Paul O’Brien, retired teacher turned author, took his 47 years In front of a classroom and penned it into a compelling book popular among local alumni. Submitted photo
SCHENECTADY — When longtime faculty member Paul O’Brien retired from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in June 2014, he decided that he should “try to put down a few thoughts” about his teaching career. He recalls that three articles he wrote, which were later published in the English Record, “kind of evolved” into a new project that “took on a life of its own.”
In his recently published memoir, “Voices from Room 6: A Teacher Remembers,” O’Brien, who began teaching English and literature at Schenectady’s Notre Dame High School in 1964, transferring to the merged Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in 1975, takes readers on a journey through his 47 years at the helm of a Catholic high school classroom. Room 6 at 2600 Albany Street served as his home away from home for over 35 years.
Sifting through nearly five decades worth of ND-BG memories, some of which are “so vivid in my mind that I’ve relived them so many times,” O’Brien selected “…moments that felt a little deeper than normal to me. [I tried to] capture the truth that was in those moments,” comparing it to how [Ernest] Hemingway used to talk about the iceberg: you sort of see it, but then you feel a lot more that’s underneath the water.” These memories are grouped into four categories: the importance of laughter in the classroom, what happens in a small school when someone dies, music in the classroom, and what he refers to as misses/near misses, “when I didn’t reach students or reached them later in life.”
As he shares his memories with readers, he not only explains the meanings behind some of the personal objects he kept in Room 6, including the items photographed on the book’s front cover, but also introduces them to the family members, friends, colleagues and students who’ve influenced and inspired him, both inside and outside of the classroom.
O’Brien realizes that those who have ties to the ND-BG community or a familiarity with Catholic education as a whole will have the most interest in his memoir. However, based on input from some family members, friends, and his publishing agent, he isn’t ruling out the possibility of a wider reach.
“I don’t know about a bigger audience,” he says. “Someone said it’s a good book for all beginning teachers to read [because I discuss] the journey from the beginning…. Overall, I think it almost has the feel of what it’s like to be a teacher and deal with real people.”
To date, his memoir seems to have a captive audience: its first printing sold out. Eighty copies were purchased during a book reading and signing held in the school’s library earlier this month, while dozens more were sold to friends and alumni around the Capital District after O’Brien announced its publication on Facebook.
Copies of the second printing of “Voices from Room 6” are now available for purchase locally at The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza or Market Block Books on River Street in Troy for $17.95. The book is also available online at amazon.com.
Editor’s Note: Lianne Webster-Kim, a copyeditor and page designer for The Spotlight Newspapers, is one of O’Brien’s many former students. She graduated from ND-BG in 1994.