After receiving a conservative Catholic school education in New York City, Richard Leonard became a public school teacher during the turbulent year of 1968 when Vietnam and Civil Rights protests marked a new era in teacher-student relationships. Teenagers were challenging the government in the streets—and the authority figures in the schools. The teachers of the golden years—the peaceful fifties and early sixties—were all-powerful; the teachers of the protest years were not.
From 1968 to 1972, Leonard taught eleventh and twelfth grade English at Gorton High School in Yonkers, New York. He learned that his students' world was not the simpler world of his youth when the teacher's word was absolute, and they listened, because they always had. Broken families, drugs, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the military draft changed everyone's perception of authority.
During Leonard's first year, he designed lesson plans for homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, integrated appropriate African-American literature into the existing program, participated as a member of the substance abuse committee, and managed potentially volatile disciplinary problems. After some early problems with student rebelliousness—and his inexperience—he thoroughly enjoyed his classes.
After an eight-day strike in 1972, Leonard decided to leave Yonkers for a position at Eastchester High School in Eastchester, New York, where he taught English for twenty-eight years. During that time, he taught general, academic, and honors classes, wrote the curriculum for the school's first English Advanced Placement course, and collaborated with history and science teachers in a program for students at risk. In 1975, he developed and taught for twenty-five years the Creative Writing course, and advised Forum, the school's award-winning literary magazine. In 1981, 1990, and 1998, the seniors honored him with yearbook dedications.
With the advent of internet plagiarism, PowerPoint-presentation, differentiated-learning workshops, administrative hierarchies and classroom micromanagement, and the marketing of Advanced Placement courses for public relations, Leonard lamented his golden years. When slippery whiteboards and foul smelling, greasy markers replaced the dusty blackboards and chalk in his classroom, he retired in 2000, the end of another era in American education.