Posted by: philipfontana | May 7, 2015

Teacher’s Stories #1

A Teacher’s Stories, No. 1

“The Gong Show”



     Excuse us for living, but we teachers all have enough stories to cause each of us to say that familiar phrase, “I could write a book.” Such stories run the gambit depending on our assignments and positions as educators. For me it was thirteen years as a teacher and twenty years as an administrator. So the stories are not solely what children said and did – -though those are the most precious – -but also about things I did and school events. My career as an educator spanning those thirty-three years took me to seven school districts, in six different schools, serving “very approximately” 4,000+ children. My envy goes out to my fellow educators who had the luxury to work in one school in one school district their entire career.


     Ridgedale School on Ridgedale Avenue, Florham Park, NJ, was originally a K-8 school serving this beautiful, affluent town in lower northern New Jersey. Built by the WPA during the Depression in 1933, it has an impressive set-back of generous lawn, preserved by the donor of the land. Florence Vanderbuilt Twombly gave the land that was part of her vast 1200 acre estate, “Florham,” stipulating that the lawn & frontage must remain. The name “Florham” was derived from her name, Florence, & that of her husband, Hamilton, & thus, the town name, “Florham Park,” was derived. As two elementary schools were added, probably in the 1960’s, Ridgedale School became the town’s Middle School as it remains today.



     Best to start my stories as an educator with the best; Ridgedale School, Florham Park, New Jersey. It was there in this Middle School, grades 6-8, that I taught social studies for eleven years. It was these years that were the most personally and professionally rewarding years of my career. I say this for several reasons. It was here that I received notoriety for an original curriculum program I designed, wrote, and implemented called “Teaching-Learning Units,” or “T.L.U.s” And it was here that I was very active in student activities, the most substantial of which was as student council advisor. As a former high school student council president myself, it was like a dream come true to start and develop a school’s student government from the ground up, starting with writing a constitution with the students and establishing a network of committees that lit up the school with activities! And it was here at Ridgedale and in the Florham Park School District that I cultivated close friendships with no less that nine “buddies” that exist to this very day. – – Now all finally retired, teachers, principals, guidance counselor, and supervisor of buildings and grounds.


     This photo was taken in January, 1985, just before I left to become a vice principal. – -Me, my classroom for 11 years, Room 13, & a few of my students, doing my “teaching thing” that I loved so dearly, teaching social studies.


     Pictured here, the only photo I have at an “executive meeting” of the student council officers, 1977-78, with me as advisor. It was at sessions such as this one that meetings of the entire student council, with officers and homeroom representatives, would be planned. – -Very formal meetings of the whole body run according to parliamentary procedure & Robert’s Rules of Order. Yes, long hair was “the order of the day” in the 1970’s!



     It was sometime in the winter-spring of the 1976-1977 school year, maybe February or March, 1977, during my first few years as student council advisor. I desperately wanted to have the student council sponsor a talent show. I had fond memories going back to my seventh and eighth grade years in the late 1950’s participating in talent shows. Talent shows are a great way to showcase student talent and enjoy plain old-fashion fun in the process! But this was the 1970’s and in an affluent school district. As the advisor running a talent show, I wanted to avoid the competition pit falls with first, second, and third place winners; disappointed children, students participating with hurt feelings and egos, and parents “on my case” for trying to do something admirable.

There was only one answer, “The Gong Show.” That’s what we would put on, a “gong show,” fashioned after the TV show of the late 1970’s where the judges would hammer a huge gong, symphony orchestra size, to signal their disdain for an act. “The Gong Show” ran from 1976 to 1980 on NBC TV and in syndication. Chuck Barris was the producer and host. It was an amateur talent contest that ran the gambit from odd and strange acts to decent and an occasional outstanding talent. The show was best remembered for “its absurdist humor and style.” Participants were rewarded with ridiculous, worthless prizes.


     The Gong Show’s success was due in equal parts to its hilarity but also to its popular host, Chuck Barris. He had a whimsical, irreverent style & produced this TV show as well.


       This was the stage set of “The Gong Show” on NBC TV, 1976-1980. The stage portrayed a composite carnival-vaudevillian kind of flavor. Pictured here are all the acts of one particular TV episode.




It was a relatively easy production to put together from my standpoint as advisor. Everything hinged on getting my hands on a real, live gong. We had to have a gong! And so I procured one, borrowing it from the local high school band, with an ironclad promise that I had to have the gong on the specified date! – – All was riding on that gong!

