Chapter 9 A cast of characters
Sometimes it is hard to believe how many different kinds of people comprise a faculty in a school. There certainly was a cast of characters. First, the art teacher was an older man with a mustache that took up his whole face. Many teachers called him the “mole” because he would always run to the Principal and tell tales. It was him who “spilled the beans,” on Joe Bigone after he saw Joe getting out of a VW van with a student. Every time there was a secret going around the faculty this was the guy who ran to the principal to tell the story. No one in the Teachers Union trusted him.
The librarian was a nice lady who was married to the Director of the Music Program until they retired early and took an RV and drove around the United States. Normally the personnel requirement was that husband and wife could not work in the same building. They were single first and later on married while working at Cucamonga JHS. Amazingly there was never any sexual story to tell about the two of them.
In Science there was the young lesbian teacher who was a bit butch. She coached the Track team at the High school. Several of the men were attracted to her only to find out she preferred women. She was however an excellent science teacher that commanded the respect of her students. The Science department chairman was one of the old school older teachers who came over from South Mountain High Junior High with the first Principal in 1960. He was one of the old guard that did little actual work. The department chairpersons were all men and all in their late 50’s and early 60’s. They were supposed to do evaluations of new teachers and approve each teacher’s weekly lesson plan. Instead they played cards a lot in a locked room with no windows on the door. The science chairman Samuel Moonski taught a light load of only 3 classes instead of 5 classes a day. Often he would leave school early to go shopping for food for his home. He was caught coming back to school once with all the food on his back seat. He was one of those department chairmen who took advantage of their freedom and lack of supervision by the Principal and often left in the middle of the day and came back before the school was over. He was not well liked by his science teachers because he never did any work nor did he support any science teachers that had problems with certain children.
The Social studies department chair was another one of the old guard who had collected the largest collection of overhead transparencies regarding social studies for grades 7-12 in the entire district. Unfortunately all of these transparencies which took up 12 four draw high metal cabinets were out of date by the 1980 when computer projectors came into use and by the 1990’s they were extinct. The Internet allowed for a new exchange of information that through a laptop computer or desktop computer could be projected on any size screen. Laser disks the size of a large apple pies were also in use for a few years in the late 1980’s. The CDs, DVDs eventually replace overhead transparencies completely as well as better diagrams and pictures from the Internet. This social studies department chairman finally retired in the late 1980’s and took with him all ten-file cabinets of outdated overhead transparencies rather than give them to his fellow social studies teachers.
One outstanding social studies teacher used many unique methods of getting the students attention regarding social studies. One technique he used was to do the Lincoln debate with Douglas. He and another social studies teacher would prepare their notes from history and debate the issues Lincoln and Douglas were concerned with when they running for the Senate in Illinois. Douglas was the incumbent at the time. Another thing this teacher did was to bring in historical experts to talk about their specialty. He also worked with the librarian to secure a Civil War exposition for two weeks in the library with artifacts from the Civil War on display.
There were many teachers in the social studies department, all white men with only one black woman. The black teacher survived by playing to the black students interests and in running a black girls club in which almost all of the black girls in the school belonged. One year when she was having a formal evaluation done by the Principal, who used to be a social studies teacher before he became an administrator, she gave the student incorrect dates for historical events. She never lived that down and the Principal made it a favorite story of how some teachers did not properly prepare for their classes by confirming dates and events properly.
Another social studies who just happened to be Irish was a really nice guy to talk to, but a boring teacher in class. His method of teaching was to put all the notes on the blackboard and have the student just take notes. In defense however, he was purposely given the below-level students because the principal wanted to force him to retired. At the point in time below below-level students were considered learning challenged students but not enough to qualify for special education status. The hierarchy in a junior high was that the department chairpersons got to teach the Honors or AP courses if they were qualified. Otherwise the teacher with the most seniority and tenure of course got to teach the Honors classes or AP classes. Then the next level down of teachers who had been at the school for at least 5-10 years and remained in good favor with the department chair got to teach the on-level students. The part-time or low in favor teachers got shafted with an all below-level set of classes. So the below-level teachers got the worst teachers rather than the best teachers. Eventually after year after year of bad evaluations the Irish teacher Kelly Obrien was forced into retirement because he would not try modern methods of teaching or embrace technology.
