Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dr. Bill Montick - One of Glen's Favorite Teachers 1968-69!

Imagine teaching a 6th grade class for less than one year and having a profound effect on your students. You'd probably say that's gotta be some kind of teacher - well you'd be right!

Dr. Bill Montick came to Glen School at the young age of 21. He grew up in nearby Glen Rock, NJ where he attended Central School and went onto the Junior/Senior High School where he graduated in 1964.

Above is Glen Rock's Junior/Senior high school.

It was while attending school himself when he realized what he wanted to do with his life. In his own words, Bill describes his 6th grade teacher this way: "My own 6th grade teacher - Mr. Valenti - was the coolest guy I knew in elementarty school, and most certainly was responsible for the fact that I decided I wanted to be an elementary school teacher at a very young age." He sites other influential teachers along the way but, he says, Mr. Valenti was indeed the most signifigant.

Upon graduating high school, he attended Springfield College in Massachusetts where he graduated in 1968. Ironically, Bill had gotten to know Paul Harrison at Springfield who would also end up teaching at Glen School! Bill would later earn a Masters degree from William Paterson College in the 1970's and continued his education even further when he earned his Doctorate from Rutger's University in 1981.

During Bill's senior year at Springfield College he asked the Director of Personnel at the Education Center at Springfield - Bob Sullivan - to come observe him teach at Buttonball Elementary school in Glastonbury, CT. At the end of that term, Bob Sullivan met with him and talked about what he saw in Bill's teaching. At that moment the Director took out an already prepared contract ready for Bill to sign! At the same time Mr. Sullivan relayed that Paul Harrison was now teaching in Ridgewood, NJ. It was shortly after this that Bill realized they would be working together - sharing the 6th grade classes at the same school!

When I asked Bill if he was nervous taking on a 6th grade class when he himself was so young he answered it this way: "You know, it's interesting you should ask this, and the answer is yes, but more interestingly at one time there was a Superintendent at Ridgewood, Ernest Fleishman, who at one opening convocation said, "If you don't feel butterflies in your stomach on the first day of school, maybe you don't belong here." I never forgot that, and I felt them as each new year began. Finally, in my letter of resignation, I concluded by mentioning that particular address, and then said that in September I would indeed miss those butterflies."

The above photo shows Bill Montick's 6th grade classroom at Glen as it appeared in December, 2007. Photo is property of Doug Terhune.

Bill's first 6th grade class of 22 kids would quickly develop a bond with him that is so rare with any teacher let alone a teacher in his first year at the age of 21! His students would continue this special relationship with Bill Montick to this day. He too has never forgotten how special this particular class was. Below is the class picture of that first 1968-69 6th grade class at Glen School.

Photo was taken in the center courtyard of Glen School.

Back: Dr. Bill Montick

3rd Row l to r: Scott Yates, Steve Breitkreuz, Mitch Perdue, Bryan Kreuger, Tommy Chicino, Lis Ege, Sue Crowe, Lisanne Janke, Kim Vukov, Karen Stewart

2nd Row l to r: Mary Claire Hull, Diana Wagner, Lee Kinchley, Patty Breitweiser, Patty Reese, Margaret Silvers, Barbara Demick

1st Row l to r: Roger Fortino, Charles Nalbantian, Walter Fennie, Phillip Denu

(It is with great sadness that I learned from Kim Vukov recently that Karen Stewart passed away a couple of years ago. She was married to RHS graduate Mark Vervecka Class of 1972 - she had a son).

Bill's time at Glen - while short - was memorable despite leaving Glen School on June 9th for military service. Bill wrote to and sat before his draft board and found that even though he was a teacher, he would be drafted in February, 1969. Bill found himself upset at the thought of leaving his class midway through the school year - especially 6th grade kids. To remedy this, Bill had found that if he enlisted instead, he would receive a 4-month delayed entry which allowed him to remain at Glen until June 9th.

Bill left for basic training at Fort Dix, NJ.

Once in the service Bill realized he would be going to Vietnam in April, 1971 - once he completed several rounds of special training. This included a year of basic training at Fort Dix, NJ. He took intelligence training at Fort Holabird, MD and was trained in Vietnamese language at Fort Bliss, TX. He would become a Special Agent in Military Intelligence.

