“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
- Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams
I never knew Robert D'Aquila, the high school principal who died unexpectedly earlier this month at age 56. I only knew him as Mr. D'Aquila, the math teacher from my high school in the mid-1980s.
In the four years I spent at Stamford Catholic High School, he was never "the popular teacher" or "the cool teacher." Those types came and went during my time served. But he was always there, always paying attention and always quietly helping. That's what some of my classmates and I remember most about him as we reminisced via Facebook a few weeks ago.
Sean Barry wrote that he especially remembered the "pretty well rust-eaten" car his teacher -- and for a few years, neighbor -- drove during those years.
"I realize now how grand a gesture that car was," said Sean, a teacher and writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Genuine teachers, the selfless, self-effacing, committed kind, are those who drive a car like that not from neglect, but from a sense of priority. What mattered to Bob was his school and his students. The rest appropriately would take care of itself."
Alan Chapell recalled the first meeting he had with Mr. D’Aquila while he was taking summer school classes in 1984 to try to get into Stamford Catholic after "literally failing out” of another local high school. After Alan had a run-in with another teacher and was kicked out of class, Mr. D'Aquila confronted him.
"He said, ‘When they decide whether they're going to accept you to SCHS, they're probably going to ask me what you were like in summer school. And I'm going to have to be honest. So, it's really up to you.' No drama. No judgments. Just an honest assessment that empowered me to decide my own future," wrote Alan, who credits Mr. D'Aquila for helping him boost his math SAT score enough to get accepted into the University of Connecticut. Alan graduated, went on to get a law degree, and now heads his own company in New York City that consults with interactive media companies on public policy issues.
"He was easily the best math teacher I have ever had," wrote Deborah Anzalone Esposito, whose father Joe Anzalone was the varsity football coach during most of our tenure. "He explained concepts very thoroughly and precisely without ever getting annoyed with the class for `not getting it.' He would simply smirk and go through it again."
Now a social studies teacher at a middle school in Seymour, Conn., Deb credits Mr. D'Aquila as being one of the people who most inspired her career choice.
"When I was a senior, he simply wrote (in my yearbook), ‘It's been a pleasure,' because I used to always tell him that he was my favorite teacher," she added.
As for me, I have three distinct memories of Mr. D'Aquila from my Green and Gold days.
I remember him always being the person operating the clock at our home basketball games: freshman to varsity, boys and girls.
I remember that whenever our Math Analysis class discovered that he had made a mistake in the calculations he chalked out on the blackboard, he would take a good hard look at his work then say, "Good! I did that to see if you were paying attention."
Finally, I remember one teacher, one of those more popular and cool ones that we students flocked to, telling a few of us how lucky we all were to have Mr. D'Aquila at our school. "He could easily get a job with IBM or GTE and be making real money," the teacher said, "but he chooses to be here because he believes in education and he believes in all of you. That's a gift."
For that gift, Mr. D'Aquila, many of your former students owe you a lifetime of thank-you cards.
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What teacher do you remember most and why?