Emmett Koltun Dienstag was born and raised in the Bronx in New York City. He came to the Hudson Valley to attend the undergraduate program at Bard College and continued his education with the Bard MAT program. During his time at Bard he studied his two passions, science and language. Emmet was inspired to share his love of learning with students. He graduated from the Bard MAT program last spring and now teaches science at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY
I first started teaching when I was 13 at my middle school’s after-school program. A few years later I began teaching at a not-for-profit organization in a summer program. Every experience made me feel that I had something to offer to the future by passing on what my knowledge. This feeling was strongest when I had the opportunity to teach science. Teaching this subje
ct was a way for me to help students understand the world around them. My science teachers invoked a burning passion within me to understand all that I could about the universe. From the infinitesimally small to the astronomically big, I saw the potential to discover so much and yet there was an awareness that is was only a part of the whole story. I wanted others to experience the same wonder I felt when looking around at our world.
This desire to inspire future generations is based on lessons I learned from my grandparents. While I learned very little science from them, I did learn a great deal about how to inspire.
When my grandparents arrived in this country, they had nothing. As Holocaust survivors they were beginning a long journey to rebuild their lives after their worlds were taken from them. Yet even with everything taken from them, they were able to create a life for themselves thanks to their desire to learn and grow.
My grandmother Bessie, or Bubbie (Yiddish for grandma), was fortunate to have received an education when she was a little girl. Her family was considered to be quite wealthy, and this afforded her certain privileges that helped her define her future after the war. When Bubbie arrived in America she was able to quickly learn English to help support her new life; thanks to the 4 other languages she knew, she was also able to build a community. My grandfather Jack, or Zadie (Yiddish for grandpa), quickly applied skills he had learned from his father to become a jeweler. For years he worked as a janitor in a jewelry shop in midtown Manhattan. He marveled at the fine art and craftsmanship that his father had developed as a shoemaker. I still own a pocket lighter that he sold at his business with the company logo.
Bubbie and Zadie were passionate and determined immigrants who took the opportunity to learn and create a new life. As my grandparents, they wanted me to be happy and thankful. Their experience as survivors was harsh and cruel and even toward the end of their lives it left a significant mark on their minds. Despite all they had experienced, through all their hardship- they found time to appreciate the world around them. Appreciating family was always a priority and joy for them and they taught my sister and me to do the same. Zadie would take us into his shop and we would learn about the types of cuts of gems. Bubbie would teach us about her cooking and sing us songs in Lithuanian, Yiddish, and English.
Bubbie and Zadie inspire me each day as I teach my students in Red Hook. I enjoy creating opportunities to ignite the spark of learning. All that I do as a teacher is an effort to honor the legacy of my grandparents. I hope to inspire my students to create a life where they reach their potential; a life on their own terms, following dreams for a better future… just like Bubbie and Zadie.