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When New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy announced the start of a program this spring designed to attract disaffected professionals to teaching careers through accelerated training, it must have been with people like James Fogel in mind. A former prosecutor and criminal court judge who had left the bench in 1990 out of utter disenchantment with the state of the courts, Fogel had been working since then as an arbitrator and mediator — mainly with what he considered the noble objective of keeping people out of a poorly functioning system. Fogel had also entertained notions of becoming a teacher through the years but had abandoned them in the face of a qualification process he found impractically long. And he had a lingering desire to work at something that would provide a public, as well as a personal, benefit. So when Fogel, 49, heard about Levy’s initiative, known officially as the New York City Teaching Fellows program, he quickly sent off an e-mail to apply. Accepted into the program in July, Fogel is now in the midst of a five-week “boot camp,” meant to inculcate the basics of leading a class before the new recruits arrive in their schools — the city’s worst-performing –on Sept. 7. - It is undeniably a daunting prospect, as Levy — who is himself a former lawyer at New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — made clear when he addressed the roughly 300 members of the first class of fellows on their first day of training. “[T]he mountain you are about to climb is a very, very high mountain. I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” he told the class. “Fasten your seatbelts.” But Fogel said he was confident that his experience as a lawyer would see him through. “One way or another, I’ve spent the last 25 years connecting with a whole range of people,” he said. “I can do this.” FRUSTRATED BY LAW Fogel graduated from Harvard University in three years with a degree in physics in 1971. But he said he abandoned science for the law in part out of a sense of altruism. “There were people out there who needed to be helped,” he said. “And there were things you could do with a law degree to help people.” After graduation from Yale Law School in 1975, Fogel spent two years in private practice at Nickerson, Kramer, Lowenstein, Nessen & Kamin (now New York-based Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel) before joining the Manhattan district attorney’s office. There, he tried the highly publicized 1982 case that ended in the manslaughter conviction of convict-author Jack Henry Abbott. Fogel later was named deputy chief of both the Major Offenses and Career Criminals, and Frauds Bureaus. After 10 years in the office, Fogel was nominated to the criminal court by former Mayor Edward I. Koch in 1987. But presiding over criminal cases in the Bronx proved to be enormously dissatisfying. Although recommended for reappointment, Fogel withdrew his nomination and left the bench in 1990. He recalled being worn out by the seemingly endless procession of arrests for crimes like street drug sales and prostitution. “It’s sort of fun being a judge. You sit up there in a black robe and people do what you tell them to — mostly. But it’s frustrating,” he said. “You watch it and you say to yourself, ‘What is the point?’ “ By then, Fogel had also developed at least an equal degree of scorn for the workings of the civil court system, notably the feeling that the sheer expense of civil litigation, especially in the discovery phase, frequently prevents meritorious claims from being brought. “The only people who have a vested interest in this system are the people who make money from it,” he said. “To wit, the people who are reading this article.” Returning to the private sector, Fogel started a business called Legal Choices, and for the next 10 years worked primarily as a mediator and arbitrator. “I left [the bench] mostly because I was very soured on the legal system,” he said, “and it seemed the best thing I could do was keep people out of it.” BACK TO SCHOOL Although the idea of teaching occurred to him occasionally as he tutored his three children in math, it essentially lay dormant until this spring, when his wife, a partner in the Manhattan office of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, heard Levy speak about the new program. “She came home and said, ‘This is for you,’ ” Fogel said. The Teaching Fellows program, a pet project of Levy, was publicly unveiled in a series of print advertisements in June that challenged readers to help improve the performance of New York City’s schools. Created to attract the attention of professionals who found themselves spiritually unfulfilled by their current jobs, the program pays for an accelerated master’s teaching program to be earned over two years of evening, weekend and summer classes. In return, fellows agree to work in roughly 100 of the city’s lowest-rated schools for the standard starting salary of $31,910. Fogel applied, and after an interview, an essay test and a model lesson (which he gave on the topic of why one cannot divide by zero), he was accepted in July. From a financial standpoint, the timing of Fogel’s career chance seems less than ideal. His 18-year-old son begins college at Harvard this fall, and college tuition payments loom for his daughters, aged 15 and 10. “Fortunately I’m in a position to be able to do this,” he said. “In a sense that’s a luxury, too.” As for the so-called boot camp, Fogel said it has not been all that arduous, compared with his experiences in the practice of law. “This isn’t boot camp,” he said. “When you try a case you have to learn something very, very quickly and very well. Having a month to learn something is not boot camp.” But that is not to say it has been without hardship. In an interview last week, Fogel was wearing a polar fleece jacket to fight the chill of the classrooms at City College, where his training is being held. And he said cushioned chairs would have been a godsend, given that the classes run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. On a more substantive level, Fogel said that he wished the fellows had been given more time for training and more time to observe actual classes during summer school. But in point of fact, time is short. Fogel and his classmates took their tests for provisional accreditation on Aug. 19 and will report to school after Labor Day. Still, he said there is a feeling of calmness that he said comes from his background as a lawyer. After 25 years of courtroom appearances, he said, “I don’t think I’m worried about getting up in front of a group of people — even 12-year-olds.”

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