Remembering Richard Strong

Watch a workshop presentation that's uniquely Richard

Visit Richard's Memorial Site.

See some of Richard's great work at The Thoughtful Classroom.

Among his many talents, Richard was an extraordinarily gifted writer and storyteller. He refused to see any writing task as an exercise in formality, preferring instead to play with different genres and let real human stories carry the load.

What follows was supposed to be Richard’s Curriculum Vitae, which a client requested. Instead, Richard wrote this piece—a mix of professional autobiography and personal memoir, all done in that wonderful voice we all miss so much.

I grew up in a tiny town on a lake in northwestern New Jersey and spent most of my time in the woods fishing, reading, camping, and—for a short period—running a taxidermy service with an 83-year-old woman named Estelle Bruns. My Uncle Bill Wilson was the famous Bill W. who founded Alcoholics Anonymous and, at his direction when I was 15, I began to read Ghandi. Because of Ghandi, I made a lifelong commitment to non-violence as a way of living and thinking. Though I cannot say I have always lived up to this commitment, it does fill the space that religion holds in most people’s lives.

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The woods were too distracting, and my own reading too fulfilling, to leave much time for school and my high school grades suffered the effects. I spent a year after high school travelling around America doing odd jobs and reading Tennyson (for a reason that I can no longer remember) obsessively.

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The following year I attended Fairleigh Dickinson University—the only school that would have me—intending to study animal husbandry. This didn’t work out, so I transferred to N.Y.U. where I majored in Classics and film. In my sophomore year, my father went bankrupt and I ended up working my way through college as a “teacher” in a psychiatric hospital. After college I began training to become a therapist but I soon discovered I had no talent whatsoever in this direction. So, I got a job working for the Museum of Natural History. They gave me a van full of animal fossils and scientific equipment and asked me to drive around New York putting on science demonstrations in schools for the deaf. I loved that job. It paid next to nothing but I got to keep snakes, fish, and a variety of small mammals in my apartment. And then there were the kids who called me Father Nature and never failed to make me feel more fulfilled and happier than I had ever been before.

That’s when I decided to become a teacher. I took a graduate degree in education at Bank Street College and began teaching first physical education (badly), and then sixth-grade (better) at the Fieldston Preparatory School in The Bronx. But I soon found that I missed the company of the poorer children I had known in the psychiatric hospital and transferred to the East Harlem Block School, where I taught social studies and math.

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I married Sheila Marian Levine, had two sons, opened up a small business teaching adults how to write, and realized I was bored. I returned to college in the summers so I could gain certification to teach history and English at the high school level. After seven wonderful years I grew bored again, and got myself a job as a Director of Gifted Education. Then, I got bored again—and realized that, a) I loved teaching, b) I missed the company of adults, and c) I didn’t want to become a college professor. So I became a consultant.

I still teach five days a month in a variety of towns around the United States, but this is not the heart of my work. I love my work as a consultant; nothing else has ever provided me with more satisfaction. I wake up every morning at 3 a.m. and read educational research and French philosophy for two hours, put on the khakis for the day, and go to the work I love. I feel both blessed and lucky. I have tried to figure out why. Most of the people I work with are better teachers than I was, or am now. You would think that might be depressing or humbling in a way that could be unpleasant. But that is not how it feels to me.

Except for my family, I am a rather solitary man. I was a solitary boy. I had three friends: my dog Cloe, a juvenile delinquent named Ricky Luedtke, and an 83-year-old retired English teacher, who showed me how to tan a hide, clean a spring, cook frogs’ legs, and read a poem so deeply it became inscribed in your heart.

For a while I thought it was the company of students I adored—I was wrong. It was the company of teachers that I was after.