John C. Leonard, Teacher from UFT
* Retired teacher
* Mott Hall School, Manhattan
John C. Leonard, a computer science and technology teacher who retired in 2003, made a powerful difference in the lives of his students and his community. Stern but fair, John always managed to weave life lessons into his teaching at the Mott Hall School in West Harlem.
John, age 71, entered the city’s teaching force in 1969 and for the next 34 years taught mostly middle school students how to understand computers and integrate them in practical ways in their daily lives.
Of the more than 120 tribute comments dedicated to John’s memory on a Mott Hall School alumni Facebook page, many thanked him for teaching them typing skills. “He tried to prepare us early on for living in a world of technology,” said Tatanisia Lumley, one of his former students.
John was a respected and senior member of the computer science department at Mott Hall School. Known for his cool demeanor and words of wisdom, students and educators alike sought him out not only for laptop troubleshooting but also for guidance.
Inspiring self-reflection before it was a catchphrase, John would ask his students, “Do you know why you are where you are?” If you knew John for a short time or a lifetime, you knew he wouldn’t settle for split-second, thoughtless responses.
A longtime Bronx resident, John served as an auxiliary policeman in Manhattan for more than 25 years, until the time of his death.
Following his retirement from full-time teaching, John had more time to perform as a DJ and he embraced photography as a hobby. As he had done throughout his life, John enjoyed visiting family in North Carolina. Through his beloved Bethel Gospel Assembly and its Christian Educators ministry in Harlem, he volunteered to teach English in South Africa. He also served on the church’s security team. Keeping New York City’s children close to his heart, he also served as a substitute teacher at PS 160 in his Co-op City neighborhood until 2009.
John is survived by his daughters, Veronica and Cynthia; and his brother, Charles.