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Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

I think I have written about my high school years quite a few times. For those that have missed those way past posts, here’s another.

I, like many of us, belong to a Facebook group for people that graduated from my high school in the 1970s. Yeah, I’m an old lady! I joined it about five years ago when it was set up for the purpose of getting together for a multi-year reunion, which finally happened about three years after the group was set up. Well, on Saturday evening, someone posted about the death of one of our former teachers. We had amazing teachers. With very few exceptions, our teachers were not only very well qualified and more than capable. They were excellent teachers and most of them chose to stay in our district and at our school when they had the opportunity to move to affluent areas with fancy new schools. They felt a duty to our population and we, the students, were the beneficiaries of that duty.

This time it was Sal Orlando who was an English teacher. He taught Senior English and, for many years, also taught Journalism. I was not lucky enough to have him as a teachere and I was actually disappointed about that. My siblings had told many stories about the amazing Mr. Orlando. He threw things at people that fell asleep, things like chalk board erasers and chalk. He had a reputation for being really tough on his students but also keeping things light with his jokes and sarcasm. Kids knew he really cared about them as people and as students. I didn’t take Senior English because I had taken four years of Journalism which actually gave me way more English than was required for graduation as each year counted as a year of English plus the three years of English I did take! And he would have been my Journalism teacher except that the year that I first began Journalism as a freshman, we had a new teacher who was also the newspaper advisor for the three years I was on the paper staff. So I didn’t have the privilege of having Sal Orlando as a teacher but we did have many exchanges out of the classroom, most of them teasing each other about why I wasn’t his student or he my teacher.

He was just one of the many revered teachers at that school. I’ve written about Mr. Henry and Mr. Flanagan, and Ms. Paszkeicz. I’ve written about Rudy Del Rio (who was my Journalism teacher and newspaper advisor) and about Mr. McCready.  I’ve written about Mr. Keneally and Mr. Matalone. Those are just a few of the many teachers who were giants to us; legends in their own time. And losing them is a real loss for most of us as many of us are still in touch with at least a few of these teachers. It’s also a reminder that we, their students, are getting old and are at that age where we see the names of so many of our teachers and our fellow students among the dead. Last month it was the death of Mr. Matalon. Today it was Mr. Orlando. I don’t want to know who will be on that list of fallen tomorrow.

I was fortunate to have such amazing teachers. I wish all teachers were like them and that everyone could have that experience.  Everyone should get to know their teachers like I knew mine and everyone should have that feeling that their teachers care about them as students and as people.

They were giants. They were legends.

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I was lucky. I had more than my share of wonderful teachers. Of all the teachers I had in seven periods times four years plus some changing at the quarter or semester, there was only one I did not get along with. There was some kind of “reverse chemistry” or bad chemistry between us. I think part of it was that everyone always told her that she was a slightly older version of me and they told me that I was a slightly younger version of her. She was a first year teacher and didn’t like being compared to a student. I think that was part of it. But, I had wonderful teachers who actually believed me over her and went to bat for me so when she tried to fail me, she couldn’t.

The school is on the east side of San Jose in California. It’s now a really bad place to live but in those days, the immediate area around the school was not so great with the outer areas being pretty good, if not great. The school had its share of tough kids. No gangs in those days but definitely groups that didn’t get along with each other. It was not an affluent area, for the most part. The teachers at the school could have jobs at other schools, and other districts in the city, some of them much closer to their homes. But the CHOSE to be there, at that school, with those students. They chose to serve that community and try to teach the kids that weren’t the highest academically. There were a few of us that were above average, but very few. I believe that I was in the group of the first ten students to be accepted at a private university and about the first to get a full academic scholarship. The student body wasn’t made up of shining stars. But the teachers chose to be there, often accepting a salary less than what they could get at an adjacent school district. Why? Because they were dedicated teachers. Their hearts were in the right place…with us! I think that’s why they were so inspiring. At least to me, they were the best. They were the epitome of what a teacher should be. I learned more than academics from them. They changed my life and not a day goes by that I don’t think of one or the other of them.

That’s what teachers should be. I’m glad I was privileged to have so many wonderful examples.

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My mind tells me that I have written about him previously but I can’t find any such post so today I will tell you about Mr. Henry who was my first period teacher my freshman year in high school so he was my first high school teacher, so to speak. The class was called Emerging Nations. It was taught by three teachers, each for a different quarter and the first quarter was more geography. So during my first quarter, Mr. Henry taught us the geography part of the class. That was the first time I really understood the seasons and the movement of the planets in our solar system. He used different sized spheres to simulate the planets and their orbits and a very bright light for the middle. The lights were turned off and he had some of us hold spheres and walk around the “sun.” During that time, he held the globe with which he simulated our orbit while also turning the globe on its axis so that we could see why we have winter while the southern hemisphere has summer, and so forth. That was the first time it made sense!

I also did a few after school jobs for him, typing and copying worksheets, for which he paid me. Then in my junior year, I was his teacher aid. Sometimes I supervised his class while he had to run to the office. Sometimes I typed and did clerical stuff. Not for pay but for school credit. In the summer I did a lot of typing for him and got paid.

