We all probably blame our parents for stuff they did or didn’t do as we were growing up. Looking back, I place on my mom’s shoulders the fact that I was easily identifiable as an adolescent in school. In 1968 and 1969, you’d see me walking the halls of J.H.S. 180 with any combination of outlandish, iridescent colored bell bottom pants, worn out blue jeans and a colorful bandana wrapped around my forehead. The bandana was attempting to mitigate the outward growth of my Jewish afro and deflect the gaze towards my often times politically charged T-shirts.
If my daily attire wasn’t enough of a spotlight, I skillfully developed a reputation with my teachers for being a talking-out-of-turn, wise ass. If a thought was in my head, it generally was spouted out of my mouth.
My eighth-grade social studies teacher Mr. Dym actually listened to my ramblings. At 6’2” tall and somewhere close to 300 pounds, Mr. Dym garnered my respect knowing he could crush me between his index finger and thumb, but also because he was the first adult who took the role as my debate adversary. Every argument raised regarding the Vietnam War, Mr. Dym listened to my naive, impassioned views, and gave his well reasoned conservative retort.
Mr. Dym made American History, social events, relevant and entertaining. He also took daily notice of the immaculately arranged, heartily packed, bag lunch that I toted to class every day. A homemade sandwich, fruit, unhealthy bag of chips as a “side dish,” and a packaged cake (Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, Scooter Pie), would be washed down with a room temperature Waldbaum’s brand soda. Mr. Dym opened the stapled brown bag with my name neatly printed in black magic marker and announced to the class with a clearly understood respect and jealousy the good fortune I had to be sent each day with this afternoon feast. He did occasionally take one chocolate cupcake from the three pack that my mom sometimes included in my lunch. I didn’t care, I loved the fact that Mr. Dym knew he had connected with me beyond just teacher and student. Mr. Dym understood my childish militancy and didn’t try to squash it.
Most frightening summer experience was arriving at Henry Kaufman Campgrounds during the summer of 1969 to see Mr. Dym in a lifeguard’s bathing suit running all the pool operations at the campgrounds. I was a CIT (Counselor In Training), that summer. Mr. Dym was great and only occasionally threw me into the pool.
By 10th-grade, I had lost much of my militancy. I was cloaked in a blanket of teenage apathy. Assigned to Ms. Gittler’s English Literature and Drama class, I happily took my alphabetically assigned seat in the back row of the class in perfect position to stare aimlessly out the window for 50 minutes a day.
Little did I know that this 5’2” tall bundle of energy and excitement wouldn’t take ambivalence as an answer or attitude. Ms. Gittler wouldn’t take no for an answer when I told her I wouldn’t perform a monologue from a theatrical show or performance. She wouldn’t relent when I told her that the only monologue I would recite was from the new Broadway stage show Lenny. Ms. Gittler was so thrilled with my “performance” that she chose me to reprise the two-and-a-half minute profanity laced rant by the late Lenny Bruce (the “N” word was in almost every line), as a small troop from her class performed our individual monologues for all English classes in Far Rockaway High School. Ms. Gittler insisted that I be engaged and she knew that there was more inside of me than I was giving.
Mr. Dym and Ms. Gittler provided an 18-year-old college freshman with a direction that took me to the front of a junior high school classroom four years later in Tonawanda, NY. First as a student teacher and then the following September for one semester as a “leave replacement” for a tenured teacher at this recession stricken, impoverished school in the shuttered steel belt, only a few miles northwest of Buffalo.
So it is on the precipice of another school year at Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District (POBCSD) that I think back to when my children Zachary and Jessica got ready to go off to one of our local schools. I recall with tremendous admiration and thanks for the efforts of Ms. Meg Fessel (retired), Mr. Pat Eschausse (still with POBCSD) and the principal from Parkway Elementary School, Ms. Ronelle Hershkwitz (retired, current school board trustee)—these and so many other dedicated, talented and relentlessly passionate men and women who have inspired and forever enhanced the lives of so many children in our community. I wish the best of luck this year to all returning, teachers and administrators.