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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

I Really Lucked Out In 5th Grade

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

By Allan Shedlin

Grampsy and Founder, DCG and Daddying Film Festival & Forum (D3F)

I really lucked out in 5th grade – I mean I really lucked out!

I had a teacher whose humanity, wit, sense of humor, and sense of fun combined with an obvious sense that he cared for and about each of his students. As my first male classroom teacher, he presented a role model for my 9-year-old boyhood that was inspiring. He presented a way of being that was likely the primary determinant of how I wanted to move through the world. That teacher was Joe Papaleo.

Joe Papaleo teaching at Sarah Lawrence College

Although his students referred to him as “Pappy,” as an indication of our affection for him, Joe was 24, fresh from graduating from Sarah Lawrence College on the GI Bill, and this was his first teaching job.

I’ve often noted that very few of us ever gets exactly the dad or mom that we most hoped for. Of course, I’ve also noted that there is no such thing as a perfect parent – or a perfect daughter or son or partner or…

When we don’t get the parents we most wished for, we may either deliberately or subconsciously create what I call a patchwork parent – we gather personality traits/qualities, personality patches, from others we admire.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to write a testimonial for the most significant patch in the patchwork dad I created. Until I was offered the opportunity to write that testimonial, I had never really thought about Pappy in those terms. I urge each of the readers of this blog to take time to think about their important patches and to contact them – to offer them a living testimonial.

If one narrowly thinks of a classroom teacher’s goal as primarily a dispenser of academics, I would say that Joe was not the teacher who did that the best. But if one thinks more broadly of a classroom as a learning community, a place where each student is seen, valued, and appreciated, and where kindness and fun are encouraged and celebrated, then Pappy stood head and shoulders above all the other teachers I had from nursery school through graduate school…and all the colleagues I’ve had as a lifelong educator. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I chose education as my life’s work.

It's interesting that Joe wasn’t strict yet there was no misbehaving in his class. Misbehavior would have interrupted the joys of Papaleo 101.

When we don’t get the parents we most wished for, we may either deliberately or subconsciously create what I call a patchwork parent – we gather personality traits/qualities, personality patches, from others we admire.

Entering high school, I lucked out again because Joe was my junior year English teacher. His class was always the one I looked forward to each day. Once I was out of high school, Joe and I stayed in touch for the rest of his life. We saw each other in Bronxville, NY, and in our beloved Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, MA, on Cape Cod before he died in 2004.

When I was contacted by Sarah Lawrence College to ask if I would write a testimonial for Joe, I thanked them for giving me an opportunity to think deeply about him again and all he has meant to me. When I learned that his son Bill had suggested the contact, I felt deeply honored.

The last time I saw my beloved friend and mentor was at his Italian Stories book signing at Sarah Lawrence in 2002. We hugged. It was a hug of the everlasting variety, and so it was and so it is.

Grazie, Pappy.

* * *



Allan Shedlin has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.


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