Jive talk: Principal by day, Professor Bebop by night
Dave Rogers has spent a career working with that most pubescent of age groups– middle schoolers. And he digs it– the whole raging hormone, emotionally charged, heights-of-ecstasy, depths-of-despair scene.
"It's probably more fun for me than it is for them," says Rogers in the principal's office at Jack Jouett Middle School. "I started out teaching the seventh grade and really liked that age group right off."
He does concede, "To those of us who like working with this age kid, something either did or didn't happen at this age."
His office decor– a photo of a tonearm about to drop on vinyl, a poster of Elvis with a book that says "Read," a "Radio Ga Ga" print of a baby with headphones– reflects Rogers' other loves: radio and music.
Those are channeled though his alter-ego– late-night hepcat Professor Bebop, who's laying down old rhythm-and-blues tracks every Friday night on WTJU with a distinctly un-Dave Rogers jive-patter voice.
"I'm an avid music fan and had been doing shows on TJU for a while," he explains. "About 1975-76, I became interested in doo-wop." He read about a DJ in Texas called Dr. Hepcat who was selling his own dictionary of jive. Rogers procured the 30-page pamphlet, liberally lifted Dr. Hepcat's jives, lowered his voice, breathed into the microphone– and Professor Bebop was born.
Most of his students are aware their principal has a radio show– but he doesn't believe many of them tune into his wavelength. He laughs at what he calls the best student description of his efforts: "Mr. Rogers stays up late on Friday night and acts like a fool."
Except for three years at Murray Elementary, Rogers has been a principal at Walker, Buford, and now Jouett middle schools, and this day is typical. Six boys are sitting in a conference room, the result of a tussle in the bathroom, and they're probably looking at in-school suspension.
"I hate to send them home unless I have to," says Rogers, worrying that they may get into more trouble there than in a supervised environment.
The interruptions are constant, but brief interactions are key to Rogers' connections with his students. "The challenge always is to tie in with the kids who are struggling academically or feel disassociated from school and helping them believe they can do it," he says. "And helping them realize different is okay."
Why here? I returned to Charlottesville 3 years after graduating from UVA because I loved the setting and the community. I've been here since 1972.
What's worst about living here? Urban sprawl and the burgeoning traffic
Favorite hangout? WTJU
Most overrated virtue? Loyalty, a true virtue but too often defined as unquestioning compliance.
People would be surprised to know: I'm very shy about being in the spotlight.
What would you change about yourself? I would temper my tendency to promote harmony by avoiding conflict at the expense of standing firm on my ideals.
Proudest accomplishment? Thirty-six years as a public school educator dedicated to helping young people grow, learn, and recognize their own capabilities. Also, 33 years at WTJU, exposing whoever would listen to a host of extraordinary, if sometimes under-appreciated, musical styles and thematic connections.
People find most annoying about you: My deliberate approach to resolving unresolved questions. Most of my colleagues prefer to get to the "answer" so we can get on with things.
Whom do you admire? This is a giant list, but I would narrow it down to Kevin Castner, former superintendent of Albemarle County Schools; Robert Denomme, UVA professor who convinced me that I could and should follow my dreams; the African-American and white musicians who created "classic soul music"; and each person who volunteers to help others in need in our community.
Favorite book? The Essential Lenny Bruce, an early primer in questioning the validity of mores simply because they are established as norms
Subject that causes you to rant? Politicians who promote self-righteousness (personal or national) and use it to suppress others
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Being here! I can't imagine having lived in a more fascinating time.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Growing corporate takeovers and the rise of demagogues
What do you drive? 2002 Toyota Corolla
In your car CD player right now: Café R&B Very Live. This is a great left-coast rhythm 'n blues band with a killer Tina Turner-like vocalist. Certified Professor Bebop gone cats!
Next journey? Probably to Baltimore to visit my son
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? A reckless driving accident as a teenager
Regret: Giving up on learning to play a musical instrument
Favorite comfort food: Exotic omelets
Always in your refrigerator: Diet Dr. Pepper and some type of micro-brew
Must-see TV: Nothing currently
Favorite cartoon: The Far Side (given the preceding answer, I guess I'm somewhat out of touch!)
Describe a perfect day. A leisurely morning, including jogging, looking at the paper, listening to some great music, drinking tea. Then time on the beach with those who are closest to me.
Walter Mitty fantasy: Sponsoring and hosting a Virginia Music Festival styled after the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival, celebrating all of the wonderful music, food, and people of our area
Who'd play you in the movie? Maybe Tim Robbins, because he can portray a serious guy, a common man with a passion, who's a pretty comical figure in spite of himself
Most embarrassing moment? Losing my composure with a student and acting like a bigger jerk than I thought he was being by trying to belittle and intimidate him in front of the class. I had to acknowledge my behavior to his parents in an angry conference. Fortunately, I learned some valuable lessons about giving and receiving respect, and I've dedicated myself to modeling that since that time.
Best advice you ever got? Two maxims: You are what you choose to be, and we may always be what we might have been.
Favorite bumper sticker? What if the hokey pokey IS what it's all about?
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO