Teaching High School in The 50s 60s and 70s

The Teachers and Students Who Were There Will Remember The Politics And Events Of These Three Decades.

The Loyalty Oath

Today we know the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a place where liberals live in great numbers ; it is the state that continually re-elected Ted Kennedy to the Senate and the only state that didn't vote for Nixon in 1972. Some retirees remember the fifties when they were threatened with a loss of their jobs if they didn't sign an oath that they were loyal to the United States and the Commonwealth. Friendships were made and lost in the Teacher's Room. Many were in agreement with the edict since they couldn't understand why anyone would object unless they were a communist or a traitor of some kind. There were others who felt they were being singled-out unfairly and that all professions should be included. The idea itself was all right, it was just unfair to them. Then, there were those who saw this as an encroachment on their rights as citizens. Included among them were the veterans of the recent war. The test came down and everyone had to choose... sign or don't sign. Those who didn't sign weren't sure how long they would have their jobs. At the time there was no teacher's union , but there evidently was enough organization to put an end to somebody's dream of thought control.


There was a time when teachers and students used to open the school day with The Lord's Prayer and a reading from the Bible. Teachers generally liked the idea because it took an unusually unruly kid to cut-up when he heard .." Our Father Who Art In Heaven..." Some teachers wished they could call on the prayer anytime during the day.
The Catholic kids used to stop the prayer at .." deliver us from evil." Many wouldn't wait until the Protestants finished their addendum before saying loudly.. " Amen ! " After the prayer, the teacher would ask for a volunteer to read a passage from the Bible and if one wasn't forthcoming, like the Army, a volunteer was chosen. Some teachers elected to read the passage themselves, possibly because it was quicker with less hassle. It became evident to one teacher one day that there really wasn't much attention paid to what was being read. During the reading of one of the psalms, a gust of wind or some other intervention caused the page to be turned. Without breaking stride he kept reading from a different selection and nobody noticed.
The Supreme Court put a quick end to the opening exercises at school. Prayer was out. Were the pre-school prayer kids better behaved generally than the post-prayer kids? Contrary to the pleadings of the " Moral Majority ",kids were and are kids, no matter what.


The Purple People Eater was the popular song at the time. Someone remarked that Sputnik was Russia's version of that song title and that thing was going to land and devour us all. This was only one of the thoughts surrounding the launch that science teachers had to dispel. Another concerned the beeping sound that the TV channels played over and over again. This must be a way for the Russians to mark their targets. The GI Bill of Rights after WWII gave thousands of returning veterans an opportunity for a college education. Sputnik accelerated that effect to include public schools. Teachers were given the chance to pursue advanced degrees sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Curricula were updated, millions of new textbooks were published and a college education suddenly became paramount in many families. Nothing like a little scare to get things going.

The Cold War

We felt secure knowing that if a nuclear bomb dropped in town crawling under our desks would protect us. Actually this provided a great time to pick up papers, pencils and other paraphernalia that the janitors failed to see. It also gave us a break from the routine. Of course, the teacher had to be cognizant of the opportunities for quick romances.
A day in October 1962 will be remembered. Students and teachers who read newspapers and listened to the radio and TV news were wondering what was in store that day. President Kennedy had deployed a blockade of Cuba and the Russian ships were reported in transit. Will we fire on them? Will we try to board? Will Khrushchev retaliate in Berlin? Is this the start of WWIII? Who will drop the first bomb? Whoever does, will have a tremendous advantage. Let's go NOW! What are we waiting for?


Kennedy truly was a role model for kids. Hairstyles among boys reflected heroes and your position on the cultural spectrum. Kennedy gave legitimacy to long hair. In the fifties, DA's were popular because of Elvis Presley. Many fights started over that little piece of hair hanging down at the back of the neck. Kennedy wore his hair over his ears without the DA and it wasn't long before there were two factions. The freaks who had the DAs and the Jocks or " Good Kids " who had the Kennedy style. A School Committee meeting erupted one evening over the issue of a suspension for long hair. Six months later the male members of the committee were wearing their hair longer than the kid who was suspended. Men wore soft hats similar to those seen in movies of the times. There were hat stores where a man could have his hat re-blocked for a few dollars. Kennedy attended his Inauguration with a top hat, which he summarily removed and gave his speech bareheaded. That did it for two big companies, Adams Hats and Stetson Hats.
The assassination brought back the old fears of the cold war... "This event couldn't possibly be the act of a demented individual. It must be retaliation for Cuba or the KGB has to be involved. Let's give the green light to the Strategic Air Command." Changes occurred rapidly after the assassination. At the time things seemed to go on as usual but in retrospect there was a change in the atmosphere. Kids began to question everything. Do as I say and not as I do, didn't work any longer... "I can't believe you used to pray in school. Why should Sports Teams, who make lots of money, play the National Anthem to promote their franchises?" Kids tried to test some teachers by asking questions with terms most of them knew in a different light... a "roach" to them was something you had to live with if you had an apartment in Boston. "Pot" was associated with middle age. "Turn on" was something you do with a switch.
These things that were occurring in the corridors and classrooms were discussed regularly in the Teacher's Room. Although there existed a divide between adults and kids, there were also serious splits among adults.

