A retired public-school English teacher reflects on his life inside the classroom and out.
Anthony Angelo has a unique method of classifying students–those who repress their bodily impulses, and those who scratch, fart and pick their noses without a second thought. Such traits, he has observed, tend to correlate with above-average and below-average intelligence, respectively. Despite a graduate degree and 40 years of teaching experience, Angelo still identifies with the scratchers. Anecdotes from his career in the classroom, his childhood growing up in an Italian working-class family in southeastern Pennsylvania and his life as a husband and father illustrate how he developed such philosophies and other nuggets of wisdom (e.g., never volunteer to chaperone a field trip). In between affectionate, often hilarious stories about his students, Angelo rails against the bureaucratic indignities that have been increasingly foisted upon public-school teachers over the years, and presents not-so-affectionate, yet equally amusing tales about the officious school administrators he encounters. He also skewers the age-old barbs against teachers, i.e., that they are to blame for all of society’s ills and that, with summers off, they have it easy. The chapter in which he shares letters received from students asking him to accept a late assignment is the most rewarding part of the book. Their pleas bear proof that the affection and respect between Angelo and his students is mutual. Though Rotondo presents this as a novel, most likely to protect the identities of the characters, it reads more like a memoir, and often like two memoirs competing against each other. Though Angelo’s flashbacks to his childhood are generally tied to a story from his teaching days–and the author renders both settings vividly–the meandering back-and-forth between them gives both short shrift.
An instructive read for aspiring teachers, and a reminder to others to value good teachers.