There were only two home-economics teachers in the school and they taught sewing and cooking. In later years the home economics curriculum was expanded to cover domestic issues and more of the theoretical aspects of home budgeting, balancing a checkbook, etc. One home economics teacher was Chinese and a real sweetheart. She was always trying to please everyone. When her class baked cookies the smell spread throughout the entire building. She always brought extra cookies to teacher’s classrooms when she had extras. Lots of time she would have the students bake mini-pizzas. The only down side to this baking is the students brought their cookies and pizzas to their next class and continued to eat what they had or share it with their friends which usually disrupted the entire class. The other home-economics teacher lasted a decade longer than the Chinese teacher due to student attrition throughout out the 40 years of Cucamonga JHS.
Industrial arts teachers were a breed all their own. The first industrial arts teacher used to have his students carve Indian totem poles each year and donate them to the school to be placed in the front hallway. When he retired the totem pole heritage died. The industrial arts teachers taught woodshop and metal shop in the early days before they were reduced to one woodshop program only in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. They had the biggest rooms of any program in the school other than the auditorium for the music department. They also had one of the biggest budgets since all the wood and metal were used in student projects. Some boys and girls really excelled in shop because they got to do hands-on education.
One industrial arts teacher Red Blaston had a major temper and ran afoul of every principal that he served under. His temper matched his name Red. He once stormed out of a meeting with the principal and punched his fist through the window in the office door. He was forced to pay for the replacement. At all the faculty meetings he was always the most outspoken and always angry with some issue. The principal was dedicated to having him removed and since he could not have enough to fire him because he had tenure, he had him transferred to North High Mountain JHS instead.
The music department had one white male teacher who was the director of the band, one lesbian teacher and one large chested black female teacher. The three of them had to handle the orchestra, band, and instrumental programs as well as the mandatory 7th grade Chorus program. Students could choose between chorus and band. The lesbian teacher was very popular with the teachers and student because she was a spark of a personality. She was always energetic and always looking out for student’s rights. She kept her lesbian situation quiet with the student but came out of the closet with her fellow teachers. She was one of the major reasons why the music program was so successful. The black teacher was very heavy and had a heavy chest to go along with the large chest. She got most of the chorus programs with black and white students that did not want to be there. She could not control the black students even though she herself was black. It was no advantage for her. She was a sweet person who years later got pregnant and had twins and lost her sonority while she was out on maternity leave. When she returned she was part-time at first and then traveling between two schools and eventually she returned full-time to Cucamonga JHS when the Music Director retired.
The foreign language department was small with a department chairperson, a female who taught French and two other teachers that taught Spanish and French. For a while in the 1970’s to please the black students, “Swahili” was taught. When the school had 1600 students even Hebrew was offered since many Jewish students wanted to take it. Italian was offer for a few years but was eventually dropped as the student enrollment dropped. The department chairperson for foreign languages was a real character or rather she was hated by almost the entire faculty. She drove to school in a Jaguar which her doctor husband bought and she was always distant and felt she was better than other teachers. Her students all transferred from her class to the other French or Spanish teachers class to get away from her. She had a hateful attitude and spoke her mind that did not make her loved anymore.
The nurses used to teach Health classes during the 1960’s until the board of education cut their status from Nurse-teacher to school nurse and a corresponding reduction in pay from the teacher payroll to staff payroll. School Nurses came and went every year. It was a lot of paperwork and yearly hearing and scoliosis tests to administer also. It was constantly a crisis center that burned most school nurses out in a few years. The pay scale was below the teacher pay scale and far below what a nurse would be paid in local hospitals, hence many Nurses left when they could get a better job. When there was a major drug problem with the students in the 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s the School Nurses were involved in a lot of legal lawsuits by parents trying to protect their drug-abusing children. Eventually a “zero tolerance” rule relating to drug selling or major drug abuse meant a student would be thrown out of the district and have to go to another school district if they were under 16 years of age. Student over 16 could be expelled permanently and be forced to go to night school if they wanted to graduate.
The guidance department had a department chairperson and he was directly supervised by one of the assistant Principals. The school schedule of classes was done manually for many years before computer scheduling program were developed in the 1980’s. The guidance teachers helped every student select their courses when there were choices. Mostly the 9th grade students were the only ones that had room in their schedule for electives. Many of the guidance counselors lasted for many years until student enrollment kept dropping and one by one they were transferred or let go. There was only one black guidance counselor who tried to look out for the special interests of the black students when he possibly could do so without being discriminatory. He was an older man who retired early in the 1980’s. He was well liked by most of the faculty because he was someone who tried to work with the teachers when they had problem students that they wanted to transfer.
