Mr. Shapiro’s Silk Road

Posted 2/22/24

It was 1976.  I was a rookie, substitute teacher at Toll Gate High School.

 The students had just finished pelting me with spit balls. After they had run out of paper wads.

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Mr. Shapiro’s Silk Road


It was 1976.  I was a rookie, substitute teacher at Toll Gate High School.

 The students had just finished pelting me with spit balls. After they had run out of paper wads.

 I emerged from under my desk and, with false bravado, said that they should open their  social studies books to the section on the “Silk Road”.  As they smirked and began to reload, in walked a rarity - a humble leader with a reputation for patience and compassion, the revered Principal, Bob Shapiro.

 Terrified, my future teaching career flashed before me as a pipe dream that would never be realized.    Mr. Shapiro calmly walked over to the student in the first seat.

 “So my young scholar, what are you studying?”

  “Uh, the Silk Road?” smirked the hooligan turned scholar.

 Desperate to impress my guest, I unfurled a word map hanging in front of the room,

grabbed the pointer and jabbed it all over the Middle East while pontificating in my deepest falsetto.  Mr. Shapiro then walked around the room, smiled, and walked out.  I said to myself, “Well, who wants to teach, anyway? I always wanted to go into business for myself.  Maybe I  could go door to door offering to mend broken umbrellas.”

Right before the closing bell, the classroom phone rang.  The secretary, in a cryptic voice, said, “Mr. Shapiro wants to see you right after school.  Stop into the office.”

 Fearing the worst, I sighed and looked out the window.  At least it was raining.  Things were looking up for my future career.  When I arrived at the office, literally hat-in-hand, there  was Mr. Shapiro with outstretched paw adorned with his trademark smile.  “I was impressed with your lesson on the Silk Road. It takes a special person to come in cold and enhance the regular teacher’s lesson.  The students looked engaged.  I hope to see more of you.”

Stunned, after a much too vigorous handshake and a meek “Thank you, Sir.  The pleasure  was all mine,”  I turned, fidgeting for the door knob and walked directly into the closet.

 That was my first encounter with Mr. Shapiro, an anachronism, a living legend with 

humility.  Mr. Shapiro later became Superintendent.  Over the years, our paths crossed many times, and we nurtured a professional relationship.  When invited, Mr. Shapiro would always attend school affairs that I was sponsoring.  We crossed paths during Union negotiations and attended conferences together. In 1992 there was a contentious strike.  Teachers refused to go back to work.  Eighteen teachers were arrested and awaited sentencing, standing before the judge.  We were about to be sent to jail to set an example.

 It was raining.  Downtrodden, I thought, “Maybe I should look at this as a new career  opportunity.”  Then I felt a reassuring hand on my back and heard a familiar voice. “Steve, I never meant for this to happen.  We’re going to figure this out.  Hang in there.”

 My wife later called the Administration, infuriated by the ignominious injustice that

 had just occurred, demanding to talk to the Superintendent to vent her utrage.  Mr. Shapiro did not dodge, did not obfuscate, but took the call, apologized, and listened.   My wife later commented, “I don’t know how he did it, but when I hung up … he made me feel better, and I knew that we were going to get through it.”

  Over the years that followed, we had many other encounters.  Regardless of the gravity of  the predicament, Bob always remained calm and reassuring.  Bob taught by example. 

  1. Yes, you can have different opinions, but you can always find common ground to begin a discussion.
  2. Your challenger does not have to be your enemy.
  3. And finally, someone who does more listening than talking is someone who gets things done.   

     Fast forward many years later.  It was raining. It was my father’s funeral. And there,  thoroughly saturated with his broken umbrella was my dear friend, Bob Shapiro.

Thank you, Bob.  Class dismissed.

Steve Andolfo retired from Warwick schools in 2011 after a 35 year career. But he didn’t stop teaching. He was a full time teacher at St. Rose of Lima School for several years before scaling back as a substitute teacher. He is the author of more than ten books.

Shapiro, silk, road


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