Sidney Siegel--The Middle Years
|As the nation mobilized for war, the Army Signal Corps contacted men skilled in radio work and asked them to enlist. Sid responded in 1941 by appearing for pre-induction tests, which included general intelligence tests. It was in the medical examination that he first learned he had contracted and then recovered from tuberculosis some years earlier; this disqualified him for military service. By the time this discovery was made, however, the intelligence test had been scored, and he was called in by the commanding officer to be told that his score was the highest ever achieved in that service command. Fortified with this information based on the first objective appraisal that had ever been made of his potential, this man -- who had dropped out of high school at age fifteen after flunking algebra -- was able to accept an invitation to serve as a civilian employee of the Signal Corps to receive training in electronics in preparation for being a teacher in the Corps.
During the years 1941 to 1943, Sid received intensive education in electronic engineering and its source fields, including mathematics, at two junior colleges in California and then at Stanford University. Attending classes for eight hours a day, six days a week, he was entirely successful in mastering the highly technical material. He then became an instructor for the Corps, teaching in their program in a California junior college.
In the latter part of the war, the Signal Corps prepared to move its operation overseas, and since the civilian personnel could not be taken along they were released from their commitment to remain with the Corps. Sid had been given a special California teaching credential in connection with the Signal Corps instructional program, and with this credential he received an appointment to teach courses in radio and in science and mathematics in a secondary school in San Jose, California. At the end of his first year of public school teaching, Sid informed the principal that he would. not be returning, as his special credential would expire. The principal urged him to stay, offering to apply for a renewal of the credential, but Sid demurred, indicating that he was not a college graduate and therefore not eligible for regular secondary teaching certification in California. The principal suggested that they apply for an exception in this case, qualifying for it by indicating that Sid was actively working toward a college degree. Sid then told him that he could not enroll in any college courses, since he had never graduated from high school. Although the administrator initially agreed that this obstacle was insuperable, when Sid announced to his classes that he would be leaving at the end of the term the protests from students and their parents were so urgent that an "out" had to be found. Arrangements were made for Sid to graduate from the high school in which he was teaching by taking examinations in high school subject matter. At age twenty-nine, then, he graduated from high school along with his own students. He was then able to enroll for college work on a part-time basis and thereby qualify for continuing high school teaching.
Sid was delighted, for in teaching he had found work he loved. Always impressively energetic, in those years he taught all day long and then taught night classes as well. Having had so little school experience of his own to shape his notions of teaching, he ran a classroom that was unique. He was a natural showman and he aroused interest in mathematics among his students -- many of whom had been assigned to his classes as academic misfits and failures -- by showing them the tricks he could perform with numbers. He trained them in electronics by posing special problems for them, setting flashy tasks for them to accomplish. Most important, he was alight with enthusiasm for his subject and with affection for his students. He gave them coffee breaks when this was unheard of in public school routine. Fridays the class took off for a baseball game or a picnic if the week's work had gone well. Students converged on his home on week-nights and weekends; he was their confidant and trouble shooter, frequently rescuing a boy from another teacher's wrath or bailing him out of jail. By this time Sid was divorced from his wife, and his son, Jay, who had been born in 1941, became the pet of the whole class. Responding to Sid's kindness to them, the students showered his son with gifts and attention -- a junior version of the high school football uniform, a model train set which covered an entire room and was operated by remote voice control, etc.
In the early years, the success of Sid's teaching was demonstrated by the number of his students who qualified for special military assignment on the basis of their knowledge of electronics. Later on, it lay in the number of students who reappraised their own potential and ability on the basis of Sid's confidence in them and went on to further education in the field to which he had introduced them.
On a part-time basis, Sid enrolled in classes at San Jose State College. He might attend an early morning class at the college before his own teaching day began, then return to the campus late in the afternoon for another course before going on to teach his own evening class. There might be a third course he took on Saturday mornings. In the years just after the war, he proceeded far enough in college work on this basis to be able to leave secondary teaching in the middle of 1950, enroll for an overload of courses at the college in the 1950-1951 year, and achieve a bachelor's degree by June, 1951. By this time he had been attracted to the study of psychology, and he entered graduate school at Stanford University within a week of graduating from college at age thirty-five.