The special education department included mentally handicapped students in a self-contained classroom, learning disabled students in a self-contained classroom, and an Emotionally handicapped self-contained classroom. The emotionally handicapped students practically destroyed the entire school with their problem children whom many were ex-NYC gang members or wards of the court living in group homes. Emotionally handicapped students used to be housed in BOCES buildings but due to budget cutbacks they had to be placed in regular schools. They were the students that had dangerous tempers and were considered violent. They were mainstreamed if possible but often after one major outburst the teachers feared for their safety and the safety of the regular students in their class. They always had an aide go to all their mainstreamed classes with them because they were so difficult to control.
The Mentally handicapped class was eventually transferred to North High Mountain JHS because having the Emotionally Handicapped and mentally handicapped was too much for the administration to handle.
The learning-disabled students read at a 2nd grade level and required an aide and a teacher to run each self-contained classroom. They were mainstreamed in Physical Education, Art, and Home economics. If they could perform they sometimes were mainstreamed into below level Math or below level English or Science but that was not often the case. There were between 4 and 5 special education teachers and 4-5 aides in Cucamonga JHS. They had a major effect on the overall education of the other students since they were often in a favored status.
They had movie days on Fridays with popcorn as an incentive for behavior modification. No regular teacher was allowed to do this. They had the aides doing their homework for them and they were spoiled a great deal. Each learning disabled student had their own IEP or individual education plan that had to be approved by the student’s parents and had to be followed completely by teachers and administrators.
The special education teachers had a resource room with a resource teacher who took care of the special education students when they had no regular mainstreamed class or assigned self-contained class. The purpose of the resource teacher was to back up and support what the regular special education teacher was trying to do. The special education teachers were a tight knit group who always ordered Chinese food every Friday. Some Fridays they ordered pizzas for them and the students that smelled throughout the school. None of the regular teachers were allowed these liberties. If they wanted to order Chinese they usually had to eat it out and not in the school. Many teachers ate in their own classrooms because of the politics in the teachers’ cafeteria. By the 1980’s the teachers’ cafeteria was done away with because no one wanted to eat lunch with the principal or administrators.
The Math Department chairman always got the honors Math and when computer basic was popular he taught those classes also. He retired with the highest percentage a teacher could get by waiting to retire long after he should have retired. He went out with 75% of his final salary thanks to a retirement incentive to retire and a long career as a teacher. Eventually the retirement incentive went to teachers 55 and they were offered ½ of their regular salary in addition to their regular salary to retire at 55. If they did not retire at 55 they got nothing at age 56. The Math department chairman retired in his 60’s so he had accumulated a lot of retirement money plus the bonus. To his credit he was smart enough to keep the computer lab in the Math department. In the 1980’s apple sold the first Apple Pet computers that were all one piece to schools around the USA for only $400 each. It was a bargain and schools everywhere bought the computers. The problem was there was not a lot of software available at first, just a lot of simple games and math programs. For special education this was a boon because the teachers had no clue how to run computers but they did realize how to turn the computer on and off and how to insert the disks with the programs on them. The rest of the class the special education teachers stood around drinking coffee and chatting while the special education students played on games. They said the games were educational. Actually they were a free period for the teachers and playtime for the students. It was a gross misused of the computers. Had the teachers been trained how to use the computers things might have been different.
By 1992 Microsoft came out with Powerpoint and that program really caught on with Junior High Students who loved graphics, sound and animation. At this point in time the special education teachers were embarrassed into learning Powerpoint because the Health Education teacher used it extensively in his classes and when the special education students had problems working with Powerpoint the special education teachers and aides did not know what to do to help them.
Undertrained BOCES computer repairman did a repair to the mainframe IBM computer in the Math department. They way they got around a lack of experience was with a cell phone. In the 1990s Cucamonga JHS won a $200,000 technology award and had 60 IBM computers installed in the building on a fiber optic network. The repairman would call the one person at the headquarters that knew how to repair computers and he would tell them step by step how to repair the computers What a joke that was? When major problems occurred BOCES would send 4 or 5 of these computer monkeys to fix the problem. The High Mountain school district leased the services of the BOCES computer monkeys and also leased the IBM computers from BOCES to keep the cost lower than buying the computers. As the students learned to use graphics and Powerpoint by 1995 the server crashed all the time because it was overloaded and did not have enough memory to handle all 60 stations online at one time. The Math department took credit for the Apple and IBM computer labs and that was a good move because in other schools they created a Computer Department instead. This way the Math teachers had to learn computers and save their jobs at the same time.