Upon completion of his language training, he took off for Ben Hoa, Vietnam. He flew from San Francisco to Alaska to Japan before arriving in Vietnam.

After 6 months and 20 days Bill earned an early-out from Vietnam to continue his education. Bob Sullivan had also contacted Bill to inform him that there would be an opening at Travell School in Ridgewood beginning in January, 1972. When the assignment was accepted by the school system, he became what was known as a "short timer" in Vietnam and was back home and discharged from active duty December 16, 1971. On January 2 - as he relates - he was the only person at Travell with a deep, dark tan!

Bill would spend his entire teaching career in the Ridgewood Public School System. He initially was drawn to Ridgewood because of Ridgewood's great outdoor education program. His career included 1 year at Glen School, 14 years at Travell and 21 years at Willard! For all 21 years at Willard he taught the 5th grade.

Above is a very early photo of Willard School when it had been rebuilt after a fire had destroyed it. It would be here that Dr. Montick taught 5th grade for the last 21 years of his teaching career.

Part of Bill's style back in Glen School was making sure there was always time for a smile and he considered his special brand of teasing was accepted by his students. By this he meant that even though he was Mr. Montick - their teacher - it wouldn't keep them from being able to work together and hopefully even enjoy the class. Of course, they more than enjoyed it - they treasured it!

Bill says that he always thought it very special that at the age of 21 he was responsible for children who were only ten years younger than he at the time.

While his days at Glen were not what you would call typical, he and Mr. Harrison always found time during lunch (as students we all ate lunch at home!) to head down to Mr. McFall's office for a card game!

As I mentioned, the Glen School Class of 1969 - in large part the inspiration for this blog - remained in touch not only with Bill Montick but were also fortunate enough to spend some special moments with George McFall back in 2000 during the RHS Class of 1975 25th reunion weekend. They met with Mr. McFall at Smith Brothers Bar & Restaurant with 12 others in attendance including: Margaret Silvers, Dr. Bill Montick, John Brevoort, Ken Li, Trisha Daly-Hernandez, Sue Crowe-Wilson, Chris Leyden, Walter Fennie, Cynthia Wagner-Boseski & Diana Wagner-Casey among them.

One of the better reunions - with both Bill Montick AND George McFall at Smith Brothers restaurant in Ridgewood, NJ in 2000. Pictured are in front l to r: John Brevoort, Margaret Silvers-Myatt, George McFall and Ken Li. Back l to r: Chris Leyden, Dr. Montick and Walter Fennie. Photo from Margaret Silvers-Myatt.

In my dealings with Dr. Montick myself, I find him to be incredibly humble and another great example of the high caliber of teachers that have come out of Ridgewood's long history of educational excellence.

A great photo of Margaret Silvers-Myatt with Dr. Montick at the Fireplace in Paramus, NJ. Photo from Margaret Silvers-Myatt.

Below is a letter that was written as a tribute to Dr. Montick at the time of his retirement by one of those 6th grade students from his very first class, Diana Wagner-Casey. It is reprinted here with Diana's permission. Thanks to Margaret Silvers for providing it.

Dear Bill,

Who would have figured that all those years ago that the creative writing skills you pounded into us would come in handy! Reflecting back now, it was not one of my more favorite activities, but I remember sitting at my dining room table, writing and rewriting my assignments, trying my hardest to come up with something out of the ordinary to please you because for some reason ordinary just wouldn’t suffice.

And now, as I sit here trying to put together this letter, tears fall down my cheeks. “Why”, I ask myself, “am I crying?” I think a few tears come from knowing that future generations of students won’t be able to experience the wonderful learning atmosphere that you brought forth to enlighten the minds of youngsters with your obvious love of teaching. I also think that some of the tears come from a little bit of self-pity knowing that we are all growing older and, with your retirement, comes an end to an era.

I think back to that first day of 6th grade, when, there you stood…. the new teacher; a tall, thin young man, fresh from college and none of us had any idea of the impact you would make on our lives that year and the years to come.

I developed my keen love of math and science from you. There would almost be an aura of light around you or a charge of electricity as you taught those subjects to us. Who won’t enjoy learning when a teacher brings such excitement to a class and the eagerness to share all you know with them?

