I tell them that I am a teacher. I am proud to be a teacher. I am proud to be the president of teachers. And I am very proud of all of you.’”
Dr. Matt Schneps, Nancy’s colleague at the SMG and its founding director, remembered Nancy’s forthright attitude. “Nancy, always the pragmatist, was the person I relied on when I needed a reality check, to rein in my head-in-the-clouds ideas. She had a remarkable understanding of people. And she had a clear — and often colorful way of conveying her thoughts. ‘If you think that’s gonna work, I’ll eat this stapler,’ she’d say, holding the metal desktop gizmo up against her clenched teeth. She was right, of course. When Nancy spoke, people listened, and without her sage tell-it-like-is council, we would not have been able to accomplish even a small fraction of what we did.”
Nancy built a team that ran the Annenberg Channel, a 24/7 satellite-delivered source of professional development video programming for teachers. She also was the host/moderator of the very first workshop series “The Private Universe Project in Science.” The early workshops focused on math and science and later expanded into all discipline areas. Nancy shaped and whipped into shape many of the series that are hallmarks of teacher professional development: Looking at Learning…Again, Science in Focus workshops, and Essential Science for Teachers courses, among many other titles.
Under Nancy’s watch the Annenberg Channel went from a few hours after school to a few dozen sites delivered by the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Technology (MCET), to a national range reaching more than 99,000 schools. As part of that effort, Nancy’s team oversaw the use of the workshops by teacher study groups and set up a system for teachers to earn graduate credit through Colorado State University or a certificate of participation. Nancy understood that teachers also needed to keep up with training and certification to move up the pay scale. And those teachers who wanted to improve their practice, were the ones who would be most effective in the classroom.
“What I remember about Nancy above all other things was her deep sense of compassion and resolute integrity. She was a person who strongly believed that all people (teachers, students, parents, workers,…) needed to be treated with respect,” said Dr. Schneps, “a philosophy we learned from and tried to emulate as best we could.”
Nancy Finkelstein imbued Annenberg programming with that respect. Generations of teachers and their students have felt it. Even if they didn’t know her.
We thank you, Nancy, for what you have done for all of us. We shall miss you dearly.