Characters I have met and loved

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 27, 2004

When you teach in New York, I guarantee it’s an experience you’ll find nowhere else. I started my teaching right out of college in my home state of Massachusetts. Next came New York. When my husband died, I went back to what I did well. This is where I learned New York pupils were called &uot;Kids’ and it fit perfectly. They were New York kids and no one argued the point. Believe me!

Let me tell you of two I had in my class. In September in came my first African-American pupil. He was cocky, joyous, full of life. He actually sparkled. I asked his name. He answered, &uot;I calls myself Tyrone.&uot; Now I’m fascinated.

As the days advanced, I noticed Tyrone was doing great among the girls. I asked him why he was so popular with the girls. His answer floored me. &uot;I kiss them then I pinch them.&uot; Well! I had a strange feeling about this answer so I asked where he kissed and pinched. Here it comes – &uot;I kiss them on the cheek and pinch the behind.&uot; I almost fainted and began a long word of one syllable explanation of this pinching. Reaction in his answer: They like it.&uot; Fight that and I did. He finally agreed he’d kiss but no pinch. How do you fight such popularity?

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Next meet Barry. A transfer from a school in a tough area in New York. Barry came in serious, thoughtful and an attitude of toughness. He had no fear and seemed ready to be king of the hill. This one really concerned me so I watched carefully.

New York sets up each child with notebook, crayons, pencil, ruler. I assigned a desk with these supplies on top. He took a look and swung his hand across the desk sending the supplies flying off the desk. A big &uot;ooooh&uot; came from my class. I went over to Barry, put my hand on his shoulder and propelled him toward my desk. Every child was shocked as they were a great disciplined group.

To Barry: &uot;If you ever try something like that again the first grade will have a new boy.&uot; (I had a second grade.) I then assured him if he had to pick up every item (well scattered) with his teeth he’d get them back on his desk. He saw the light and began to collect them. Rest of the day passed without incident. Dismissal came. While balancing my register there came a knock on my door. I called a come in and in came the biggest woman I’d ever seen. Behind her was Barry. I said hello and asked if I could help her. She told me my children in class told her about Barry’s behavior and she then declared in a loud voice, &uot;You sassed your teacher?&uot; and at the same time swung her right arm back and connected with Barry’s face. Whack! This sent him reeling back towards the door. She repeated her loud question and I ran to get him. All I could envision was a dead Barry before he had a chance to live. I put him behind me and calmed her down. We talked. She listened. He stood wide-eyed. Got it all squared away. So simple. All’s right with the world..

Barry repeated my grade. I took him for another year. Unheard of but mama insisted. Barry visited me every year right up to high school. He was no marvel in his work but he learned. Love to know where he finally settle down, but I left New York so lost touch. He was tough – as New York kids are.

Florence Arena is a resident of Hillcrest Retirement Center and a regular News-Herald columnist.