Tag Archives: favorite teachers

Having My Childhood Neighbor As My Physic Teacher Was a Challenge

5 Apr

In the Kansas City Star today there was an article about a man who has searched for some of his high school teachers to thank them for all they had done for him. This article made me think of one of my teachers. Not to thank him, but to ‘sort of’ apologize for a bit of misbehaving.   There was a reason! Imagine if your neighbor became your teacher!

My home from fourth gra

My home from fourth grade till I married.  Bobbie’s home is just past the parking area.

Growing up on 78th Street near Boulevard East, in North Bergen, we had wonderful neighbors. We knew all the children on the block, and we often played stickball in the street after school and on weekends. Everyone knew everyone else. It was a community.

Our next-door neighbor going up the hill was the DeSocio family. The son, Bobbie, was about six years older than I. So although he was part of the community, he really did not hang out with the kids on the street. But of course we all knew him.   And he was part of the teasing and kidding that went on daily.

When I was about 12, and he was 18, he helped my brother and his friend, Jack, put me upside down into a garbage can. Bobbie was raking leaves. And the three boys thought it would be funny to dump me in. I did not find it so amusing. From that point on, I saw Bobbie as an adversary instead of my friend. He had joined the boys!

The next fall Bobbie went on to college: Steven’s Institute of Technology, which was in Hoboken. Not far from home. I believe he earned both a BS and an MS in physics.

During these years, we really did not have much contact with him. My Dad and his Dad would talk. And we would hear about what he was doing at dinner. Sometimes he would come by and we would wave. My parents talked to him the most. I think my brother, who was a bit closer to his age, and two-years ahead of me in school also talked to him. My brother actually got his master’s at Steven’s Tech, years later.

But then life changed. I was a senior in North Bergen High School. I was a good student and active in many school activities but focusing on the school newspaper and yearbook. However I did take physics and I loved it.

When we returned from winter break something had changed. They had divided our physics class. Some of the students stayed with the original teacher and some of us were put into a class with a new teacher. Someone just starting out; someone named Mr. DeSocio. Yes BOBBIE! And guess whom he got in his first class? Yes, ME!

I cannot imagine how he felt when he saw me walk into his class. But I know how I felt. Bobbie is my teacher! Impossible. I really did not know what to do or how to act. So I acted with all the maturity of an 18 year old. I totally goofed off. I giggled. I laughed. I really could not take him seriously.

I do not know why he did not request that I be put into the other class. But he did not.

However, I do know what happened in my home. I think my Dad and his Dad had a little talk over the back yard fence. And I got the parental lecture. I was in BIG trouble.

I was to treat Bobbie with respect at school and I was to call him Mr. DeSocio. When he was over at the house, I could call him Bobbie. But at school I could not. I could not tell my friend’s any Bobbie stories. I had to treat him just like any other teacher.

The parent lecture worked. I started behaving. I listened in class. It took about a month for me to calm down. And yes, I believe I had an A in physics.

But years later, I taught high school journalism in a small private school. Although none of my students were my peers, many were the children of my friends. And later, some were friends of my daughter. It was a bit difficult. And I often thought back to North Bergen High School and Bobbie.

I wondered if Bobbie continued teaching. I know he did for a while because my younger sister attended North Bergen High School until 1976, and he was still there. In fact she also had him as her physic teacher. But since she was so much younger, there was not the same issues that I had faced. I also found a yearbook listing on line that showed he was still there in 1978. Did that semester having me in his class toughen him up for anything?

In reality, I was really not that bad. (Although my sister disagrees, she says I was terrible. ) In 1973 there was a decorum that had to be followed. I loved high school and I loved learning. I did learn physics from Bobbie. So in the end, I guess we worked it out to everyone’s advantage…. I hope. But I will say that having my neighbor as my physics teacher was a challenge!

Learning Infinity and Beyond Makes Me Insane

2 Aug
A note from Mr. "Mean" Thoens to me in my senior yearbook.   We never did agree on infinite numbers.

A note from Mr. “Mean” Thoens to me in my senior yearbook. We never did agree on infinite numbers.

My disdain for infinity and infinite numbers started when I was a senior in high school. My North Bergen High School calculus teacher, Mr. Ray Thoens, (who I called “Mean” Thoens) was teaching us about infinity and the infinite number of points in a line. Okay, I could get that. But then he told us that two lines of unequal lengths would have the same number of infinite points. What!!

I argued with him.

How can a line this long ___________, have the same number of points as a line this long _________________? The lines have a definite beginning and an end. How can they have the same infinite number of points! For my logical mind, one must have more points than the other.

Mr. Thoens and I argued about this all year. Whenever I was upset about something I would just say, “Yes just like those lines and infinite number of points. It just doesn’t make sense.” And I would sometimes add while shaking my head, “that is just wrong.” Other students in my class perhaps agreed with Mr. Thoens, but that did not change my mind.

Senior year, basically the calculus class.  I had a lot of hair, but not as much as the boy next to me.

Senior year, basically the calculus class. I had a lot of hair, but not as much as the boy next to me.

Over the years, the long years, since I graduated high school, I still felt that the information about infinity and lines and infinite numbers of points was a crazy thing and just could not be right. But I kept my point of view to myself all these years. I never took another math class (except statistics), so I did not have to worry about these numbers. And even though my husband studied math and physics for the first two years of his college career, infinite numbers just did not come up.

Until now, when my nephew, my sister’s son, came to stay with us for a few days.

My nephew just earned his master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Kansas. He taught calculus to college freshman for the past few years, and he is staying with me before he leaves for Florida to study for his PhD in math at a university there.

And we got into a math debate.

