Alan Bloom was the kind of teacher you thought only existed in the movie, “To Sir, With Love,” a 1967 film about a teacher, played by Sidney Poitier, who made lasting impressions on his students.
Bloom taught English, vocabulary and semantics classes at Coral Park Senior High School from 1963 to his retirement for health reasons in 1994. His story resonates as deeply as Poitier’s character. He’d probably love the comparison. Bloom was an avid fan of the cinema who could recite nearly every Oscar winner in history.
After his death at 74 on Feb. 2, of congestive heart failure, the Facebook page, Coral Park Classes of 1972 & 1971 — 40 Year Reunion filled with memories. More than 10 percent of the 600 students who went to the Westchester area school all those years ago remembered Bloom, with love.
“Speaks very well of Alan’s ability to influence and motivate that he is receiving so many heartfelt tributes from students that date 45+ years in the past,” wrote Richard Wahrburg.
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Two students — Ken Winick (Class of ’73) and Dennis McCarty (Class of ’89) — became family to Bloom, who had grown up without a supportive father and who had no children. McCarty, who also grew up without a father, calls Bloom, “the father I never had and I’m the son he never had.”
McCarty wasn’t a good student, he said, but Bloom picked up on his intelligence when they first met in 1987. “We had incredible conversations,” McCarty said. For 30 years, the conversations never stopped. “Instant bonding. Lifelong friendship.”
For all the time Bloom taught in the classroom, he also moonlighted as a cashier at the local racetracks like the Miami Beach Kennel Club and Hialeah Park.
Winick, at 18, worked alongside his teacher at the Miami Beach dog track. “He had a mathematical mind so he was the best kind of cashier. He could take six digit numbers and multiply them against each other and tell you the answer. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Miami Beach, Bloom taught at Coral Park from its inception in 1963, right after graduating from the University of Miami at 19.
“He was only a year or two older than his students so the kids loved him,” Winick said. “Everyone related to him because he was young and hip. He was one of the gang in the late ’60s and early ’70s compared to the stodgy teachers that were there from the ’50s. Kids would tell him of their problems and he’d help them any way he could.”
Each year, during the final week of classes, Bloom held a casino day. “Kids would come in from all over the school and play poker and various other card games in his classroom — to the chagrin of the school administrators,” Winick said, adding, “I think the reason he liked helping kids so much is because of the relationship he didn’t have with his father. Because of that, he wanted to help others. I think of Alan any time I try to help another kid. That was a big life lesson I learned from Alan.”