You may have seen him in the BHS production of The Sound of Music, heard his voice
echoing down the halls (frequently regarding communism), or even witnessed firsthand
the charming experience of having him as a teacher. That’s right. It’s the man, the myth,
the legend, Mr. Dunn. I decided to take the opportunity to interview one of the most
beloved and buoyant teachers here at Boonton High School to give readers an inside
look into the life of Dunn.
*some answers have been condensed for clarity.
Q: What are the main principles of Dunnism?
A: Everyone should be who they wanna be, what they wanna be. (New Yawk tawk). If you have a dream follow it, because you should do what you like to do in life and get paid for it. Those are the general principles. Asparagus is outlawed. Text messaging is outlawed. Human contact is important, voice to voice. I don’t want to see you sitting there with your smartphone attached to your hand…there is no reason why you can’t use a dumb phone. They used it in Star Trek all the time. Have conversations with people; read a book once in awhile. [Dunnism] is very progressive. There should be healthcare for everybody in this country. There is no excuse for people living in poverty in this country anymore. Even $15 an hour is not a living wage. People should be able to live without having to worry where their next meal is coming from.These are some of the principles of Dunnism.
Q: What was your experience like in the military?
A: I was in service during the Vietnam war. I was a clerk typist in Fort Dix, New Jersey. I sat behind a World War I vintage typewriter. If I dropped it on your head, it would kill you. That was my weapon. I went home practically every weekend.
Somebody asked me once ‘what was your favorite experience in the military?’ I told them ‘going home every weekend!’ You couldn’t beat that.
I had a pretty easy gig. I could type 65 words a minute so they put me behind the desk.
I enlisted because I was afraid I had a low draft number and I would be drafted and get sent to Vietnam. I have been very anti-war all through my life. I always went to anti-war demonstrations because of two reasons: Number one, I was anti-war. Number two, I felt was helping to stop the war. I joined the National Guard unit: the 69th Infantry Regiment, the Fighting Irish. We were being trained for riot duty, from the anti-war demonstrations and riots in the cities. I should never have been in the army. I was hit by a car at 4 years old and had a metal plate put in my head. Automatic out-but I was scared I would be drafted anyway. I got to basic training at Fort Dix and they had us write down the reason we should be out. I wrote it down, and the company commander called me in the next morning and says ‘what the heck are you doing here?!’ I said ‘I don’t know, get me the heck out.’ That was my experience, summer of 1971. I was 19 years old.
Q: You say you have had many jobs. What were some of them, and what was your
favorite and least favorite?
A: That’s easy. The first job I had was delivering meat for a Kosher butcher. I was 12 years old. Next job I had was in high school. Every summer, I was working in a hospital kitchen. I made good money back then. I learned how to speak some Spanish there. That was 1965-1969. When I was in college, I worked behind the counter in a pharmacy. That was another easy job. After I dropped out of college, in 1970, I worked as a messenger. Back in those days, there were no fax machines or internet, so you needed something right away you got a messenger to take an envelope and deliver it. So, that was my job.
After that, I went to work on Wall Street. I was what they called a ‘page in the American Stock Exchange’. I had a real easy job. If you taught a monkey colors, a monkey could’ve done it. Then, I worked as a floor clerk on the American Stock Exchange. That was the job I think I might’ve hated the most because they were a bunch of idiots. They ran their operation on the floor of the Exchange like a company runs the military. I didn’t like that at all. I had to call across the hall if I had to go the bathroom! After that, I worked as a mail clerk in a company. That was a pretty easy job. I did that during the summer. When I went back to school, I still was doing it part-time. Then I started working for the recreation department where I lived. That was a great job, really enjoyed it. After that, I started working for the service department. I became a factory foreman in 1977. I did that kind of job for about 18 years, at different places. I was a foreman for General Foods in Clifton, New Jersey. The supervisors were younger than I was. I knew what I had to do and was good at it. They nit-picked everything! And then I became a salesman for a wholesale tire company. I quit that job, long story about that. I became a salesman for a paper towel company, selling toilet paper. People need that!
