Inside Mr. Gallo’s World
He once brought one half of a sheet cake to class and apportioned it so precisely with a plastic knife that each child in the classroom of thirty
Mr. Gallo’s class was a welcome respite from the daily humdrum. The kind of teacher who put a lot of effort into making you feel … well, like you were home.
His middle section was shaped uncannily like a boulder punctuated by his “non-existent” neck upon which sat an exceedingly round, shiny head, completely bald atop and shorn of any and all hair on the sides.
No! Mr. Gallo did not wax his head, but he did perspire quite a lot which would explain his sheen.
His face was one of those which only a mother loves. His rather unhappy teeth would have caused even a seasoned dentist to wince, but he had a smile that shone like none other. His nose was broad and flattened as if it had known the impact of too many fists in his youth. All in
all, his rather tough looking appearance contrasted remarkably with his otherwise gentle and kind manner.
students received an equal portion. His precision was an amazing feat of exactitude and kindness, but like everyone else, Mr. Gallo had his other side.
He was a punctilious man who seriously enforced his class assignment protocol. Penalties for non-compliance ranged from 1-5 points. That may
not seem like much, but it is a serious consequence for a conscientiouseighth grader. He docked me a point once after I had failed to place a “period” after my middle initial in the heading of my assignment.
Mr. Gallo required that each student draw a one inch square box in the upper left hand corner of his notebook paper into which he would inscribe
one’s grade. It was not to be just any square but an exact one, as if drawn by a draftsman, without overlapping lines at any of the four corners.
It certainly was no big deal to draw the square. Placing his grade in the same place on everybody’s assignment probably reflected Mr. Gallo’s intent to emphasize order, structure and rules as part of his civics subject matter.
It was imprudent to irritate Mr. Gallo, but let’s be clear on one thing. Mr. Gallo was a master teacher and, as such, he used his rather ogre-
like appearance to his advantage to manage his classroom well. As a result, kids learned in Mr. Gallo’s class-not merely textbook civics but civic responsibility, not fear of but respect for fair law and order. His most effective teaching tool … the power of his own example.
The Coatroom Mystery
“Pssst, hey Rebbe,” David whispered while ducking for cover. Sat right behind her as a matter of fact. I watched begrudgingly from across the room, relishing a moment’s respite from textbook tedium.
“Shush!” she snapped at him, spinning sharply around, her twin-braided pigtails flying clockwise around her neck, nearly brushing the tip of David’s nose. With a glare clearly meant to chastise, she spun back around, the same
braided pigtails returning counterclockwise.
Her chastisement had no effect in either delaying or deflecting the advances of this, her adoring admirer.
“Hey Rebbe, after school ‘ya wanna’ …?”
“Shush David, please. Mr. Gallo’s ‘gonna’ hear you,” she implored with stern civility.
The boy Rebbe “shushed” was David Tsurrismacher, a wiseacre of a student,a mere twit of a lad. Not a bad kid as I look back, just mischievous … you know, impish. And it wasn’t that so much which bothered me about David. There were other impish kids besides him, even one rather “nerdy” fellow who told us he read the dictionary while sitting on the toilet.
Hysterical, but I had read the World Book Encyclopedia in the bathroom, so I could relate.
No. What really got my goat about David was how smitten over Rebecca he was.
Rebecca Shumacher, a ‘shayneh maydele’ whose affections I too sought, lived right behind me, just beyond the woods, a short dash from my house. I could only hope she thought of him as … an annoyance, like when you’d get that ink on your fingers after changing the plastic ink cartridge in those cheap fountain pens.
What’s more, he, along with many others, used to call her “Rebbe”.
“A gut Shabbos, Rebbe.”
“A gut Shabbos, Avrum. All are well by you?”
“Baruch Ha Shem, Rebbe.”
Now that is how ‘rebbe’ should be used. But ‘Rebbe’, used as a diminutive for a name as beautiful as that of Rebecca, was simply beyond the pale.
“Pssst, Rebbe, Rebbe,” his whisper becoming loud enough to hear from where I sat, in the first row, last seat by the classroom door.
Seat number #5 to be precise.
“Yea, that’s right David, keep disturbing the class’ quiet study, please!”
Rebecca turned a pretty shade of red, her cheeks suffused with the hue of embarrassment.
Mr. Gallo closed his grade book.
“Rebecca,” he bespoke that most beautiful of names, his voice tinged with slight reproach.
“Yes, Mr. Gallo?”
“Do you have a question?”
“No, sir, I was just trying to …. Davi …”
Again, David ducked and covered. He succeeded partly in smothering his giggling with the pages of Chapter 5, “City Government: How It Works For You”.
Rebecca’s cheeks approached purple.
“Da-vid,” his voice rose in pitch.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Gal …” he responded snickeringly.
Mr. Gallo’s pate gleamed. He wiped his brow.
“Good David, good. Keep it up, Mr. Gallo’s gonna blow.”
It wasn’t but a moment later when … ‘what is it they say?’ the sh*t hit the fan.
“David, come with me, please.”
A pall of silence blanketed the classroom.
“Now he’ll get what he deserves.”
I silently rejoiced.
Mr. Gallo arose deliberately from his chair. His desk, positioned precisely three floor tiles in front of and between rows three and four, seemed
fashioned from a single tree trunk, as broad in girth as was he. Every eye followed him. He walked to his left, past rows five and six, the outermost row parallel to the coatroom, turned right and proceeded to the end of the aisle where he took hold of the coatroom doorknob. With but a slight turn, he opened the door. It creaked. The class shuddered.
Mr. Gallo nodded his head. David got up, shuffled over hesitantly as though he were about to pass through the portals to the great unknown. Mr. Gallo followed, closing the door behind him. The drama of the moment seemed interminable, as if filmed in slow motion.
I must have nodded off for a few seconds …
“It’s time.” He got up from his cot. Glanced at his wristwatch on the roughly hewn wooden table where he had eaten his last meal: ‘surf n turf’, three twice-baked potatoes, an ample serving of broccoli (“for my mother”, he is reported to
have said), a stack of blueberry pancakes, a quart of milk and one chocolate mint. He dressed himself hours before after the final watch had begun.
“Captain, open it,” the warden ordered. Father John stood just behind the ring of guards, a rosary in one hand and in the other, a prayer book opened to Psalm 23, ‘Lord, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …”
I awoke! Startled when my right hand fell away in support of my chin causing my elbow to slip suddenly off the edge of the desk, I glanced around quickly hoping there had been no witnesses. Nobody saw, thankfully.
The class was hushed. I guess we were expecting a volcanic eruption.
We watched the clock. One, two … three interminable minutes passed. Nary a sound. Just as the fourth began, the door opened. David emerged. Looking a little shaken up, he seemed relieved his ordeal had come to an end.
As for the rest of us, we never did find out what had gone on in the coatroom that afternoon-neither shouting nor whimpering let alone anything in between. That alone should have led us to conclude (at least it did me) that Mr. Gallo communicated his upset through the power of silence. I mean … how would you feel if he or, for that matter, any teacher glared at you for three
minutes? Heck, I think I’d rather be yelled at. Oh sure, there was rampant speculation, outside the class especially. Mr. Gallo had read David the riot
act in threatening undertone or that he had waved his right forefinger menacingly in front of David’s nose for three minutes. There were even those who circulated the rumor he had hung David up on a coat hook by his fruit loop.
I never believed any of the rumors. David, to my knowledge, told no one other than perhaps Rebecca though I never did ask her about it.
The class as a whole, I suspect, was inclined to believe, though our eighth grade civics teacher may have looked like an ogre, he was more like … well, Shrek, I guess.
Alan D. Busch