Friday, September 2, 2011

Rocky's Road

I had a teacher in the sixth grade affectionately known as— courtesy of his surname—“Rocky.” The school year was 1973-74, and Rocky stood out from the pack in this parochial grammar school of mine for a host of reasons. For starters, there were very few men teaching in grades one through six back then. This, too, must have been his first teaching job. He was quite young and occasionally showed up for work on the disheveled and scruffy side, like he’d been out late the night before doing what some people do in the wee hours. And no, I don’t think he was moonlighting as a cab driver or a night watchman.

But there was something really right about Rocky, even if he didn’t always make time for the morning shave. Clear-eyed or bleary-eyed, it didn’t matter; he was the genuine article—a dedicated teacher. The school had its fair share of dedicated old school teachers, including Sister Camillus, who only a year before publicly humiliated me when I misspelled the word “paid” as “payed.” “Imagine a fifth grader who doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘paid’!” she bellowed in her less than dulcet tones. Rocky didn’t embarrass students in front of his or her peers over a spelling error. Private consultations were more his style. So, no, there was never an “Imagine a sixth grader who doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘paid’!” moment in Rocky’s classroom.

And Sister Camillus was also not the sort of educator to accompany her class to the park down the street after a late winter snowstorm. Rocky not only did, but commanded our attention at the park’s entrance. “Since this is probably going to be the last snowstorm of the season,” I recall him saying rather earnestly, “I thought we should assemble here to have our last…SNOWBALL FIGHT!” With these fighting words, Rocky proceeded to swipe snow off of a parked car’s front hood onto his momentarily startled students. Really, I just couldn’t see old Sister C initiating a snowball fight. Innocent as it all was, Rocky just couldn’t get away with throwing snow in the faces of eleven- and twelve-year-old boys and girls in the twenty-first century.

Rocky’s last hurrah involved a class trip to Bear Mountain State Park on the Hudson River Day Line, which back in the 1970s sailed north from Manhattan’s West Side. I remember only a few snippets from this trip. Foremost, I almost fell to my death—or so it seemed at the time—while mountain climbing, or whatever the peewee-equivalent of that is called. If my memory is correct, we went off with our friends—rather loosely supervised—to wherever we wanted to go, and were instructed only to return to the dock area at a prescribed time. Imagine a school trip like that today. I remember, too, a couple of kids passing around a lit pipe on the boat, which wasn’t burning tobacco. They were also brandishing assorted pills, which weren't Tylenols. Simpler times in the sixth grade of a Catholic grammar school when Richard Nixon was the president. I may have been rather innocent at the time, but it appeared some others were a lot less so.

Thanks to the sprawling Internet, and Rocky’s atypical last name, I tracked the man down in the virtual ether. He’s still a teacher. It’s been his life’s work. And, wow, he must be sixty by now. While there are likely no more snowball fights, or minimally supervised field trips, in Rocky’s profession today, it appears he’s adapted nicely to both teaching’s new world order and the world we live in.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.