Mr. Rodgers Miracle

I had been hired at Frederick Douglas Junior High School as a “regular” substitute, which meant that each day I was assigned to cover the classes of whatever teachers were out that day.  This involved very little teaching and lots of babysitting, most of it fairly chaotic, as under the best the best of conditions substitute teaching is not a “’appy lot,” and Frederick Douglas was not the “best of conditions.”  The school was in a continuous state of chaos which is hard to describe, with fire alarms sounding because rolls of toilet paper had been set afire in the bathrooms, or the bathrooms would be flooded because toilet bowls had been stuffed with rolls of toilet papers.  Students roamed the halls and not much happened in the classrooms.

Many teachers had completely given up.  Art classes, under a Mr. Barnwell, consisted of painting by the numbers.  Mr. Barnwell himself died in his classroom, shot by an intruder.  A French teacher imposed discipline in her classes by walking her students around the hallway until the kids were dizzy.  Another, who may have been a little crazy, organized “field trips” by going through the procedures of having kids or their parents sign permission slips, and then taking his students “en masse,” to the classroom windows to look  out at the traffic on West 139th Street.

Most teachers had a paddle in their closets.  This was made for them by students in the woodwork shop.  However, New York City being one of the more enlightened places in the United States, had abolished corporal punishment of students by teachers.  To get around this little rule, each teacher appointed a class “executioner” whose role was to apply the paddle to the bottoms of his fellow students when so ordered by the teacher. As a rule this contributed little to the peace at Frederick Douglas.  The only time there was quiet in the school was around noon, when the temporary gym was converted into a lunchroom, and the building handed over for lunch hour to the “Patrol” whose role was to keep order during mealtime, and they were quite successful at it.  Physical intimidation by peers, although not strictly legal, seemed to work. The entire staff looked forward to that blessed hour.

One day I was asked to “substitute” during an exam period for class 9-15, supposedly the toughest class in the entire school (9-1 being the easiest and best), whose teacher, a Mr. Rodgers, was absent.  I walked into his room fearing the worst.  However, when I got there, the room was quiet, with students milling about quietly, talking to one another.  A young man politely introduced himself to me as the class president.  He asked permission to distribute the test papers, and I gave him permission to do so.  He yelled, “Seats!” and 35 fannies hit their seats as one.  The class worked in absolute silence.  When the exam was over, the class president collected the papers in continued absolute silence.  He then asked me if he could dismiss the class, and I told him he could.  He yelled, “Center!” and as one, the students got up and formed two lines in the center of the room still in absolute silence.  Suddenly, I saw him administer a hard shot to the head of the last student in one of the files.  I asked him what that was about, and he replied, “He whispered!”  I was amazed, and decided I just had to meet Mr. Rodgers and find out how he had accomplished this miracle.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.