It was a very busy day for Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible. It was her birthday and she had plans to travel to Ithaca to celebrate with her son. But first, she had to a make big announcement about the winner of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations to students at the Roc2Change Summit on Race in Rochester.
And somehow in between, she also had to track down Philippe Abraham, secretary-treasurer of NYSUT, who spoke at the union-sponsored summit about his struggles coming to America at age 17 from Haiti, where he said his brown skin and clipped accent led people to make assumptions about his abilities and intellect.
For Goldberg-Schaible, who works for the Rochester Research Group, getting a minute with Abraham was personal. She wanted to thank him for all that the union had provided her mother, retired United Federation of Teacher member Eileen Schnier, who recently died at the age of 98. Schnier taught physical education and was a college advisor to high school students.
“All the way until she died, her teacher’s pension kept coming, and it enabled her to live independently,” said Goldberg-Schaible. “It enabled her to live well, and it made all the difference in the world. Social Security wouldn’t have been enough. I want to write a thank-you letter to the union.”
Goldberg-Schaible recalled how her grandmother wanted to be a teacher. But back then, teachers could not be pregnant, so she was discouraged from pursuing her dream because she also wanted to raise a family.
Fortunately, that changed. And when Goldberg-Schaible’s mother was ready to choose a profession, she went in to the teaching, attracted in part by the influence of unions.
“My mom was the first generation who could be a teacher and raise a family,” she said.
Eileen Schnier did more than teach physical education. She got involved with her union.
“My mother marched with Albert Shanker on the picket line,” Goldberg-Schaible said proudly, referring to early teacher protests in New York City led by the legendary labor leader and former president of the United Federation of Teachers and later, the American Federation of Teachers. “She understood how important those issues were back then, and that they were long-term game changers. She was grateful for the advocacy that the union provided.”
Schnier worked at Forest Hills High School, and then at John Bowne High School, her daughter said.
Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible (left), her mom Eileen Schnier (seated) and Jocelyn's sister, Linda Roper, a retired teacher. Photo provided.
“Back in those days they had over 100 kids in each phys-ed class, and they'd start by lining up on the floor in a grid pattern of numbered columns and lettered rows, sitting cross-legged, with a leader at the front of each column taking attendance and reporting that C-4 or F-9 were absent that day. Class control must have been a real challenge, but my mom somehow made it all work. Years later, one of her students told me that they'd referred to my mom as ‘Sergeant Schnier’ because of how organized and buttoned-up she was. As her daughter, I can't say that story surprised me one bit,” Goldberg-Schaible said.
Her mother’s sister became a teacher, and her own sister did, too.
“Mom retired proudly after a long career, and always encouraged good people to consider teaching as a great career,” said Goldberg-Schaibile.
Fourteen years ago, Goldberg-Schaible brought the Princeton Prize in Race Relations to Rochester.
In speaking at the Rochester summit, NYSUT’s Abraham encouraged the 600 students in the audience to persevere, to mentor others, and to find allies in their quest to succeed in life.
As Goldberg-Schaible introduced the student finalists, their projects, and, eventually, the winner of the coveted Princeton Prize, she talked about each student’s work in the community and, globally, to promote acceptance of diversity and improve race relations. The winner received $1,000 and attendance to a conference.
Goldberg-Schaible’s prize was having her mom for 98 years. Her mom’s prize, meanwhile, was her family and her union.