Mr. Rodger’s Not So Secret Recipe

Mr. Rodgers was a huge man, possibly 6’4” or 6’5”, weighing well over 300 lbs.  He was also a Negro (that was the word used in those days) who had been brought up in Harlem, and popular with the parents of the neighborhood. I met him a few days after I had proctored the exam for his class, the weekend intervening, and immediately asked him how he had achieved the miracle of disciplined students I had witnessed in this particular school, hoping that I might be able to replicate it some day.  He told me that it was quite simple, and then proceeded to tell me how he had done it.

Now you have to understand that Mr. Rodgers was assigned the toughest class in this very tough school each semester, and that some of those kids, although only 9th graders, were six feet and over, having had to repeat several grades previously, some of them in reform schools. These were not your average 9th graders, and no one else had had much success with them before.

The first thing he did each semester was identify the toughest, meanest kid, in his class. His classroom, for some unknown reason, having its own bathroom, he would ask this boy to step into the bathroom with him.  Once the boy was in the bathroom, and without much ado, Mr. Rodgers would proceed to beat the living hell out of him, after which he pleasantly congratulated the young man and told him that he had just been elected class president.  From now on, he was free to do what Mr. Rodgers had just done to him to any kid in the class, and that he didn’t want to be bothered with any discipline problems, unless he wanted more of the same.  While Mr. Rodgers’ system was not something I had come across in the educational theory classes at Brooklyn College or in the works of John Dewey, it seemed to work, and who was I to argue with success?

Of course, Mr. Rodgers’ size and the fact that he was African American made his system possible.  There was no way that I nor any of the other teachers (particularly those of the Caucasian persuation) in the school could replicate his system, but it was certainly something to think about. . .

Stirrings of a Civil Rights Movement were in the air, and the newspapers were full of items about how terrible the schools were, the necessary integration of the schools and of a citywide boycott of schools on February 6th .  When February 6th rolled around there was indeed a boycott of the schools, but very little happened at my school in Harlem.  Many of the parents were too busy working to take their kids out of school, and the day came and went without incidents except for the media reports I read later.  However, I was notified that I had received a phone call, the caller leaving a number and asking that I call him back.  The call was from Dr. Milton Hanauer, principal of Junior High School 52, on Academy Street in Inwood.  Would I be available for an English position at his school?  One of his teachers had just had a fatal heart attack in class, and he needed an immediate replacement.  Would I come in and see him the following day?  One free guess as to what my answer was.


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.
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