Next, we had to have our own Chuck Barris Master of Ceremonies. For that I asked our very willing and personality-appropriate student teacher and substitute teacher, a nice young man known to us all and about town. On his own motivation, he even came up with a tuxedo for the occasion!

Judges! The Gong Show had three. And so I innocently asked the school principal, the art teacher, and the student council president to serve as judges. I say “innocently” because I did not know that I was sowing the seeds of trouble just by my choice of judges. (More on that coming up!) The principal, a polite and deceivingly proper rascal, used to presiding at his Rotary meetings, a quiet man we all loved, would provide leadership to the judges’ panel. The art teacher was our “talent expert,” having played in a band for years. And the student council president was the kind of young man anyone would be proud to call “son.”

Then “try-outs” and rehearsal! No problem. – -Short and sweet, a “one shot deal.” Students auditioned, a few pointers, and “The Gong Show” was “ready for prime time.” – -No applause meter or judges weighing audience applause. – -No first prize, etc. – -Just a certificate of participation for all acts, from individuals, duets, to groups of students. – -Just one matter of business; which students/acts were willing to be “gonged”? I would list and script the acts for the judges to “gong.” – -Smart? – -No hurt feelings on my watch! (More on this too coming up! There’s a scenario building here!)


     Presenting, “The Three Sisters”!!! Pictured left to right, the guidance counselor, me wearing the hat, & the special needs teacher. Far left, a partial glimpse of the judges’ table.




Now no student production is any fun without some participation by the faculty! And so, three of us cooked up an “act.” The guidance counselor, the special needs teacher, and I dressed up as women and put together a little dance routine to the recording, “The Stripper,” by David Rose, MGM Records, 1962, #1 on Billboard’s Top 100. The song is best described as evoking “the feel of music used to accompany striptease artists.” (Most everyone has heard this old tune at some point; “Dadada-Dadadada, Dadada-Dadadada-Da, Bmm, Ba-Dmm, Bmm, Ba-Dmm, Dadadada-Dadadadada….”) So how could we not oblige and choreograph a chorus line of three, dancing “elegantly” stage left, stage right, with a “bump and grind” appropriate to the music! What to call ourselves? – -“The Three Sisters”! It just seemed the natural name for our group!

Giving new and true meaning to the phrase, “The stage was set,” show time for “The Gong Show” arrived! Student acts were ready in the wings. The MC looked dashing and had his own little script he devised. We hung a banner, what else, “The Gong Show.” The gong and hammer were in place right next to the judges’ table with a list of acts marked which ones to “gong”! And, “The Three Sisters” were back stage hiding.

Well, so much for organization. The entire production went off not as planned! The judges, led by that devil of a Principal, waited to let each student act perform some, but then gonged every act!!! Then, to everyone’s surprise, out came “The Three Sisters,” bumping and a grinding, “one, two, three kick.” – -“GONG”! We kept right on going! – -“GONG”! We had rehearsed the damn thing and we were darned if we weren’t going to complete our paces. – -“GONG, GONG, GONG”!!! went the judges, asserting their authority. And “The Three Sisters” kept right on going until we finished our dance and our well-rehearsed bow, holding hands high in the air, of course, as we dipped bow after bow!

“The Gong Show” turned out to be a great success! – -No crying in the wings by students who got “gonged.” They all got gonged! Students were laughing in the wings (along with the student body audience and teachers) having fun along with their fellow thespians, “The Three Sisters,” from the faculty.

Oh, speaking of faculty, a famous line and memory of the event came from a few of the older women on the faculty. In response to “The Three Sisters” performance, they said, “How would they like it if we dressed up like men with male appendages?” Two of the three sister had “stuffed themselves” to look like they had “boobs.” – -Imagine, not even adding a positive word.

I said at the outset that Ridgedale School was my most rewarding career experience. Excuse us for living, but for some of us “The Gong Show” with “The Three Sisters” is of the fondest of memories.

Comments: Please!




  1. Reblogged this on Just Us Owls and commented:
    Please check out my good friend Phil’s latest entry. It is well worth the read!

