Nancy Leith Musser sent me this newspaper photo of our famous math teacher, A. Todd Coronway. (Not Cronway, as we called him, in class and out. He never corrected us. Either it didn’t matter, or we didn’t matter.)
He and I did not have any special teacher-student bond. I don’t think he even knew I was in his class. We pretty much ignored each other.
He was not famous for being such an inspiring teacher. He was infamous for suing the school board, and he spent many class sessions talking about the progress of his legal case, which interested him far more than math. Of course, he usually digressed from math because we had baited him into it. We had neither shame nor sympathy. Surely, he knew we were ridiculing him. I think he was playing Gimpel the Fool.
It turns out, his legal case was right. Back in the 1950s, teachers were required to spend their Saturday afternoons collecting tickets at football games without compensation. A. Todd (as we called him) sued the school board with the backing of the teacher’s union, and eventually won. But suing the school board simply was not done, did not show the proper team spirit, you know, and he was reviled for it. (He deserved being reviled for many things, but suing the school board was not one.)
I had him for math. Anyone who had him remembers him well. He was obviously barely a few pages ahead of us in the text book, but this was inspiring in a perverse way. If he could teach it, how hard could it be for us to learn it? See the posting Teachers, 6/17/2005 for more on Mr. Coronway.
He was famous scratching his left ear with his right hand, then leaving his right arm draped over the top of his head in case his left ear itched again. Sometimes he would spend the entire class in this most unusual position. Occasionally, he would wipe his nose with his tie. His tie always showed the results. His gray suit always had smears of chalk dust. His wire-rimmed glasses were always smudged.
He must have had friends, men like himself, other gray-haired men wearing gray felt fedoras and smudged, wire-framed glasses. Everyone has friends. What did they do? Bowl? Play pinochle into the night? What did they call him? Todd? A. Todd? Did he have a wife? Children? Everyone is loved by someone. We didn’t know because we didn’t care.
(Nancy’s memory is that he had very young children and worked at the 69th Street Penn Fruit supermarket on Saturdays, which would explain why he objected to working at Saturday afternoon football games for free.)
He doesn’t look like a math teacher, does he? No one else thought he did, either, but he was a gentle soul, never showed anger however justified, struggling to make the most of his limited abilities, and he took a lot of abuse from his students, far more than he handed out.