The Scorpion Tattoo Teacher: “I Am a Scorpio Through and Through”

By Breana Brill

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Carmen DePillo walks the halls of Niles West, slowly trailing behind the student that he’s aiding, while silently singing along to some “Thrice” song that’s stuck in his head. DePillo is not only a one-on-one aid for the special education department but also a rocker at heart, which isn’t too hard to recognize from his sleeves of tattoos and the scorpion tattoo on his neck.

The amount of “double-takes” DePillo has experienced through these hallways are countless since he doesn’t meet the same, conservative image of a  teacher that so many of us are used to. But DePillo’s love for working with students doesn’t stop him from expressing his love for tattoos as well. While he was in high school, he became extremely influenced by the sleeves of tattoos and grunge-type look of the people from the rock bands he loved to listen to, and he continues to be influenced by them to this day. He’s always known he’s wanted tattoos, so when he was nineteen and coming home from the Disney culinary internship, he got his first tattoo.

“I was so naive growing up, that when I started tattoos I really didn’t get to in depth over what I wanted, it was kind of just honestly whatever sparked in my mind at the time. So you can tell with my two arms, one’s really thought out because it came a little later and the other is just a smorgasbord of tattoos … whatever I was felt for that time,” he said.

Now that he’s had his tattoos for about ten years now, he’s so used to them that he barely knows they’re there. He’s in the process of finishing his other arm now with his step-brother who’s a tattoo artist.

“Even if I’m not the same person as I was when I got them, I can look back, and I know what I was going through and you know, you just appreciate it,” he said. ”

Whether you’re still the same person or not, you know, it doesn’t matter. To me it’s just skin, who cares? And at the point I’m at with my tattoos, its like who cares?, because I still plan on getting a bunch more. So I have a lot of work to do, a lot of work, the way I look at it.”

DePillo has quite a bit of tattoos, but the one that he is most famous for has to be the scorpion on his neck.

“I’m a Scorpio. So as my horoscope and how the story went was, you know I was in speech class in my first college and we had to do a speech on our horoscopes, and it was probably the first time I really researched and dived deep in what the meaning of horoscopes are. As I was reading it and researching it, and putting the speech together, I was really starting to realize like, wow, I am a Scorpio through and through. And it was shortly after that, when I was getting another one of my tattoos done on my arm, and I drove out to my step-brother. He asked if there was anything I ever wanted and instantly, ‘scorpion’ popped in my head, scorpion on my neck,” he said.

That was about seven years ago, and when he went home to his mom, she wasn’t happy.

“I didn’t talk to him for almost two full days,” Therese Murphy, DePillo’s mom, said. “I was afraid of what I was going to say, and words can really hurt. I said to him, ‘that one could cost you some jobs.’ My fear is that we live in a world where some people look and don’t see beyond the exterior, and it concerned me that people wouldn’t get to know him. But as time goes by, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

CHILDHOOD LESSONS AND EXPERIENCES

DePillo and his mom both have the same ideals that judgement isn’t okay, and that you shouldn’t judge someone based on what they look like on the outside, because it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Although his mom worried for a while that he wouldn’t be able to land a job because of his tattoos, that doubt never dented DePillo’s confidence in his ability to work with those of disabilities because of all the experience he had growing up.

“Growing up we had some family friends that had children with disabilities, and then also my aunt was a special-ed teacher,” DePillo said. “So on Saturdays she runs a special education program for people with disabilities of all ages, and they just do a lot of arts and crafts and do a kind of different activities.”

His experiences working with his aunt as a kid opened his eyes to his love for working with children with special needs.

“As a youngster my mom would bring me there so I get to interact and as I got older… it was my cousin’s working with people with disabilities at the time [that helped me realize] that I was good with children and had a lot of patience,” he said.

“They suggested that I apply at one of the special recreational associations in Franklin park, so I did it and instantly fell in love with it. So I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.”

DePillo has always had a good amount of patience and care for people with disabilities. As he was growing up and working in Park Districts he really only saw himself working in the recreational sense, because he never considered himself a good student or someone who really likes school. Later, as he grew older, he started to realize the importance of education, and when the job opportunity came up at Niles West he was ecstatic to be able to work in a real school.

“It’s fun… To be honest at first it was kind of surreal, just walking up and down the hallways kind of blending in with the other students… cause the way I see myself is I’m kind of in between the teachers here and the students. But I enjoy it, you know, it’s what I love. I’m learning as much as I’m teaching basically, which I enjoy doing,” he said.

