“Touro is Where I Met My Second Family”
Star Educator Lou Epstein Reflects on an Unlikely Career
New York State Department of Education teacher Lou Epstein has a corkboard he calls his “Daily Reminder.” Whenever he feels worn-out or like he’s losing his motivation, a single look at the board helps him re-affirm who he is and why he does what he does. “It reminds me of the last five years,” says Epstein. The board is a collage of pictures of the special needs children he’s helped.
Epstein took an unlikely path to becoming a superstar educator. As a manager at a Brooklyn Carvel, Epstein heeded a friend’s offer to try out as a paraprofessional in District 75, a special education district for children with severe disabilities. To his surprise, he was given an interview and then a job as a one-on-one paraprofessional. After the first week, Epstein wasn’t sure he was cut out for the job. The child he worked with had a particularly daunting upbringing, not to mention the issues of the other children in the classroom, that included ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder and even schizophrenia. Epstein spoke about his doubts to one of his friends in the school’s office.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,’” Epstein recalled. “He said, ‘the fact that you’re still here means you still want to do it.’”
Gradually, the friend’s words came true.
“After a little while showing up to work I fell in love with these kids because they can’t help themselves,” Epstein said, noting that despite working in Carvel, he admitted that he had never really been fond of children until he started working for the Department of Education.
Working with special-needs children also helped Epstein cope with his own personal tragedies, including his friend’s death from cancer and his grandfather’s untimely passing.
“I wasn’t in a good place,” said Epstein. “These kids made me value life.”
Whether it was reaching out to his students’ therapists during his lunch hour or watching hours and hours of wrestling to be able to use the trivia to calm a student down, Epstein quickly realized he had a knack for the field.
“A lot of the children we had were in foster families or in shelters,” explained Epstein. “When they see that you care—you’re giving them a foundation and once they have that foundation, they want to come to school.”
However, even with his success and the accolades he received from parents and staff members, Epstein says he wasn’t sure he was going to stay in the teaching profession, until one moment.
“My one-to-one received his diploma,” Epstein recalled. “When it was time to go and I went up to him we hugged and he wouldn’t let go. At that moment, I realized I wasn’t leaving and I had to get back to school.”
Looking to move to a better position in the education field, Epstein turned to Touro College New York School of Career and Applied Studies (NYSCAS).
“Touro is where I met my second family,” said Epstein. “Having mature people in my classroom who took the work seriously set the tone for me. It was a great learning environment. The professors motivated me. They told me their own stories that I could relate to; small conversations led to weekly advice, which led to email exchanges. I’ll never forget the people who helped me at Touro. We still keep in touch.”
Epstein graduated in 2016 and started at Touro’s Graduate School of Education in the fall. He currently finds himself in a different position—he is now a full-fledged teacher at special education classroom with three paraprofessionals working for him.
“I have a very firm respect for them,” Epstein said about his paraprofessionals. “It takes special people to work in special education.”