The Teacher's Room (As Seen By Mr. Gloom ). It is known in higher academic circles or wealthier school districts as the Faculty Lounge. Although we thought of ourselves as a faculty we couldn't possibly agree to the word..lounge. For one thing, there wasn't a chaise in sight. This was the place where the adults could get away from the kids and have lunch or take a break. It was also a forum for a lot of discussion. The more interesting people were those who took a stand one way or the other on most issues. Those who spent their time on crossword puzzles, reading , knitting or correcting papers seemed to fill one section of the room. The rest of the room was taken up by the talkers and listeners. There were two males who seemed to bring up everything that others would just as soon avoid. They were known as Mr. DOOM and Mr. GLOOM. They didn't think of themselves that way. Their motivation was to get others involved. Doom and Gloom presided during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Assassination and the Vietnam War. Things went too far, the day after Kennedy was shot when someone remarked that the country was better off with him dead. Doom and Gloom, Kennedyphiles, quickly brightened. The Kennedy-Hater realized his error and abruptly left the room.


In the sixties, the Anti-Vietnam movement concentrated in the college campuses. In 1970 , when Nixon decided to move into Cambodia, the local high schools joined the fray. Our student body protested by filing out onto the front lawn with more decorum than they displayed in a fire-drill. They had a purpose which they considered to be serious,relevant and worthwhile. It was heartening to hear a 16 year-old speaking from a platform to his peers about the greatest civics lesson of their lives.
In Boston,protesters who skipped school that day,demanded that Governor Sargent lower the flag at the State House to demonstrate their concern for the president's action.What was usually a demonstration of college students expanded into a record crowd when the high school students from around the area took part. The Governor lowered the flag. The kids won but there was no celebration. Poor Governor Sargent had to then deal with those who supported Nixon. He was in between that well-known place