I remember the “Green Hornet”, the winged beast that carried you to and from school each day. When we didn’t see it in the parking lot in the morning, we knew that meant it was going to be an unexciting day with a substitute teacher.

I think back to your calm and patient demeanor, although you would sometimes show your exasperation with a bunch of us sometimes-obnoxious 6th graders. But because we thought we were so cool, you would just smile that little smile of yours and humorous in thinking that it was so. You understood the psyches of pre-teens and wouldn’t think of doing anything to crush them because you were about building, not destroying.

You sheltered us from the hard realities of war when you went off to Vietnam at the end of the school year. I still have the quaint photos of your Army life, with dogs running around and men sitting around leisurely. I’m sure it was vastly different from your true experiences in that hostile environment but for the teenage boys and girls, miles away in the creampuff town of Ridgewood, you gave us carefree junior high years and worriless days and nights.

We shared our lives with each other; my marriage to Skip and yours to Isabel, the birth of my sons and the adoption of your son and daughter and how proud you were that their birth mothers picked you out of all of the other prospective parents and rightfully so, you receiving your doctorate degree in Education and me going back to college many years later to get my degree in Computer Science.

I would look forward to receiving your Christmas card with your letter letting me in on the all of the projects you had been working on that previous year and I loved surprising you with a birthday card in December and a note with what was new in my life. Life as you had known it in the past 30-plus years is about to change. Some of the changes will be tiny, like summer vacation all year long (every child’s dream come true!) and some will be big. But no matter what, I wish you well, my friend, in all the wonderful experiences life will have to offer in the near and far future because you truly deserve the best.



Another student, one who - along with Scott Yates & Doug Terhune - started this whole Glen School phenomenon - recently shared her thoughts about Dr. Montick:

"I remember the first day of 6th grade and Mr. Montick told us he was only 10 years older than us. I had a hard time thinking about that. I was only 11, so 10 more years was nearly twice my age. He also said it was his first teaching job. I wasn't quite sure what to do with that information, either. But it was fascinating that he was telling us so much about himself. It was a little bit unnerving.

After all, Mr. Montick was - no matter what - a grown-up and a teacher. So, there was an assumed cultural divide and a line in the sand that was not to be bridged or crossed. We were cool kids, and he was a teacher-grown-up. Right?

So, why is he being so open? How should I act?

Unfortunately, I spent way too much time in 6th grade thinking about how I should act. Should I play Barbies or try smoking cigarettes? Should I like boys or get grossed out? Should I be smart or cool?

But Mr. Montick's open, easy going style meant that in his class, I could just be myself. I didn’t have to think about who I wanted to be. Whether I was working hard on a project or trying to cheat on a science test, Mr. Montick would smile and giggle a bit. He was never harsh. His overwhelming respecting and accepting demeanor was not unnerving; it was comforting.

Mr. Montick, (okay, okay, Bill) do you remember me writing all the science test stuff on my hand? Of course, you caught me, but you didn't get mad. You smiled and giggled. Now that was unnerving. How can this teacher be so nice? (I remember discussing it with you a while later, and we agreed I probably learned a lot of science that day by writing it all really tiny on my hand.)

So, Mr. Montick wasn't a normal teacher. He treated us like ourselves. He respected us. He forgave us. And, I sensed he enjoyed us, almost as friends. We not only knew his first name, but we made fun of it with him (Billy Blastoff, because he was so tall, I suppose). We knew what car he drove, where he lived, and the friends he had. We even knew a little bit about his family. His Dad was our neighborhood milkman.

6th grade was a tough year for me. I did not want to like boys other than kickball or running bases. I did not want to smoke cigarettes or cut Girl Scouts or sneak around. But I didn't want to be left out, so I tried to be cool. I failed miserably at it, and I hurt some kids along the way, for which I regret.

But in Mr. Montick's class I did not fail. I enjoyed learning, I enjoyed the class, and I enjoyed feeling more grown up because a grown-up respected me and shared his life with my class.

Thank you Mr. Montick, for being real!"

If anyone would care to add any other comments to this story please email me at and I will include them!

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