I am not a hundred percent sure how it started, but we got on to the topic of calculus. I could not help myself, I had to tell him about my disdain for infinite numbers and points in lines.

He said something like, “I will explain it to you. Many people have this problem.”

I said, “You are not going to change my mind. It is not right! I have held this view for 40 years!”

He told me that Mr. Thoens, my high school math teacher was right! Can you imagine that! He told me that my high school teacher was probably trying not to use more advanced math language when he tried to exlain it all those years ago. But he, my nephew had explained this to many students, and he could explain it to me.

The diagrams in my nephew and my debate over infinite points in lines of two different lengths.

The diagrams in my nephew and my debate over infinite points in lines of two different lengths.

He started talking about ‘cardinality’ and how to match numbers. He showed me two sets of numbers, one with three dots and one with five. We could agree that these did not match. Then he added two more dots to make them equal sets. And we could agree that they were now equal.

He made graphs and wrote equation-like things. Who cares? When you look at two lines of unequal length it is intuitive and logical to realize that they do not have the same number of infinite points. ( I spoke to my daughter about this, and she totally agreed! So I must be right.)

I showed him two equal lines, A to B. We agreed that they had the same number of infinite points. Then I added a segment that doubled the size of one line to C. And I said, “This line has more points. It is a longer line.”

And he said, “NO!”

What! How can you say no?

He then told me that “The same way of matching is not going to work.”

Of course it will not. You cannot match the same way because they are different lengths.

And then he went into a silly math concept that showed matching using x/2 (x over 2). In this way the numbers in the longer line matched numbers in the shorter line like this: .3 went with .15 and so on. So! Yes you can make pairs of numbers, but there are always other numbers. He agreed and said something like, “But you never actually get to zero so your cardinality is okay as long as you can keep matching.”

Yes, Mr. Thoens had tried that same trick on me when I was 17. It did not work then and it will not work now.

I appreciate my nephew’s passion for math. I hope he has great success and continues to teach and learn. But I am not changing my mind. Two lines of unequal length and size cannot have the same number of infinite points even if both have an infinite number of points.

And do not tell me that an infinite number of points is an infinite number of points.   I know that. But it is something that does not make sense in my mind, and probably will never make sense.

I think I will just go another 40 years believing that learning about infinity and beyond just makes me insane!

My Days in the English Department Office at NBHS

19 Jan


I basically spent the last two years of my North Bergen High School education hanging out the English Department office or in a journalism office working on the school newspaper or yearbook.  I am not quite sure how that happened.  I know my senior year I did an independent study research and I used the English office as my office.  I sort of took over seventh, eighth and ninth periods. 


Mr. Vecchione, Mrs. Whitehouse, Mr. Polente, and Mr. Boyle were my verbal sparring partners. When I was not actually working on my project, I was sort of, helping out in the office. Sometimes I was arguing with the teachers over some cause I believed in…mainly women’s rights.   I think I was an English Department aide?  Who knows?  I cannot remember.


But even before senior year, I had developed, what was for me,  an important relationship with Mrs. Whitehouse and Mr. Vechionne.

Celia Whitehouse’ impact on my life was the most visable.  She provided the space for me to become involved in journalism and creative writing. Although I was never editor in chief of the yearbook or newspaper, I had editorial positions on the newspaper both junior and senior year, and on the yearbook in my senior year. 

Even when I was in college, I would come back to visit the English Department teachers and hang out in the office.  I knew that they had to be missing me.  And since my sister was in high school for three more years, I had an easy in.  So conversations with Mr. Vecchione and Mrs. Whitehouse continued. 



It was Mrs. Whitehouse, who told me, when I was looking for graduate schools, that Columbia University was not the only place to apply.  In fact, Missouri had a really good school of journalism.  I applied…why not?

Thus it is thanks to Mrs. Whitehouse that I ended up living in Kansas (and meeting my husband). I was accepted to both Columbia University and University of Missouri- Columbia for graduate school.  My Mom said…. in 1977…”How will I sleep at night knowing you are in Harlem every day?”  So I moved to Missouri.  “You won’t know what I am doing, so you won’t worry.”  I told her.  “Thank Mrs. Whitehouse for telling me to apply.”

When in high school I was in honors English and was a member of the Merit Society, which meant I could leave a class if there was no exam.  I took that to mean I would be leaving class whenever there was a substitute, and hangout in the English office.  Giving me even more time to be in my favorite place.  Mr. Vecchione would just sigh when I showed up and invaded his space.

I loved high school.  Junior prom, senior prom, yearbook, newspaper, literary supplement, independent study, school plays, all were fun times.  Even my classes were fun for me.  I loved school; I loved learning.  We had a community of about 20 students who were in almost every class together.  And the memories are still strong.

During my junior year of high school, I became ill toward the end of the school year.  I spent a week in the hospital, not fun at all.   Mrs. Whitehouse not only came to visit me, she wrote me a book: Ellen and the Sorceress. Handwritten….no computers in those days.  I still have the book!

My honors English teacher, however, sent a take-home test to the hospital with my friend, Faye, who was afraid to give to me.  I still remember her telling my mom about it, even though I was quite sick.  My Mom was furious.  She called Mr. Vecchione, asking, “Who sends a test to someone in the hospital?”  Needless to say, I never took that test. 

But then they knew I was a good student.  And I was not malingering.  Believe me, a week in the hospital was not enjoyable. 

My days in the English department were not wasted.  I received my undergraduate degree in English literature.  I worked on the college newspaper and yearbook, continuing on the path I found in high school.  Then on to graduate school, where I earned my master’s degree in journalism.  I even taught high school journalism for four years: in a way my homage to Celia Whitehouse, Anthony Vecchione and my many hours in the English Department office.