The tall gray-haired man walked across the basketball court at the local high school where he had been a coach for many years .The game was about to start when a player noticed Mr. Morey and quickly passed the ball. Without hesitation the old guy set himself at mid- court and with the style of the two handed-shot from the past , he let the ball go . The bleachers erupted with cheers as the ball feathered it's way through the net.
He could never sit in his seat for a complete game at the high school basketball tournaments in the Boston Garden. It wouldn't be long before he would have to stand to welcome a visitor who wanted to greet him. If it wasn't Walter Brown , the Garden owner, it would be Red Aurebach, the famous Celtics coach .One of my fondest memories was the time he introduced me to the recent draft choice of the Celtics, John Havilcek.
In the fifties, Dick retired as a coach and continued as a teacher at Abington High school where we became good friends. Wherever we went , usually as a small group of teachers , we would meet someone who knew Dick. Celebrity golf tournaments were especially favorable for his popularity. More than once a celebrity would step from the tee to greet Dick in the gallery. Lyndon Johnson planned to visit Boston during his campaign for president. Our group went to Fenway Park for the rally and as you might suspect Dick hob-nobbed with many of the politicians.
After a grueling day at school , our group would meet at a local bar and over a few beers discuss anything and everything. We didn't want our students or their parents knowing about these gatherings , so we held them in a joint across the town line in Whitman. We learned later that most people knew what we were doing but never complained. Dick, who was the oldest would tell us stories and anecdotes that related to almost every subject under discussion. Bring up a topic and he had something to contribute. His metaphors were forthright and funny. For example: Frustration: "Like a cat trying to cover s..t on a marble top table." Good Fortune: " Luckier than a butcher's dog."
Dick was never one for official gatherings ,like faculty meetings or especially system-wide staff meetings with the superintendent. He usually strolled in late and walked to his seat up back by passing directly in front of the administrator speaker. If there was a lull or loud background murmur, it was just Dick's luck to have everything go quiet before he blurted something like..." what a bunch of bulls..t!" One time he came right out with this remark directly to the superintendent.
One time we were told we would have to attend a faculty meeting ten minutes after school let out for the kids. Dick and our group liked to use this time to grab a smoke and wind down in the men's teacher's room. The meeting was called by the new Director of Guidance...a pompous ass if there ever was one. Someone in the group said we should go to the meeting since we are now ten minutes late. The room was quiet when we walked in and took seats up back. Before the Guidance guy continued with his talk , he told the faculty that when he called a meeting he wanted everybody there on time....." and I mean just that! I am not whistling Dixie!" It was faint but from somewhere near Dick's seat you could hear the refrain just like it came out of the movie Gone With The Wind. The poor guy was labeled with the name Dixie ( by Dick of course ) and never mellowed .
In the old high school, the teacher's rooms were gender specific. The men occupied a small room in the basement of what is now known as the Frolio School. Cigarette , cigar and pipe smoke filled the place. The toilet stall was small and close by. The custodian in charge cleaned the room daily. He mumbled and grumbled while emptying ash trays and sweeping ashes off the floor. I never remember the floor getting a wash or the lone window becoming transparent.......it was covered with grime from years of tobacco tar. He personified the description ..curmudgeon, only to a higher more disagreeable level. The custodian and the men had an arrangement. If the new principal or the superintendent was seen in the area , we would get a warning. In turn , we didn't press for super-duper house cleaning.
Occasionally, a new teacher would join the group but he usually didn't last long. He either became bored or realized he wasn't being accepted. Beverly was his first name and an appropriate one. He was also from the South. He taught French with a southern accent. He had definite opinions about our club-room. One item in particular really bothered him. The new business manager decided to buy low quality toilet paper to save expenses. We didn't like it but we knew better than to complain to the custodian. Dick said it was like using aluminum foil. Beverly complained to us and Dick, always ready with a proper solution, suggested he bring the complaint to the custodian. When he came into the room with his broom and equipment, we looked at each other and hunched down in our chairs . Beverly didn't just complain, he directed him to bring softer paper. Poor Beverly, coming from the genteel South, never heard language like that before. He didn't last long.
Dick was an innovator. He came up with the idea that glass would make a good backboard. In the forties , he convinced Walter Brown of the Boston Celtics that he should install a pair in the Boston Garden. Dick went to work immediately. He got help with designs from his son Dick Jr who was an engineer and he got the tempered glass from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company.
The boards were installed and Chuck Connors , of the Boston Celtics , Red Sox, Movies and the TV show Rifleman, shattered one. In the early days of glass backboards there was no way to tell when and if a board would shatter. Some stayed in place for years while others could easily pulverize shortly after installation.
Colleges became interested and Dick decided he would construct the boards in a garage in Abington and fill orders. Pittsburgh Plate provided his glass. Business improved to a point where he would hire local kids to help him. My son, Mike was one.
Business demanded once that he take a trip to Pittsburgh. He approached the School Committee and asked for two days off . Dick 's request was for unpaid leave and he would pay the substitute.
" We would be setting a precedent. Request denied."
Dick went to Pittsburgh and was summoned to a school committee meeting when he returned. They told him he was suspended without pay for two weeks starting at the time a substitute can be hired. The news of his suspension reached the local newspapers and was a hot topic around town and everywhere that Dick was known.
" I don't care. I'll have lots of time to build backboards ."
The student body retaliated in support of a well-liked teacher they thought was being unfairly treated. The word was out. "After the bell to start classes , we will walk out" and they did. The front yard looked like a football rally only more so. The principal called the police to keep order but it wasn't necessary because the kids were there for a purpose and were reasonably well-behaved. The Fire department showed up as well. The policemen and firemen , as former Morey students and well-informed of the situation , informally supported the kids. Dick took advantage of the walkout by grabbing a quick smoke in the teacher's room.
Quick furtive discussions ensued with the top brass at the scene.....the school committee, the superintendent and the principal. They came to realize the only way they could defuse the situation was to implore Dick to ask the kids to give it up. An emissary was sent to the teacher's room ....the only place he could be .....to ask Dick to join them on the platform steps. Dick showed up and listened to the pleas that he do what he could to bring the kids back into the building.
Dick , as a former proficient basketball player knew when the ball was in the air for a rebound.
"Can we talk about the suspension?"
A quorum of two school committee members held a quick meeting on the spot and agreed to rescind . Dick stepped forward to address the kids. He had only one remark , which was delivered forcefully and loudly.
" Get your asses in here right now! "
They walked in to the building in an orderly fashion while Dick retreated to his favorite chair in the teacher's room for another smoke.
More Dick Morey stories will follow.