    • Eddie, Just caught this…sometimes WordPress can’t keep up to us!!! Many, many thanks again for that so kind reblogging of my “Teacher’s Stories, #!” post! I know you reblog but to be chosen by you is special to me! Phil

  2. This is a hoot! Just love it!

    • jp, Thanks! So nice of you!!! I must visit the War in the Pacific….I’ve lost your continuity!!! Phil

  3. I could see it….I could hear it! That was just super!

    My father remembered amateur talent nights in inter war Glasgow…at the first signs of restiveness in the audience the manager would emerge from the wings with a huge hook on a pole and drag the performer off.
    It was said to save the premises from damage from over ripe tomatoes…

    • Helen, Many thanks for that genuine compliment! And your Father’s tales about amateur nights in Glasgow with the stage manager & “the hook”……..I have heard of such & we know the expression, “Get the hook!” ….but his story is priceless! Tomatoes no less!!! I’ve heard of that too! A great comment from you, Helen! many thanks! Phil

  4. It sounds like one hilarious evening, shared by students and parents alike, save by perhaps a few Victorian relics! Hell, the age of social change and growing awareness was well into mainstream, being 8 yrs after Woodstock and the “revolutionary” 60’s! No gongs for THAT show! M 🙂

    • mv, Many thanks!!!! Such kind comments!!! Yes, Victorian relics! Ha! Love that! We as “The Three Sisters” did in 1977 what Milton Berle did in the early 1950’s!!! So nice of you! Phil

  5. I absolutely loved this one Phil! I loved the pictures, but I was picturing everything in my head as well!! I really did laugh out loud too! I have to say I have always thought you were an amazing person, but never gave much thought to who you were the years I did not know you! I loved this insight!

    • Heather, I don’t know where my first reply went but I’ll answer again.
      What a wonderful comment, Heather….one of the nicest ever!!! You appreciated the photos. And you made me laugh just saying you pictured all this story about The Gong Show & had a good laugh out loud!!! And thanks for the nice personal words about me. And you put it so well about not knowing me prior to TCC & gaining some insight here. –All precious comments to me! Many thanks, Heather! Phil

  6. This is just great Phil, I love the pieces that you write. Excellent. 🙂

    • Dom, Many thanks for your kind words & encouragement. & the “Like.” Just left a comment on your latest post. Thanks! Phil

  7. Such a great story my dear friend!
    You promised me a laugh and you certainly delivered. 🙂
    The things we teachers do to make education fun for the children, I know!
    I think this is my favorite story yet!
    Hugz & Love ❤

    • Patty, It makes me happy that you liked this, laughed, & see the value of this school activity for children. And that this might be your favorite story yet from all my posts is saying a lot! Thinking of you at this time of grief & great sorrow……..wondering if you should briefly write a post when you lose someone dear, expressing not just how you feel, but who they were & what they meant to you & others. We are interested (we do not know these people in your life), we care, & it might be cathartic. Just a thought. Phil

  8. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Teacher’s stories!! ……. good one!!

    • Horty, You move fast! Just left the link to this & here you are & Reblogged it too!!! Thank you so much for the Follow & the Like too! I am honored by your attention! Eddie rebloggedthis too! Phil

      • Cool! Memories are awesome!! Started following your blog too.

  9. Awesome!! It’s great re-living those memories!! Fun, fun ….

    • Horty, Glad you like this memory! Since it’s a fun story, I never thought twice about how old a story it is….of 38 years ago!!! Thanks! Phil

  10. Funny store, thanks for the memories Phil.

    • Rich, Thanks for the nice comment! Thought I would open another “platform” for stories. Now I am established for Vietnam stories as you well know. And now stories from teaching/principal. But the euphoria of reconnecting with you ( thanks to your efforts, comments, emails, & TELEPHONE CALL, all because of Danny Joe “Turkey” Reagan & Doug Schulz research leading me to your reports on Turkey’s passing, & finally, my website story) is still a “high” for me!!! And that photo I now have of you! Phil

  11. This is amazing and great presentation – well you write very well. This is a amazing piece…

    • Mihran! Thank you so much for your nice comment.I must visit your website….It has been too long since I visited your site! Mat all be well with you & family!!! Phil

  12. Wow Phil! I am impressed, I think you will be my favorite teacher if you were teaching my class 😀 I always enjoy your funny, full of energy and has provided us with great information!
    the “The Gong Show” with “The Three Sisters” sound marvelous and fun. I wonder if anyone record the show as in videotape – your picture makes me smile- big time!!

    • Indah!!! Hi!!! Oh, thank you! And what a student you would be!!! So nice you like my humor & feel the posts have some energy & sometimes learn something. No, 1977 was before people were videoing everything, although the school DID HAVE video taping equipment at that time….But you would laugh!….The size of cameras were HUGE, strapped to your back!!! Very quickly into the 1980’s they were small & hand held or on a tripod. Glad you enjoyed “The Gong Show” & “The Three Sisters”!!! And glad my ugly lady outfit & me dressed up with the long hair styles of the day made you laugh!!! Such genuine comments from you!!!!!!!!! You are so nice!!! Phil

      • 🙂 Gosh, I just google the video camera in the era and you are right, they are huge 😀 Phil, I am looking forward to the second series of you being a teacher 🙂 must be plenty of funny moments!

