Strict Discipline And High Standards
Were Hallmarks of Charlie Slick
by Glenn Tunney
Principal Charlie Slick’s piercing voice boomed across a hallway crowded with chattering Brownsville High School students. Who could be the unlucky target of Mr. Slick’s anger on the very first day of the 1961-62 school year? None other than brand-new senior Chuck Johnson.
Chuck recently explained to me what he did to get into trouble on his first day as a senior, forty-one years ago.
“To understand what I did wrong,” Chuck said, “you need to know that the old high school on High Street was laid out in a square. The walls in the school’s halls were light green, and there were dark green one-way arrows painted on the walls. Those arrows indicated that students must walk through the halls in only one direction, and teachers were very strict about enforcing this.
“My home room teacher was Miss McGinty. Her room was on the corner next to Mr. Slick’s office. My first period English class was to be taught by Joe Hall, whose classroom was right next to Miss McGinty’s room, but in the opposite direction of the student traffic flow. So according to those green arrows, I would have to exit my home room and walk all the way around the building to reach Mr. Hall’s class, which was actually only a few feet away from my home room door.
“When the bell rang to go to first period class, Mr. Slick was standing in the doorway of his office with his arms crossed and feet planted wide. I exited my home room and turned against traffic to take a short cut to Mr. Hall’s room. Of course, Mr. Slick saw it, and he hollered in his shrill James Cagney voice, ‘Johnson!! Didn’t you see those arrows!!?’
“When Mr. Slick would holler, everyone would just tremble. He wasn’t a big man, but he was tough. However, I was now a ‘cool’ senior! So when Mr. Slick yelled at me about the arrows, I dramatically ducked, pretending there were arrows flying through the air, and shouted back, ‘I never even seen the Indians!’
“The kids in the hall started howling. Mr. Slick hustled over to me, grabbed me by the back of my neck, and took me into the office, where he had a big paddle. He bent me over his principal’s desk and gave me five terrific whacks that brought tears to my eyes! And to make it worse, I got another beating when I got home, because when you got paddled in those days, the principal called the house and you got it again that night!
“My classmates and I still joke about how I was only two minutes into my senior year when I became one of the few students paddled by Charlie Slick.”
I said to Chuck in surprise, “Are you saying that Mr. Slick didn’t paddle students very often?”
Chuck laughed, then said softly, “By then, he didn’t have to.”
Maybe not by the 1960's. But early in his teaching career, Charlie Slick was still earning his tough reputation. Ed Porter, now of St. Augustine Beach, Florida, learned that Charlie had a hair trigger.
“I was in Mr. Slick’s class in 1942-43,” Ed told me. “He kept a big flat paddle on which he had drawn a large star in white chalk. Any boy who misbehaved in class was called to the front of the room and told, 'bend over and grab your ankles.’ Mr. Slick would swing the paddle and place an imprint of the star on the posterior of the mischief maker. That imprint remained visible to everyone for the rest of the school day. It was a source of amusement for the girls and a kind of badge of honor among the guys. As I recall, Georgie Mitchell collected the most honor badges in my class.”
There was more to Charlie Slick than his uncompromising disciplinary methods, but his strictness usually assured that he had the undivided attention of his students. Charlie taught math from 1939 until 1960, then served as high school principal until 1964.
Burte John of Pittsburgh recalled, “He was truly a very good teacher, because he made you so afraid of him that you tried harder! That is probably why math was my best subject, and I have used it in every one of my jobs.”
Jean Huston Bright of Brownsville concurred. “He would say a list of figures to the class,” she declared, “then point his finger at you for the answer. That is why I can add faster mentally than by using a calculator!”
Charlie believed in the Socratic method of instruction. Ask him a question, and the process would begin.
“If you couldn’t solve a math problem and asked him for help,” said Cicely Laverdi Forcina of Republic, “you always ended up solving it yourself. He’d ask you more questions than you asked him!”
“I was absolutely a wreck before attending his classes,” exclaimed Norma Ryan of Brownsville, “and I must say that I studied more for his classes than for any others out of fear! You would think that it would be hard to learn out of fear, but he had a way of teaching that made it remain in my brain. He was gifted!”