Each year the student council would run a Variety show to raise money for a Senior (9th grade) picnic. This was the opportunity for the characters in the faculty to show their true colors. One year four teachers formed a singing group and sung oldies from the Mo-town era. The students loved it because they never really thought their teachers could do anything other than teach. Johnny C. was in the group as well as the English department chairperson, a social studies teacher and a phys. Ed. teacher who played the guitar.
Teachers loved to mimic the black students with their hand gestures and poor English hip language, like “what it be brother,” “it’s happenin,” “what’s up, what it be.” It may seem racist but it was just a method of humor between teachers at parties or the teacher’s lounge. Holding up their hand in a split finger arrangement like bull horns, or wearing their pants around their ass dragging the floor, were all part of the persona of the black student of the 1970’s and 1980’s through to the 1990’s.
The teacher student softball game each year at the 9th grade picnic was another opportunity for the characters to come out. The two lesbian teachers from Science and Music always starred on the softball games much to the amazement of the students. Most of the younger men of the faculty played in the softball games and usually pounded homeruns beyond the outfielders. Several of the teachers had been outstanding college athletes when they were in college and were the mainstay of the teacher team. The students never won a game in all 30 years that the 9th grade picnic was run. It was still a fun game.
Another athletic event every year was the Teacher vs. Student basketball game to raise money for the yearbook or student picnics. Here is where the student basketball players had an edge over the teachers. Basketball requires much more conditioning than softball so the students often lead in the score in Basketball. Thanks only to a few teachers taller than 6 feet that made a difference for the teachers in being able to feed the tall teachers over the height of the students. The students beat the teachers every other year depending on their basketball player talent. For the teachers, elbowing was the move of the day and fouling under the basket by throwing their weight around over the lighter student players. The teachers always had lots of injuries and substitutes were very important. Again the two lesbian teachers were right in the mix shooting shots and passing the ball as good as the men. Funny thing is none of the woman physical education teachers ever played in softball or basketball games. The reason might be that they were way out of shape physically and unable to play basketball with good players.
One older science teacher was always a show in himself at the faculty meetings. He would always have to get up and object to a motion or lose his temper over some unimportant item on the agenda. He was actually funny in a way because the teachers never got used to his actions. The principal on the other hand thought he was a “pain in the ass.” Before he became a teacher he was a drug salesman in a former life. He retired when his wife was seriously ill with cancer in the 1980’s. He was the only science teacher at the time certified to teach Earth Science. He passed the torch to his fellow teacher who had to be recertified in Earth Science. Even the department chairman was not certified in Earth Science and was unable to grab these treasured classes.
Let us not forget the custodians. The first custodian was a guy who had worked his way up the ladder. He built an office within the office and seldom came out. The also ran a cleaning business on the side which may be why lots of cleaning supplies disappeared year after year. He was also known to be an alcoholic. If you wanted anything done in your area of the school it was important to make sure you gave him a Christmas present or he made sure nothing was ever done right in your department. Eventually he retired and the next custodian tore down the office within an office and started a whole new openness in the custodian department at least for a while. He was the one who brought in the soda machines to the school with kickbacks to the Principal for his slush fund. He made thousands of dollars a month because junior high kids have to have soda for lunch and soda to take home on the bus everyday. For the teen center and other special events at the school the soda machine was making top dollar. This custodian was friendlier with a lot of teachers. He made it a point to walk around the school during the day and chat with teachers along the way. His days were numbered when he crossed the Principal one times to many. He was eventually transferred to another school.
The security guards were the joke of the school because they were nothing but a bunch of old people who could not get jobs elsewhere and were willing to work for minimal wages. The beloved oldest little Irishman worked until his 70’s before they pushed him out since he could not break up fights or run when there was an emergency. The principal retired him with a retirement party when he was in his late 70’s. There were also two women a black lady and a Latino lady. The Latino lady actually had a college degree but from another country which was not valid in the US. She was very intelligent but a mole like the art teacher. She loved to tell on the teachers for some reason. The black lady was another sweet person who actually likes the kids and was often very helpful at special events. She had no rapport with the black students however. On occasion they would hire a young black guy who was very effective with the students because he could break up fights but none of the last but a few years because the pay was so low. The security guards more than anything else were a set of “eyes” around the building to keep track of students in the hallway and for escorting misbehaving students to the discipline office. They often filled in for an absent teacher in the In-school suspension room also. After school during basketball games or football games they roamed the halls to keep out intruders. The teachers treated them as sub-citizens since none of the security guards were real security or police personnel and had little or no authority or power in the school. Security guards were necessary because of the inability or desire of teachers to take charge of hall or cafeteria discipline. When ever a teacher tried to break up a fight or stop a student running in the hallway they got injured and never did it again. Angry students, emotionally disturbed students or physically large students would assault often teachers so teachers tended to shy away from physically stopping students from doing the wrong thing. It was easier to call for security than handle the problem by one self.