  13. Phil, what a great story, and written with the usual style. Loved it. I laughed at the thought of staying in the same school for your career as the ideal. I taught in the same middle school in Diamond Springs, CA for 28 years with two one year breaks at the primary school. I can understand your finding your most rewarding experience as a teacher. Like you I returned for my administrative credential, but never “served”, as I didn’t wish to leave my community and my school board thought I would always be pro-teaching staff. Imagine that! I also have a variety of stories about my years as a teacher, but I’Il end here with another hurrah for you and your wonderful blog. Cheers, Ed

    • Ed, Great comments only a fellow teacher could make! Thanks! 28 years at your middle school!!! I’m jealous! Actually, I wish I had worked in a larger district with opportunities to advance, like Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator, or VP, or Principal.Interesting that you took “breaks” teaching primary! I don’t fault you for staying in your community rather than becoming an administrator elsewhere. Are you saying your Board past you over for Principal for fear that you would be too pro-teacher? After 13 years of teaching, that’s the kind of principal I was……Teachers came first! Maximize instructional time for them. And run an orderly school…No surprises! I KNOW YOU HAVE TEACHER STORIES AS WELL AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS!!! You had to! Thanks for the nice comments! Phil

  14. 33 years in classroom. Inner city. At the end I was completely drained and burned out after just 20.

    • Carl! 33 years! The inner city will do that to you. I started out by necessity teaching 6th grade in the worst ghetto area of Newark, NJ. I had left law school in Feb ’69 & needed & wanted a teaching job. I was drafted (that’s why I left law school because the draft board told me I would be drafted) & returned to Newark in Feb ’72. But I asked the old timers on the faculty why they taught there since it was so bad. They told be that once you get higher up on the salary steps you are trapped & can’t leave. So I completed that school year & moved to the lily white suburbs to substitute teach. After two months, I had a teaching offer. And the rest of my charmed ed career is history. Don’t know how you lasted. Carl!!! The inner city was not education as I knew it. I wrote a lesson plan for the week & I was still using it three weeks later!!! Thanks for reading my light-hearted post! Phil

  15. Now I know. Your posts are superb. One can learn so much.

  16. Micheline, Many thanks! Love your website design, content, & competency! You might enjoy my reflections on all 9 of David McCullough’s books! His 10th book just came out on the Wright Brothers! I will do a post on that in the future. To see my coverage of his 9 books divided into two posts, go the the right margin on my website, down to the topics, to Book Reviews. There click on July 2012 & August 2012 for all 9 books. And thanks for “Following” me & all the likes on various posts! Phil

  17. Whatcha been up to?

    • gp, What I’ve been doing….Spring cleanup in the yard & “repairs,” trout fishing season in New Jersey for the past 7 weeks but only fishing once a week for a few hours. And I did get this last post up & running which always takes me approx. 12 hours total work from start to finish. Your interest in me is so kind. I’ll visit your website right now for this Memorial Day weekend! Thanks, gp! Phil

      • Fishing? WHY didn’t you say so – I wouldn’t have bothered you!! But, in all that serenity – I’ll bet you thought of a poem – didn’t you!!?

  18. GP Cox, Yes, fishing……& my cigar……is worthy of poetry for the soul! Phil

  19. Wow, what a great post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories.

  20. Cecilia, Thanks for the nice comment!!! Just read your “About” on “Little Big Life”……How neat a website! More commercial I gather. Must explore you & your site more! Phil

  21. Fantastic memories… great pics! 😀

    • Kev, Thank you so much for the very nice comment! Yes, the old photos are fun & really make the piece! Phil

      • It was a most enjoyable post, Phil. 🙂

  22. Reblogged this on ' Ace History News ' and commented:
    Great Post Philip 👍

  23. Having been a daycare teacher for many years I have some stories myself. I applaud you for taking part in the show and showing that “fun” side of yourself.

    • Cheryl, Me too! After retiring as a principal, I ran a Presbyterian day care!!! I could tell stories from those days too! I’m SURE you have many a story to tell !!!!!!! Yes, always have a sense of humor & spread it around!!! Many thanks for the great comment! Phil

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