By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Like Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Albert Mazza’s “A Teacher Grows in Brooklyn” is a coming-of-age story that traces a young individual’s roots and life-changing encounters in Brooklyn and beyond.
In Mazza's opening chapter he recalls riding the ferry from Sheepshead Bay to Breezy Point on summer evenings. He goes on to describe the 1940s Brooklyn he grew up in as “magical.” Mazza enjoyed living just two blocks from Coney Island, playing sports on the beach with friends, and hanging out with peers in front of the local candy store.
While his book is filled with nostalgia, in the preface Mazza explains that he hopes his book will be read as instructive rather than simply as a memoir. He writes, “I want to make it clear that I don’t want this book to be considered my memoirs. I would prefer that the reader learns how I was able to take advantage of opportunities that faced me and directed me along a career path that resulted in the most unusual experiences.”
Indeed, Mazza’s experiences were unique. As a young adult in 1963, he landed a job at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, where he taught earth science for several years. Quickly, though, Mazza recognized that the New York City public school system was short-sighted in a global sense; thus, he resolved to bring more worldly insights and experiences to his students.
Mazza began working at the New York City Board of Education’s central office in 1979 and was selected to accompany students to Israel. He traveled extensively with these New York City students around the Middle East, opening up global partnerships and exchanges that offered his students unmatched opportunities for growth.
Mazza’s book is filled with copies of original photographs and documents that offer another layer of depth to his exciting adventures as an educator, including exchanges that detail his creation of the Young Diplomats Program, a free student exchange program that he ran from 1979 to 1990. Finally, after retiring in 1995, Mazza became the Director of Education for the America-Israel Friendship League.
Despite his global interests, Mazza pays homage to his Brooklyn roots; in fact, he quotes singer Neil Diamond: “Brooklyn is not the easiest place to grow up in, although, I wouldn’t change the experience for anything.”