The English department has a nice black lady, a white Italian department chairman and mostly all white men and women in the department. One such white teacher was severely obese and often fell asleep at his desk. Amazingly, his students just talked among themselves while the teacher nodded off. On his desk was a large jar of hard candy that seemed like a good idea for students that needed a candy reward. The only problem is the candy had melted and stuck together in a giant glob of candy. It was impossible to remove the candy from the jar. When this obese teacher had lunch he would bring a salad big enough for five people and eat the entire salad. Then he would down a quart of soda and then break out the cookies and pastries he loved to eat. He had the best diet in the world; eat whatever you want so long as you eat salad with it. He survived the first two principals but the third principal made it his endeavor to have this teacher retire or be fired. Notice after notice piled up in this teachers file. He was even threatened with being fired but he never changed. Finally after a bout with poor health and probably adult diabetes II, he took off for several months and eventually retired early because he could no longer teach. Sadly, he was a nice man who could not control his appetite or his weight which was around 400 pounds plus.
The department chairman was well liked and often had teachers eat lunch in his prep-room instead of in their own rooms or the teacher cafeteria. Many an interesting discussion ensued in that prep-room. Everything was discussed from politics to students that were troublemakers to anti-principal discussions. The English department chairman had a great tenor voice and often sang with other teachers in the student variety shows. The black lady in the English department was another sweet person who tried to do the right thing especially with black students but she could not communicate with them on their level for some reason. Maybe the reason was that she was too smart for the black students. She was one of the teachers who burned out early in the 1980’s and retired to enjoy life outside of a school. She had been divorced and had a daughter who attended college. To pay for the daughter in college she worked beyond the usual retirement age until she finally got tired of the school politics and retired.
Being that High Mountain school district had a population of 70% Jewish students in the 1960’ through the 1980’s many of the teachers were also Jewish. Teaching seemed to be a career that many Jewish college students seemed to prefer if they were not pursuing a career as a Doctor or Dentist or other high paying professional. Teaching was considered a profession, but it was last on the list of Professionals because of the low pay scale. There were many kinds of Jewish teachers, some were liberal and never made a big deal of their religion to students or colleagues. Others were Orthodox Jewish teachers who often wore a little Jewish hat called a yamaka. The Jewish teachers made it a point to use little “Yiddish Jewish expressions,” with one another to exclude the non-Jewish teachers. This was their way of being cool Jewish wise. The Jewish teachers also made it a point to take off for all Jewish holidays large and small even if they were not on the school calendar. For small holidays they took personal days. None Jewish teachers, Christians mostly were called “goyams.” At teacher parties the Jewish teachers made it a point to demand that the food be Kosher even if they did not practice eating Kosher diets at home. The Jewish teachers who preferred Hanukah tolerated Christmas. There wasn’t any real tension between the Jewish teachers and the Christian teachers at work, but in private many Christian teachers resented the hypocrite attitude by many of the phony Jewish teachers. At funerals for Jewish teachers all the teachers show up to show their respects. Often some Christian teachers offered to participate in the 12 men reading prayers. During shiva when the survivors of the deceased Jewish teacher sat grieving for a week they welcomed Christian and Jewish teachers alike to visit and have small snacks and tea and talk about the deceased person. It was a good idea for togetherness.
Certainly Jewish teachers children having a bar-mitzvah or bot-mitzvah for boy or girl respectively in the coming of age ceremony would invite almost all of the faculty friends that they could afford. Thousands of dollars were spent on these religious occasions and the parties were lavish and overbearing. These religious social events bonded the Christian and Jewish teachers more on a personal basis and a professional one too over time.
It was as stated a cast of characters from different religious backgrounds that blended together for better or worse into one cohesive faculty over a period of 40 years of the life of Cucamonga JHS. Some teachers stood out as the best and were always fondly remembered by their students and their students easily forgot others. Some teachers were leaders who weren’t afraid to give there all for the school of the faculty and students. Some teachers actually taught and others just got by. The system was never perfect and politics always played a part. The cliché’ was often said. “That if you play ball and do not make waves you could survive a career as a teacher.”