Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A bit more of my first experience teaching Hawthorne, the first day of my student teaching back in January 1966.  I refer to "Mike Furillo" in the excerpt.  He was a former colleague of my mom's in Garrettsville, but he was now teaching science at West Geauga and had kindly agreed to drive me to school (and home) every day.  He had a little VW Bug, and I learned a tremendous amount from Mike, going and coming those winter days ...


            After Home Room I had barely a moment before classes began to write Mr. Dyer in chalk on the board.  To let them know who I was.  They had already seen me, of course, a week or so before.  When I’d visited.  Frank had introduced me.  But most would surely not remember me.

            They didn’t.

            In my first class—after I checked the roster—I started with a question: What were you supposed to do for today?

            A few voices tried Nothing, but they were friendly voices.  This was a college-prep section.  Bright kids.  They wanted to do the right thing.  Somehow I knew I was not in trouble, not this period anyway.

            So I smiled.  Nothing?  Really?  That sounds pretty challenging.

            Some students laughed.  Most were smiling.  I think you were supposed to read “The Birthmark.”  Am I right?

            Sounds of assent.

            And did Mr. Abbott tell you to look for anything specific in the story?  To do anything.


            Well—and this may be the very moment when my head popped above the surface, the moment I knew I would not drown, not yet—who would like to just give us a quick summary of “The Birthmark”?

            Hands went up.  Hands are up!  I am teaching!

            It was an emotional, even intimate moment—like the first time a girl you like accepts a date, returns a kiss, cries at your cruelty.


            The class did not go all that well.  There were moments when I didn’t know what to do next, what to say, what to ask.  The clock moved slowly.  But we generally got along.  There were things to talk about in the story, things the students were willing to talk about—love, dissatisfaction, loss.  The human desire to change others—and the consequences of it all.  We talked a little about similarities between “The Birthmark” and other Hawthorne stories they’d read.

            The next period was free for me.  I went to the teachers’ lounge, poured a cup of coffee, lit up a cigarette, and settled in to read “The Birthmark.”  I would be more ready for the next classes.


            On the way home that night, Mike Furillo just shook his head when I told him what had happened.  He didn’t tell me that Frank—and the school—had fucked me over.  But somehow I knew he thought they had.

            Next morning, a very frisky Frank—a very healthy Frank—was at school.  All smiles.  How did it go?

            Fine.  I told him a little of what we’d done.  He nodded now and then.

            I always do that, you know, he said.

            Do what?

            Call in sick the first day I have a student teacher.  I just looked at him.  Sink or swim, he said.  Sink or swim.  He looked at me.  Guess you didn’t drown, eh?

            No, Frank.  I swam the fucking Hellespont.

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