He refers to himself as a “sponge” because he likes to learn as much as possible about anything and everything. DePillo likes to be able to have a conversation with anyone, about anything.

“Always try to learn as much as you can, become a sponge because when you become older even though now you don’t want to learn since you have to be here so it’s like ‘alright, I don’t care what happened in 1840’ but as you get older, I like to consider myself very open minded and I like to learn as much as I can about everything, you know. I’ll never shut a door basically to what I don’t want to learn about,” he said.

Although most of DePillo’s earlier years had a considerable amount of time spent with working with those of disabilities, a lot of his time was spent with sports, listening to music and moving around a lot because his parents divorced at a young age.

Even though him and his family tended to move around a bit, he basically stuck with the same group of friends, which made moving to each school a little less lonely. He remembers always being outside, rain or shine, and using sports and other activities as escapes for his feelings. He basically played every type of sport while growing up.

“It was always that escape,” he said. “Which is always something I needed, you know. Growing up… I didn’t have a lot of technology, I didn’t have a computer. Sports were always that something to do… I played baseball, football, basketball, street hockey. The only game I’m really not good at, as a sport, is tennis… I enjoy all sports, so long as I’m being competitive and athletic,” he said.

Even though he’s in the route of becoming a teacher, academics weren’t always on his mind. In high school he felt more connected to cooking, music, hanging out with friends and sports rather then sitting in a boring classroom, learning things that he thought would be irrelevant later on. But now that he’s more grown, he’s realized the importance of education and why, even if irrelevant, it’s useful to learn about different types of subjects.

His grandparents were also a big part of his life. He considers his grandfather, whom he was named after, one of his biggest role models.

“He really just instilled in me a good heart and how to kill people with kindness and always have respect for people. You know, he was the kind of person that if he had ten dollars on him he would give you five and then save five for another person in case someone else needed it. What he taught me was always be respectful, use your manners, be nice, kill ‘em with kindness cause then they don’t ever have a reason to be upset with you,” he said.

LIFE PERSPECTIVE

Another thing that DePillo likes to live by is to live each day to the fullest.

“Just try to be nice and live each day as happy as you can. Just try to make the best out of every situation, and you know what? Those are really words that I live by,” he said.”

 “You know, I’ve lost a lot of friends to different reasons, you know, been to a lot of wakes and funerals of kids that died too young, and that really opens your eyes. It says you can’t let the little things bother you, you know, just live.”

He tries to teach these morals to his students as much as possible. He doesn’t like to see them get frustrated over one problem in school or a piece of homework and tries to teach them to take a few steps at a time to be able to successfully get through a problem.

MUSIC

Music is also a huge part of DePillo’s life and has been ever since his teenage years. Like sports, it was a type of escape he could get.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t listen to my favorite bands and not just on the radio, but really I always told people that there’s a difference between listening to music and hearing it. You know, if you’re hearing something, everyone hears something all the time,” DePillo said.

“You hear people talking but unless you’re really listening and you get to focus in on what the music is and what the lyrics are– it’s the same thing in life, in a conversation. It was always an escape for me, whether you’re alone in life, literally or figuratively, music’s there. It’s a good way to get out.””

Some of his favorite bands include Thrice, Brand New, Alexisonfire, and Finch, so mostly underground rock bands. Although he’s not very picky with his music, it all depends on what his mood is. Country, rock, acoustic, and hip hop are among his favorite genres.

“I listen to it all. The beautiful thing about music is really it hits any mood you’re in, no matter what mood you’re in. You can find a genre, band, or style of music that really relates to you whether you wanna be energetic, pumped up before you go out, or kind of calmed down, chill out, listen to some country and get all happy with it,” he said.

From sports and cooking to music and tattoos, DePillo lives his life by surrounding himself with activities he loves while doing the job he loves. He has found a way through tattoos to let his creative side show and doesn’t let judgement from others to stop him from pursuing his dreams.

“Because I know him and I know his heart and I know who he is…  it really is shame on anyone who judges people because of their exterior,” Murphy said. “I’ve raised my kids to not be judgmental… and Carm is extremely good at that.”

That may just be one of the reasons DePillo loves and does his job so well, because “working with people with disabilities is probably one of the least judgmental jobs,” he said.

And although he has a love for cooking, music and tattoos he wouldn’t change his job for anything in the world.

“I love working with people with disabilities; it’s my passion,” he said.