I was told, going into second grade, that my teacher, Mr. Greenberg, was very strict, sometimes one who crosses the line and gets physical with students. Though corporal punishment was a thing of the past, it sounded like it could be a part of my future.
I didn’t know from such disciplinarians. My parents didn’t believe in taking a belt to my older sister or me. Guilt, isolation, or the withholding of privileges gave them enough currency to control us.
My two prior teachers were young women who mothered their students. But now I was on high alert to see if I had an educator or a prison guard for a teacher.
He always wore a brown suit and tie, and stood about six feet tall. He could have been five-foot-two, but to a seven-year-old seated at his little wooden desk, his presence loomed large.
Neatly shaven, hair at a standard length, his face was littered with tiny holes or pockmarks. Just looking at the mustached man with a battlefield face could make a little kid feel uneasy.
Luckily, we hit it off well.
He was the kind of guy who challenged you and in return you wanted to show him you were smarter and better. The unstated competition made me a better student.
He would assign me extra homework when I breezed through the curriculum. He was giving me fifth-grade math problems to solve. I loved the smell of the purple-colored rexograph sheets that provided me with a proving ground. My eagerness to learn and ability to play with this monster in his playground, provided me a safe harbor.
He saw that I processed everything through numbers and dollars. He nicknamed me Mr. Moolah, the Fijian word for “money.”
I felt a certain amount of respect came my way from the most feared person in my elementary school.
But he was a man with a temper and a violent streak. You can never forget that when interacting with him.
Rather than yell or put kids in the corner, he hit kids when no one could see.
There was a kid, Robert, who was a troubled kid. I found him funny but not bright. I guess my teacher wasn’t amused. On more than one occasion, it sounded like Mr. Greenberg threw him down a flight of stairs.
You would be in class and the teacher would order Robert out of the room. Then the teacher would go outside into the hall, which was near a staircase, and you would hear the sounds of Robert bouncing down the steps. A real commotion. The kid would come back in, looking disheveled and unnerved. Dazed.
He would sit quietly and behave the rest of the day. My classmates and I were on notice: Don’t cross the crazy teacher lest you want to endure his wrath.
On numerous other occasions there was poor Rudolph getting abused.
I think he came from Russia or some far-off land. He was quiet and his compromised English fluency the product of growing up in a first-generation immigrant household.
This kid dressed like he was in the old country. He had on suspenders and wore what looked like an old cab driver’s hat. He had on grown-up pants, not jeans; shoes, not sneakers.
Mr. Greenberg made it a habit of holding people accountable.
He would call each of us up to his heavy wooden desk and have us submit our homework.
Rudolph never seemed to have his homework in on time. After the teacher would whisper-ask him for his homework, all too often Rudolph would mumble apologetically in broken English that he had nothing to give him.
Mr. Greenberg’s demeanor would suddenly shift, as if a lion suddenly spotted its prey. He had this thing about him where he curls his lips inwardly, revealing more of his now clenched teeth, and would say: “You didn’t do your homework, Rudolph?”
It was as if a password was given and this machine suddenly was suddenly operating in its top gear.
At that very moment, the teacher had grabbed hold of Rudolph’s leg, hidden to us by the huge desk. Then, suddenly, you would hear his knee hit the desk. And again. And again, yielding a symphony of whimpered sounds and tears.
One day my turn came where inevitable confrontation with this lunatic materialized.
I broke one of his many rules, the one even normal teachers have: don’t tilt back your chair.
I had leaned back, perhaps for a few minutes, and I suddenly noticed something stopped me from landing my chair forward. I started to turn around and saw my chair had been snatched by the alien. Suspended in midair, wondering what my fate would be, his beaten-up face came close to mine, like a vampire looming one chin length away from its victim. He whispered that I should never, ever do that again.
An invisible cloud of coffee breadth permeated the air. It is something you can’t forget, that brief moment when you realize you are helpless, that you could suffer some type of violence at the hands of one that can’t be negotiated or reasoned with.
But it went no further and our exchange concluded without me saying anything.
My chair was released and it never happened again.
Knowing I could have been a victim still leaves me with an uneasy feeling. But I weathered the class and left feeling stronger, smarter, and luckier.
Some years later I learned that he was fired and arrested.
He actually is my all-time favorite teacher.
The book marketing lesson here is not that we need to threaten people to behave, but when one has a teacher/mentor/coach to guide them and push them harder to achieve more, we can rise to the occasion and succeed. Find someone who can push you, challenge you, encourage you to do more, and do better.
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Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2022. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by WinningWriters.com as a “best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America. For more information, please consult: .