A legend in Baltimore’s Jewish community, Paul Bolenbaugh, 75, has been teaching students — first at Pikesville High School and, for the last 10 years, at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School — for almost 50 years. The JT caught up with Bolenbaugh, who teaches history, during his summer vacation to explore what’s changed and what’s remained the same since he first began his career.
JT: When did you start teaching?
Bolenbaugh: I started teaching in the Baltimore County Public Schools in 1960 and began teaching at Pikesville High School in 1965. I taught the very first graduating class there.
What is your favorite part about teaching?
The interaction with the students. At Pikesville, the students made me laugh every day. Now that I’m at Beth Tfiloh, they make me laugh every day, too. It keeps me young.
You teach the children of former students now. What’s that like?
Around 1985, I started teaching the children of former students at Pikesville. Every year, I have a student or several students whose parents I’ve taught. [For many years] I never had a sense of the passage of time and I never thought about it. After moving to BT, I became more conscious of time and of my age.
Where do you see the most change between the current generation of students and their parents’ generation?
It’s a whole different universe. I think that the earlier students I taught were more avid readers. The current students do read, but they are reading through iPads or computers. It’s nothing like picking up a book and reading.
The politics of the country have changed. When I taught at Pikesville, Vietnam protests were raging. I know students from Pikesville who went to Washington to protest. Students’ interests in politics are lower key nowadays. Students today are concerned about environmental problems. I think their parents were more aware of global issues; they knew the names of countries.
Most students today don’t know what’s going on in the world. At BT … students learn and are aware of the Middle East, but overall I think their parents were more aware of what’s going on in the world. [Yet somehow], I think their children are, in some cases, worldlier.
What’s the most rewarding part of teaching a child of a former student?
When someone remembers you and says, “You taught me something” — some core concept or idea that affected their lives — you cannot imagine how good that makes a teacher feel. Every time I encounter it, it makes me feel that I chose the right profession.