John Templer was in a supermarket parking lot when he met a school pal from long ago.
The guys spent a few minutes reminiscing about kids and teachers at Schenectady’s Franklin Elementary. They parted and walked to their cars.
Templer said his lost friend remembered one more thing, and called out across the parking lot. “He said, ‘You know, that Mr. Pacelli was the best teacher I ever had,’ ” Templer recalled.
Templer agreed. He was with Mr. Anthony Pacelli during the mid-1950s, and remembers days in the young teacher’s fourth-grade class.
“He was like the only male teacher in the school,” said Templer, 67, who lives in Schenectady. “I don’t think they had that many in the system. He was young and athletic. . . . He became quite a mentor to most of the kids. Just a teacher that none of us ever forgot.”
With kindergartners, fourth-graders, eighth-graders, freshmen, sophomores and all the rest preparing for new school years this week, Templer can smile back on days of small desks, miniature chairs, alphabet letters on classroom walls — and a class photo from almost 60 years ago.
“This is one of my prized possessions,” Templer said of the picture. He can’t remember all the names. And some of the spellings are best guesses. But Templer remembers those days.
He said Mr. Pacelli’s classroom was in the basement of the former school on Avenue B and Mason Street in Schenectady’s Goose Hill section. “Once in a while a music teacher would come in and play the piano and sing,” Templer said.
Making the rules
Kids all got along. Mr. Pacelli saw to that.
The retired teacher, now 88 and a resident of Glenville, said he always treated pupils as his own children. “I would ask them to do nothing less than what they were capable of doing,” he said.
One of the first exercises was making rules for the class. Mr. Pacelli said the class made the rules together — with some adult guidance — so laws against fighting, disloyalty and interrupting another’s speech could be better enforced.
One of Mr. Pacelli’s vivid memories was a boy with leg problems. The student had required several operations as a youngster and always used crutches. When kids had participated in outdoor kickball or baseball sessions, Mr. Pacelli remembered, the boy was either sent to the sidelines to watch or sent to the library.
“I made it a rule within the class, without the boy knowing, whenever we played outdoors,” Mr. Pacelli said. “And God help the person who put him out. It was a fixed kind of thing and they all went for it.”
Mr. Pacelli remembered the boy was elated to be on the field. His participation led to success with school subjects. “Once he became part of the family, he began to produce,” he said.
Mr. Pacelli liked the kids, bringing used clothing to boys and girls who needed extra accessories. He used incentives for class improvement — and took the kids on skating trips and overnight camping trips.
Family of educators
Mr. Pacelli was at Franklin from 1953 until 1960, moved to Yates Elementary School from 1960 to 1963 and then to Riverside from 1963 through 1969. He began teaching education-related subjects at the University at Albany in ’69, staying until 1972. He taught at the state university at Plattsburgh for the next 20 years, retiring in 1992.
Mr. Pacelli had an impact on kids at work, and at home. His daughter, Lisa Perkins of Greenwich, spent 33 years as an elementary school teacher in the Shenendehowa Central School District. And Perkins’ daughter — Mr. Pacelli’s granddaughter — Bailey Baker is currently a Greenwich school teacher.
Mr. Pacelli remembers the faces in the photos, but like Templer, can’t place all the names. He knows why everyone looks so good, as they smile behind their desks.
“They knew the picture was coming,” he said. “They were wearing their Sunday best.”