The best teacher I ever had died yesterday morning. His name was Eric Rothschild. My Scarsdale friends knew him, and the lucky ones, like me, knew him well.
Rothschild taught AP American History with a vivid, animated brilliance that made him a living legend. Scarsdale High School wasn't exactly hurting for great teachers, and yet with Rothschild in Room 232, everyone, students and faculty alike, knew that they had in their midst someone truly special.
Nobody was ever surprised to be inspired by Rothschild. You were told years in advance that he was the greatest, and if you were lucky enough to get him, you knew it.
As many of you know, I started teaching this fall, at the school I created with my wife Jennifer, the Written Out Loud Storytelling School. On the first day of class, I told the kids a Rothschild story.
Rothschild told this one to our AP History class 30 years ago (good lord), and I still remember his facial expression as he hit the punch line: eyebrows raised, jaw a bit jutted.
Get me? Good.
“Four boys about your age went off on a ski weekend,” he said to our class. "No parents."
“The boys knew they had a big test on Monday. But they told their parents they’d, you know, 'study together.'" Rothschild smiled.
"They have a blast all weekend and sure enough, Sunday afternoon rolls around and they haven’t studied a lick. So they come up with a plan. They say, ‘OK. We'll tell our parents and teachers that we blew a tire on our drive home. We tried to fix it, but we couldn’t. So we had to spend Sunday night in a hotel. That’s why we couldn't get home until Monday, and that’s why we missed the test.” The boys looked at each other and said, OK, that's the plan.
"So they pick up the phone and call in the story to their parents, who buy it. They spend all Sunday night and Monday morning studying. Then they drive home, get a good night's sleep on Monday night, and come into class on Tuesday morning. They told their teacher the same story. And the teacher says, 'No problem. Come back after school and I'll give you the makeup test.
"After school, the four boys report to the classroom. The teacher told each of them to sit in a different corner of the room, as far apart from each other as possible. Then he handed them each a single sheet of paper.
“'This test has only one question, boys,' he said.
How great it was to see the faces on my storytelling students light up slowly into grins, as the punchline sank in.
Thank you, Mr. Rothschild. You are with us still.
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