One in 5000: Ms. Mlodinoff Reflects on Her Years Teaching at Francis Lewis


A cartoon a senior drew for Mrs. Mlodinoff. It reads “I’m going to die at my desk at Francis Lewis,” a phrase Mrs. Mlodinoff commonly uses.

Everything starts with a simple story. One day, a mother told her daughter, “You have to become a teacher because you will leave the house at 9:00 with your children, and you’ll be home by 3:00 for milk and cookies.” This confused the girl, but made her think about the type of teacher she could be. She figured she likes to run around, she likes to be active, and she loves to go to summer camp, so, she’ll be a gym teacher. Fast forward to the modern day and this young girl has grown up to be one of the longest standing instructors at this school.

Helen Mlodinoff, or Ms. M to most students, is currently a health teacher at Francis Lewis High School. Her health class teaches students how to balance their lives, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, procedures for CPR, sex education, as well as general life advice. One piece of advice she always makes sure to impart onto her students is that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Her teaching philosophy is that to educate students you need to be personable and have an appreciation for their progress. Information won’t stick in students’ minds if the teacher is drearily reciting information. An unique personality and educational material must work together equally in order to truly teach students.

“I believe a lot of teaching has to do with personality,” Ms. Mlodinoff said. ”I believe that the person who stands up in front of the classroom not only has to be knowledgeable but has to have personality. I honestly believe that my life’s experiences, readings, education, values, and basic personality adds to teaching.”

This wasn’t always Ms. Mlodinoff’s belief. In fact, she wasn’t always a health teacher. After graduating from New York University with a concentration in Physical Education, Health and Recreation, Ms. Mlodinoff’s first job was as a physical education teacher at Francis Lewis before deciding to retire and start a family. Due to some difficulties in her personal life, Ms. Mlodinoff chose to return to teaching 32 years later. She called all the school districts in New York to apply for a job, all of which said there weren’t any jobs available. Then, one day AP of Physical Education Mr. Rosenbaum called with a job opening and the rest was history. Ms. Mlodinoff has been working here ever since.

“I came out of a little bubble, went out into the real world, had ups and downs and ups and downs, and I grew,” Ms. Mlodinoff said. “My parents passing, my husband’s business successes and his failures, my children’s schooling and guiding them through that.  That makes you who you are. It’s called maturation.”

After 36 years, there were a great deal of changes in the educational system and Francis Lewis as a whole. Classes that used to be based solely on lectures and learning facts have changed to following the Danielson system, which focuses on building cooperation skills and the understanding of various concepts and ideas. There is also more focus on the health triangle’s three components: physical health, mental health, and social health. Ms. Mlodinoff did struggle with these changes at the offset.

“Transitioning to a whole new approach to teaching is not easy,” she said. However, with the help of Ms. Verstandig, whom Ms. Mlodinoff considers as her “mentor,” over time Ms. Mlodinoff has been able to adapt to the changes .

“You have to be willing to make change,” Ms. Mlodinoff said. “It is very difficult. We [teachers] experience the same thing you experienced when you came into class as a freshmen; the fear, the anxiety, the unknown.  Because I’m a little bit older and have had those experiences in other areas of my life, I understand that it is something that can be handled. If I couldn’t handle it, I wouldn’t be here.”

Upon her return, she also came upon a very loving school body. She describes the student body at Franny Lew as very wholesome and compassionate.

Go to another school [and] then come back and kiss the ground at Francis Lewis,” Ms. Mlodinoff said. “You have a wonderful student body, you have wonderful teachers who care, you have an administration who cares. I love it here.”

Francis Lewis to her is a place of support and a place she loves very dearly. Though she may have tough nights, through living and learning she prepares for her classes and teaches her students with care.

“God blessed me. I started my teaching career here, and I’m going to end my teaching career here.”

Over 5000 people – including students, teachers, staff, and administrators – are part of the Francis Lewis High School community. One in 5000 is a series that delves into the individual stories of the people in our community.