Retired Glendale science and photography teacher G.J. Liotta said he taught middle school students for more than 40 years because he liked interacting with young people, and, most of all, he loved entertaining them with different science demonstrations and experiments.
Liotta was a teacher and administrator at Toll Middle School from 1945 to 1985. Throughout his 40-year tenure at Toll, he said he grew to love his students, as he taught eighth-grade science and a ninth-grade introductory photography class for 15 years. He then served as assistant principal from 1960 to the day he retired.
Although his main duty as an assistant principal was that of a disciplinarian, Liotta said the students during his administrative days were enjoyable to deal with because they were polite and mostly well behaved.
"I enjoyed it, even though it was a lot of discipline," he said. "The kids in those days were nice to deal with."
Former colleague Richard Pack, who took over as science chairman at Toll when Liotta was promoted to assistant principal, said Liotta was respected by students and teachers alike. Personally, Pack said he respected Liotta's opinions on all things science-related, and he values their friendship to this very day.
"He was a role model for teachers, as far as caring for students and knowing his subject well," Pack said. "He probably was the most popular and best-loved teacher and administrator as well when he became vice principal."
Liotta said initially he was interested in studying medicine when he attended UCLA in the 1940s. But, as his college years passed, he became intrigued in teaching, and in 1945, he graduated with his teaching credentials. Less than one week later, he began working at Toll, teaching a full-year science course — one semester focused on biological sciences, the other centered on an introduction to all sciences.
Liotta's habit for taking pictures of assemblies and his students earned him a ninth-grade photography class — even though he didn't have a background in the subject. He grew to love teaching photography so much that in 1980, while serving as assistant principal at Toll, he decided to teach an evening introductory course at Glendale Community College.
"I enjoyed that very much," he said. "It was so much fun for me, so enjoyable. I even wrote my own textbook for the class and got it published and copyrighted. It was a subject that was very popular at the time."
When Liotta decided to retire from Toll in 1985, he received $25,000 from the community, but rather than use the money on himself, he decided to give it back to Glendale. Since 1985, a randomly selected academic department at Toll has been given $500 from the fund, and an eighth-grade student has been honored with a $100 award the school's annual commencement ceremonies. The G.J. Liotta Honorary Fund continues to this day.
In 1990, five years after Liotta said goodbye to Toll, he retired from teaching permanently, ending his tenure at Glendale Community College. He said the time seemed right at age 70.
From the stories he hears from teachers today, Liotta said he doesn't know if he could teach in the current classroom environment. He feels teachers are not given the proper tools to work with.
Still, he said he would love to pass one last message along to students of all ages.
"Your education is the most important thing for you," he said. "My advice is to hang in there, work hard and be a good student. Behave yourself and get an education."