‘Doc’ Caire draws love from a deep well at DLS
Dr. Warren Caire’s venerable pocket protector is white and brittle.
The block letters “DE LA SALLE” imprinted on the top flap have faded over the years from the school’s distinctively bold maroon to a barely discernible pink, which is what happens when the tools of a teacher’s trade are sheathed and unsheathed daily, nipping here and tucking there, to chronicle the flame-outs and the grand slams of a teenage student’s life.
The three different-colored pens and one trendy laser pointer inside “Doc’s” pocket protector each has a story to tell.
The red pen is for corrections, the bold black pen for general notes and the fine-tip blue pen for the precision Doc needs to record grades inside “all those little bitty squares” of graph paper – the way he was taught to do it by the Christian Brothers when he started teaching 50 years ago at De La Salle High School, when long division and brainpower qualified as every teacher’s personal computer.
The laser pointer, Doc’s concession to “Star Wars” education, emits a red light, which comes in handy when he takes his Latin students on trips around the world without ever leaving the classroom.
“I can point to the map and say, ‘Here’s Greece, and this is where Aeneas traveled from here to here,” said Caire, who started teaching foreign languages and religion at De La Salle in 1962. “There’s a rationale for each pen.”
And then there is the beige rubber band, wrapped snugly around the outside of the pocket protector so that Doc can attach important telephone messages or urgent to-do notes. The De La Salle bookstore stopped selling the pocket protectors three years ago, probably because sales to students were, shall we say, not too brisk.
But at 78, Doc has been a market of one for as long as anyone at De La Salle can remember, and he is the reason parents and grandparents – the people he taught in the 1960s – still believe in Catholic education and are willing to work two or three jobs to afford one for their children.
As the youngest of 12 children – eight girls and four boys – who grew up on a sugar cane farm behind St. John the Baptist Church in Edgard, Doc thought long and hard about becoming a priest. Three of his sisters are Religious of the Sacred Heart. Doc even studied for years in the minor and major seminary before discerning the priesthood “wasn’t God’s plan for me.”
While taking graduate studies in French during the summer of 1962 at Tulane University, Doc was waiting for the St. Charles Avenue streetcar when he struck up a conversation with Brother Camillus, a Christian Brother, who suggested he apply for a job at De La Salle. He took the five-minute trip, and Brother Cassian Lange hired him on the spot.
When Doc walked into De La Salle on that first day in 1962, there were 28 Christian Brothers on the faculty. He taught 36 students in each class, and he learned on the job.
“I think the thing students look for is genuine honesty,” Doc said. “If you say something is going to be, then they know you’re going to follow through and you’re fair. You practice fairness with them so they can always see a balance there. You can’t come in one day and say this is going to be wrong, and then the next day it’s OK. It’s a matter of consistency and honesty. Plus, you have to give them the impression that you know your material. You have to prepare your lessons. You can’t just wing it.”
He has poured his heart into everything he has done as a teacher and mentor. In 1965, when De La Salle had no wrestling coach, students pleaded with him to become the wrestling team moderator even though he had never wrestled in his life. He spent 20 years as the program’s overseer, and the team won several city and state titles.
He coordinated senior retreats, taking students to the Carmelites’ North Rampart monastery for 2 1/2 days. “It was like going into another century,” Doc said. “Young people are searching and often are very receptive in non-classroom situations.”
He loves the kids, and he has heard every homework excuse ever invented. Last week, a girl came in without her assigned Latin class poster.
“Doc, I don’t have my poster,” she said. “I really couldn’t do it.”
“What was the problem?” Doc asked.
“Well, my house flooded,” she replied. “I turned the bathtub on and I went back to my bedroom and fell asleep on my bed for over a half-hour. The tub overflowed and the water seeped through to the first floor and the ceiling fell in.”
And, with a smile, Doc says, “It’s all true!”
Doc still hears from his former students, even from the very bright kid he had to flunk in eighth-grade English because he simply wouldn’t do the work, forcing him to attend summer school.
“About 10 years later, he comes back and says, ‘Doc, I really want to thank you for flunking me,’” Doc said. “‘It taught me such a lesson. It changed my whole life, because otherwise I was getting away with stuff.’ It was interesting to see that that reflection happened.”
Another student thanked him because on the first day of school, “you smiled and told me where to go.”
“Imagine,” Doc said. “A smiling face.”
And, since 90 percent of life is simply showing up, Doc has been walking through the doors at DLS every day for 50 years, taking off no days except when he’s been sick. You can’t just wing it.
“When students walk through the door of the classroom, they expect to see you there,” Doc said. “They expect to see you prepared. They expect you to present a good lesson. So, in other words, the business of not showing up is very tough on them. I can understand for sickness, but a person would be very lax in taking off to do this or that. If you make a commitment, you have to follow through.
“All my friends say, ‘Warren, when are you going to retire?’ and I say, ‘Well, as long as I can add two and two together and I still enjoy it, it’s not a burden.’ God’s blessed me with decent health, so I can do it. I’m not crawling into the classroom in the morning.”
At this rate, that pocket protector doesn’t have a prayer.