Aside from being my teacher and sometimes employer, he showed he trusted me many times and we had a lot of deep talks about philosophies and psychology and world conditions. He treated me like an adult. He valued what I had to say, or at least I got that impression.

Through the years, I have kept in touch with him, even now, forty-two years after my graduation. During the most difficult times of my life, I have called him to talk and his advice has always helped me make decisions and hang on to my sanity.

John Henry was an excellent teacher. I have been a better person for having had him as my teacher.

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Yesterday I told you about Mr. Clark, my seventh grade math teacher. He was pretty awesome. Today, I’ll tell you about Rudy Del Rio. Well, he was really Mr. Del Rio and I called him that all the time but with other students, he was Rudy. And when talking about him to students, he was Rudy. I think he got a kick out of the students that called him Rudy. He would kind of “half laugh” when anyone did that. He was a good guy. He taught Civics to the seniors but I was lucky enough to have him for four years of Journalism. He taught me a lot. He inspired.

And up until about five or so years ago, I was still in touch with him even though I graduated from high school in 1974. I still have his email address and I know he lives in Bend, Oregon. I just haven’t had occasion to contact him although I’m thinking I might do so the next time we go to Bend. I think I’ll email him and see if I can have a cup of coffee with him…or more likely a beer because Bend is home to some really good breweries!

I remember him walking into a classroom, always easy going but once in awhile he would have something serious to talk to us about so he would walk in…all five foot zero inches of him…and for some reason, his goatee which made him look super cool on most days, would make him look somber…my mom said he looked evil…and we could do nothing but pay attention and hope it was not one of us that had gotten him upset! Not a big man in stature, he was respected.

I don’t think I would be who I am today if it were not for Rudy Del Rio!

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Today, May 3, is Teacher Appreciation Day in the United States.

Do you remember a special teacher in your life? I was lucky enough to have many excellent teachers. I’ve written about some of them, mostly high school teachers. I think they helped me to realize that I wanted to be a teacher.

In middle school I had Mr. Clark for Math in 7th grade. He was a weathered teacher who retired when I was in 8th grade. He had seen everything in the way of teaching and students. He wasn’t one to insist that we be silent in class but he had a military background so he commanded respect without having to threaten or admonish. He appreciated a good joke, even when others told the joke. He had a hearty, infectious laugh. And best of all, he made sure that everyone “got it” whether they were boys or girls. That used to be rare. Most math teachers taught to the boys, not the girls, in my day. Mr. Clark treated us all equally.

He was one of many special teachers; one that I had all but forgotten until I tried to think of a good, memorable teacher in middle school and his name jumped up. I was ony going to mention him but I ended up telling you more about him than I thought I remembered.

I’ll probably highlight a couple more of my special teachers throughout the week. Tell me about YOUR special and favorite teachers.

To all the teachers and former teachers out there, thank you for teaching. It’s one of the most important jobs.

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Enrico

When I was in elementary school, I had two male teachers; one in fifth grade and one in sixth grade.  I’ve never written about Mr. Watts, my fifth grade teacher and I suppose I will one day.  He was actually the first teacher I had that attempted to teach the writing process to us and that was the year that I fell in love with the writing process.

But today I want to write about my sixth grade teacher.  His name was Rick Cassinelli.  We all liked him.  He was different from Mr. Watts and Mr. Harvey(who was the other sixth grade teacher).  Mr. Cassinelli was friendly with all of us, and fair.  While most of the girls had had a crush on Mr. Watts, I don’t think many of us had one on Mr. Cassinelli.   He was kind, funny, fairly good looking, and although he was older, in all fairness, he wasn’t old.  I think, looking back on that time, he was probably in his early to mid thirties.  I think he was just an ordinary person who didn’t shine as the very young and handsome male fifth grade teacher did.  He wasn’t tall and thin.  He wasn’t short and fat.  He was just normal height and normal weight.  I guess, as  is true of so many plain, ordinary people, he didn’t stand out; he didn’t shine.

Except to me.  I didn’t have a crush on him but I really liked him.  I liked that while he expected some of us to do a lot better than the others, he didn’t talk down or teach down to the kids that didn’t keep up.  He didn’t pick on any of the kids and that says a lot because most teachers that I’ve had tend to find one or two students each year that they sort of pick on.  Mr. Cassinelli didn’t do that.  He commanded respect by respecting us.  He wasn’t a strict disciplinarian but we didn’t have a lot of behavior problems in our class.  That’s probably because of the way he treated us, causing us to rise to his expectations.  And he was a great spelling teacher!  That year in his class, most of us became top spellers and it was not unusual to have ten to fifteen perfect spelling scores each week.  That was the year I won the class spelling bee and then the sixth grade spelling bee.

We didn’t know a lot about Mr. Cassinelli.  He didn’t live in the area or someone would have seen him shopping locally.  We didn’t even know if he was married until almost the end of the school year when I overheard him mentioning his wife when he was talking to Mr. Watts after school one day.  That was the mid 1960’s.  No internet.  It was a lot more difficult to research people then.  One day I took the great big, fat phone book and looked him up.  I couldn’t find a Rick Cassinelli at all but then I found an Enrico Cassinelli.  I noted the address.  I knew where it was because, although it was way on the other side of town, way far from our little school, my parents used to have their tax returns prepared on the same street as the phone directory said Enrico lived on.  In fact, it was on the same block as my parents’ tax guy.  I quietly wrote down his name, address, and phone number in my little pocket sized address book.

One day, I was helping him in the classroom after school and I asked him if his “real name” was Rick.  He said it wasn’t.  It was Enrico.  I smiled and nodded and told him I had known that.  Then, very boldly, I recited his address and phone number.  He laughed.  A great big, deep laugh.  He didn’t get mad.  He didn’t scold me.  He asked how I had found that out and I told him I had looked it up in the phone book.  He nodded and smiled and said he should have known someone like me would be smart enough to do that.  He didn’t sit down and give me a long lecture on how I should not know that information or spread it around.  He did not say I had invaded his privacy.   He just said something like, “I know you’re not the kind of person that would use that information to call my house in the middle of the night or send rude mail.  I know you wouldn’t give that information to anyone who would misuse it.”  I nodded.  I understood.  He understood.  He trusted me.  And it made me want to be trustworthy.

I don’t know whatever happened to Mr. Cassinelli.  That was many, many years ago.  I do think of him from time to time.  I think about him when I think about spelling.  I think about him when I think about trusting students and treating students fairly.

And today, I think of him because his birthday was January 16th.  So Enrico Cassinelli who used to live on Meridian Road in San Jose and taught at Fred Martin Elementary, happy birthday.  May it be a gift to know that you made a lasting impression on a little sixth grade girl way back in 1966.

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A friend’s twee the other day reminded me of this story which has appeared here before, but due to my having lost everything on my blog last year, I had to reconstruct it.  Enjoy!

 

I had no idea on that early Monday morning, so many years ago, that I was listening to a story that would stay with me for many, many years – a story that I would tell over and over again – a story that I would use to teach others, as it had taught me.

The bell rang for first period and we all headed for class.  Mr. Kennealy usually arrived early to let us in as we waited outside the door but this morning was different.  He had left the door open but he wasn’t in the classroom.  We all went in and took our seats and waited.  The tardy bell rang and he wasn’t there.  A minute later he walked into the classroom.

Mr. Kennealy arrived without his usual smile.  He had a somber look on his face, too somber even for a Monday morning at 8 AM.  Instead of his usual social studies lesson and a test we were supposed to take, he started talking about a motorcycle ride he had taken the day before.  Mr. Kennealy explained that a few years previously, he had bought a motorcycle that he rode on weekends.  He talked about how he needed to get out in the open air and feel the wind in his face and all that horsepower under his control.  He explained that after a long week of teaching and coaching and parenting, he needed an outlet.  His motorcycle was this outlet.  On his motorcycle, he felt free and unrestrained.  He felt that he could forget all responsibility and think only about being alone.  His motorcycle rides had become a cherished and anticipated activity that he couldn’t do without.

While riding along in the mountains on that  quiet Sunday morning, with no traffic in either direction, he came upon a sign that warned of a “STOP 150 Feet Ahead.”  He thought about it.  Clearly there was no traffic so why should he stop?  He repeated for us the internal dialog he had:  “Why should I stop just because the sign says that I have to?  I know it’s the law but laws are made to protect us from others and from ourselves.  I know that the stop sign is to protect me and others from colliding into each other.  I know this road and I have been on it a million times and there has never been anyone else on it, especially on that part of the road, so there isn’t anything to protect me or others from.  The law should be null and void.”

As he spoke to us, he paced back and forth across the front of the room, looking either down at the floor or up at the ceiling, as if in a trance.  He spoke in a quiet voice and we all sat as still as possible so we wouldn’t miss a word.  We sensed that Mr. Kennealy had something important to tell us.  He gave us examples of what would happen if everyone took it upon themselves to ignore laws and of how laws were the cornerstone of living in a civilized society.  He also gave us examples of times when laws were abusive and too restrictive; of times when those in power took this power and used it for their own good and not the good of the community.  He spoke of free will and our right to exercise that free will.  He spoke of our duty to speak out against abuse by the government.

Mr. Kennealy went on: “I should not feel restricted by the stop sign just because I am supposed to stop.  I debated about whether to stop or not, taking both the pro and con sides.  After much deliberation, I decided that when I got to that stop sign I was not going to stop.  I was going to exercise my free will and indulge my need for total freedom and lack of restriction on this wonderfully liberating motorcycle ride I was on.”

By now the entire period was just about over.  We had seconds before the bell rang and we still didn’t known what he had done.  The bell rang and he was still talking but hadn’t come to any end or resolution.  He dismissed us but not one of us moved.  We asked him what he had done when he got to the stop sign.  He looked at the floor and in almost a whisper he said, “I stopped.”

We loved the story, but I think most of us were rather surprised that this very rebellious philosopher had gone against what he really wanted to do.  I have thought about it and told the story many times.  I have also used it, with some of my own editorial comments, to show how people have the free will to do the right thing or not.

Over the years I have run in to people that were in that class on that day and they all remember it. That says a lot.

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