“He was a no-nonsense teacher,” agreed Rosalie Coughenour of Hopwood, “who would accept nothing but your best effort. Most of the students in our class made an effort to do our best so we would not be on the receiving end of one of his famous, very vocal ‘mini-lectures.’”
What did Rosalie think of Charlie’s demanding classroom methods?
“I didn't perceive him as a mean teacher,” she said. “I perceived him as being a bit frustrated at wanting us to leave his class with optimum knowledge, knowing that we did not all take advantage of that opportunity. Outside of the classroom, he was congenial and friendly.”
Norma Ryan also saw the congenial side of Charlie Slick, although not until years later.
“The memory of him being so very stern lived in my mind until many years later,” Norma said. “After I was married , I saw him on a totally different level. He was my uncle Vince Ryan's friend, and that is when I saw a side of Mr. Slick that was the opposite of his teaching persona. He had a great sense of humor, and he was such a nice gentleman. I once told him how I had feared his class, and he laughed and thought that was so funny. I must admit that even then, I found it hard to call him ‘Charlie.’ He was still ‘Mr. Slick’ to me.”
In the early 1960's, Charlie left the classroom and became the high school principal.
“Why did Charlie accept the principal’s job?” I asked Charlie’s daughter Lee, a retired teacher who still lives in Brownsville.
“I think that just as in many occupations, you want to climb the ladder,” Lee said. “He had earned his master’s degree at West Virginia and then earned his principal’s papers. He just thought he would like to move up, and I suppose the increase in salary was a factor.
“After he became principal, I remember he said to me once, ‘Lee, when you’re a teacher, you’ve got your own problems. When you’re a principal, you’ve got everybody’s problems.’ I don’t think he liked being a principal that much.”
Victoria Vavases Thornton of Cumberland, Maryland saw first-hand how Charlie dealt with students called to the principal’s office.
“I worked as an ‘office girl’ for Mr. Slick during the 1961-62 school year,” Victoria explained. “As an office helper, I often had the task of going to classes to ‘escort’ students to the office so that Mr. Slick could talk with them. Many students were a bit reluctant to come with me. Mr. Slick was a strong disciplinarian, but he was always fair and held high expectations for his students. The students knew the rules, and if they chose to disregard the limits set before them, there were consequences.”
“I graduated from Brownsville in 1964,” added Paula Terreta Skrobot of Columbus, Ohio. “I remember Mr. Slick as being short of stature but a very stern disciplinarian. I never had any problems with him, but some of the guys did, and he sure knew how to set them straight. He made the ‘tough guys’ know who was in charge, and I think the students really respected him for it.”
However, even Charlie could bend — a bit.
“A few of us girls went to him to ask if we could please wear trousers in the winter,” Paula said. “At that time, girls couldn't wear trousers to school. Most of us walked to school, and it could be very cold wearing skirts. Mr. Slick finally let us wear pants to school. But only under our skirts or dresses, and then we had to go into the girls’ room and take them off before class!”
Charlie Slick set high standards for himself, and he set high standards for his students.
“He expected children to come to school with a serious attitude towards their education,” commented Victoria Thornton, “and he had a unique way of reminding students that the privilege of obtaining an education carried with it the responsibility to put forth one’s best effort at all times.”
“He was an excellent teacher,” observed Bob Simpson of Vacaville, California. “He demanded performance from his students, and he was very aggressive in his pursuit of excellence. Some students were intimidated because of his relentless exhortation to encourage them to excel, but personally, I wish there were more teachers like him.”
Charlie Slick’s students have vivid memories of him. But perhaps the most revealing vignettes about this man come from athletes and coaches with whom he was associated on the football and baseball fields. Next week, some of Charlie’s former athletes and fellow coaches will join us to share some hilariously classic “Charlie Slick” stories. Charlie wouldn’t mind, for as these tales have been retold over the years, often in Charlie’s presence, among those laughing hardest was Charlie himself.
These articles appear weekly in the Sunday Uniontown HERALD-STANDARD. If you enjoy reading them, please let the editors know. You may e-mail your comments to Mike Ellis (Editor) at MEllis@heraldstandard.com or Mark O'Keefe (Managing Editor - Day) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers may contact Glenn Tunney at 724-785-3201, email@example.com or 6068 National Pike East, Grindstone, PA 15442.
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