I always wanted to become a teacher.
Back in college, I took education courses, but when it came to student teaching, they were laying off public school teachers in New York City. I couldn’t do that, I was married and had a kid on the way. So I finally decided at age 48: “I’m gonna go back into teaching.” I earned some education credits and became a teacher, student teaching with Mr. Bongo. He taught me how to run a VCR. I would sub for a while [at Boonton], then a job opened up and I took it. I’ve been teaching here for 17 years now. Soon, I will retire. I’m tired. I wanna live a little bit. I want to see America again. I want to see the Grand Canyon and spend more time with my grandchildren. I just want to relax and not get up at 5 in the morning anymore.
Q: Do you have any advice that you would give to your younger self?
A: That’s a good one. The worst thing I ever did in my life was pick up a cigarette at age 14. I’m clean now for a whole year. That was the worst thing I ever did because it was such an addiction and I hope I don’t get lung cancer. I spent a fortune on cigarettes. If I put that money away, I’d be retired now. Don’t smoke cigarettes.
Q: What is your favorite part of working at Boonton High School?
A: I love teaching history, I really do. My favorite classes are the Vietnam Era course because I lived through it. I like the AP classes because you have students are dedicated to succeed. I just love the students! I love teaching and I love kids. I’m still 17 in my head.
Q: What in your life has lead you to be who you are today?
A: I had kind of an epiphany as they call it, in high school. I came in as a conservative, pro-war guy, and then I started talking to people about the war in Vietnam and seeing a couple of guys from neighborhood go there and come back with no legs. I did a little more studying on my part, talked to some teachers, and had a realization that this war was horrible and we shouldn’t be in it. That opened up my mind to a lot of other things. After I dropped out of school the first time, I went back because I really wanted to This time around I had a wonderful class in Modern European novel. It was awesome. [The authors] opened up my mind in so many ways. Instead of just reacting to stuff, I started thinking, about what kind of person I wanted to be, who I was, and how I could make myself a better person.
That continues to today. I’m still learning; I’m still growing. I am 65 years old and I get all sorts of aches and pains, and have more doctors than I can count, but as I said before I am still a high school kid in my brain.
When I get together with my high school friends, we all act like we’re 17 again. We have two rules, which used to be ‘no politics and no religion’. Now it’s ‘no politics and no medical stories’ because we’ll keep talking forever!
Q: How is being a teenager now different from when you were a teenager?
A: When I was a teenager, it was all boys schools. That was a big difference. I had no exposure to girls. It wasn’t until I got into college that I came out of my shyness around girls. Socially, I was very ignorant in high school. I don’t think they have too many all boys schools now, for example, BHS is a coed school. You guys have a lot more distractions than we did, with the internet, smartphones. I think you guys have a lot more peer pressure to conform than we did. We could be much more idealistic. That’s just the way I look at things. Then again, I went to a Jesuit prep school and we all worked; everybody cared about the academics. I don’t see that with a lot of students here. They don’t seem to realize that Boonton High School is not the world. This is paradise compared to the world. If you get out there and don’t do your work, you’re fired– and that’s something that they’re gonna have to face when they get to a job.. We had the greatest music in the world back then. You had our pop junk, but we had serious musicians also. Bands that could really play very, very well. They also cared about social issues and were very outspoken with their music. You don’t see that today. There are some good musicians around. I think Lady Gaga is tremendous. Bruno Mars I happen to like very much. He really is good. We had so much more back in those days and the concert tickets were cheap.
Interviewing Mr. Dunn really gave me a perspective on how times have changed, and provided
a look at some of his past experiences and what his life is like outside of teaching at Boonton
High School. I had never spoken to Mr. Dunn until this year, but I encourage anyone who needs
a good story, or just a laugh, to head on over to his room and I’m sure he will strike up a