Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

End of Days

I have a new FB friend from long ago--a woman who was a student of Joyce's at KSU back in the the early 1970s, the dawn of our careers.  Joyce had her in freshman English at KSU, and Maria would sometimes babysit for us when Steve was still a wee one.  Then she graduated; everyone moved on.  We hadn't heard from her in years--until her recent FB "friending."

She has started a blog now, too--keeping electronic track of her final year of teaching.  She's calling it "Salt Water and School Bells"--Salt Water & School Bells.  And it made me remember ...

When I was teaching at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, I knew I was going to retire the first day I was eligible to do so.  I was only (!!) 52 at the time and could retire with full benefits with thirty years' service.  That made me eligible in mid-January 1997.  I had not lost my interest in education, not at all; I still loved the kids--deeply.  But I left for two compelling reasons--one positive, one negative.

The positive one: There was so much I wanted to do.  I'd just recently published a couple of books related to Jack London (an annotated edition of The Call of the Wild, a YA biography--Jack London: A Biography) and had recently become consumed by the story of Mary Shelley.  I wanted to read everything by and about her.  Write a YA biography of her, too.  And I didn't want to do it over the summers and on holidays.  Too much time.  And I was getting ancient (52).

The negative one: Ohio had been growing crazy about "proficiency tests," and Aurora was especially so.  I found myself more and more having to focus on teaching things I didn't believe--and having to eliminate from the curriculum so many things I loved.  Why?  Not on the test.  Moreover, there was an 8th grade writing test.  I was the 8th grade English teacher.  And when the kids didn't do well (after having been in my class for five or six months), I felt the eyes on me.  The kids, of course, had been in other teachers' classes since kindergarten, had grown up in other parents' homes.  But I felt that some administrators believed a kid's low score was my fault--even though kids wrote in my class all the time, even though ...  Never mind.  Water.  Under.  Bridge.  (But ... sometimes ... it's boiling water.)

I knew, as I contemplated retirement, that I would one day probably want to write about my career (I've done so in Schoolboy: A Memoir, Kindle Direct Publishing: Link to Amazon), and I thought it would be helpful to keep track of what I did my last 100 days.  (I'd not yet started the daily journal that I've kept since January 1997.)  And so I did.

My Last 100 Days
I bought a pack of 3x5 cards, and each day I put one in my shirt pocket, and when something happened that day, I jotted it down when I found the time.  Filled the card, added it to the pile--see impressive pile in the photo!

Since I wanted to record exactly 100 days (oh, such a decimal people we are!), I had to start the spring before I retired (my last day was in January--not 100 days of school from the beginning of the year).  And, as fortune would have it, I was doing my final play production that spring of 1996, the final of a series of about 10 "Eighth Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Shows."  These were musical/sketch shows I wrote for the kids each year.  We'd produce the show right before the end of the year--a highlight for me, an emotional time for all of us before they left Harmon to head to the high school.  I got awfully close to those wonderful casts ...  In many cases, we've found one another again on Facebook.

With one hundred days to go, it was 28 May 1996.  I arrived at school at 6 a.m. and began working on production things for the show.  I have a note about bumblebee costumes.  My students watched a video that day about Anne Frank (we'd read the play based on her diary).  I had practice after school till 5:45, hurried home for a quick supper, and was back at school from 6:30-9:30 p.m.--getting the program ready.  I faxed to former student John Mlinek some lines he was going to say.  John was in the first play I ever did in Aurora--May 1967--and had agreed to come back for a cameo in my last.

All went well, both nights of the show.  Very well.  I was an emotional wreck.

On 28 August, I was back filling in cards: A new school year had begun.  And as I fan through my one hundred cards today, I'm reminded how much my days were in the thrall of routine.  I was almost always at school by 6 a.m.  I would start the coffee, fill the copy machines with paper, then work in my room till the kids came in for home room.  On this day, though, was the opening session for teachers and staff.  Here's a little snarky note I wrote: Speech by Cleveland Heights principal, a little banty-rooster type with fluffed and flawless hair and a gym bag full of athletic allusions.

I had a student teacher that fall--Lisa--from Hiram College, and she was one of the best I'd had in all the years of supervising student teachers.  I gradually turned over most of my load to her--though I usually stayed with her in the room, taking notes, thinking of helpful things to pass along.

I grouse about things on the cards: copy machines that jam, A-V equipment that doesn't work, kids who are dorking around.

The school had already hired my replacement, Len, who was on the staff as a substitute (he would fill in wherever).  If he had no other commitment, he would come in my room and get to know the kids.  I'd told everyone that I wanted no big departure scene; in fact--I told my students that they would not even know which day was going to be my last.  One day I would be there--the next day, not.  (Just like Life!)  I told Jerry, the principal, I wanted no parties, etc., either: I just wanted to go home and get to work.  (The teachers did give me a gift--a signed wooden plaque; affixed to it was a piece of the old hideous orange-and-brown Harmon carpet!)

One day I got an email from a parent who said her son shouldn't be penalized for spelling on his essays.  Okay.

I see I was also teaching that fall in the Weekend College at Hiram (every other Saturday morning, 8-12)--Writing in the Liberal Arts, an introductory course.  I was preparing for a part-time post-retirement career at Hiram, but I did it for only a couple of years.  It was taking too much time, and I had so much more I wanted to do.  Still ... I loved the experience and am still in touch with one WEC student via old friend FB.

In late October and early November--Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.  One of my favorite times.  On 5 November, Joyce and I went to the Guy Fawkes Day dinner at Hiram College--always fun.

On 11 November--my birthday--the power went out in the whole school.  I promptly told a ghost story about Hiram (stolen from Mark Twain or someone).  My card says Great reaction.  (I could be modest on the cards, eh?)

22 November was the day I'd decided to stop teaching the eighth graders and turn it over to Len.  That night, Joyce and I drove up to Borders--and saw Joyce's new book on display.  What a high ...

The rest of my time I did what Len had been doing--filling in here and there, tutoring kids for the upcoming proficiency tests, helping out my colleagues Jerry and Donna Hayes.  Waiting ...

16 January 1997 was my final day.  I met longtime colleague Denny Reiser at McDonald's in Streetsboro for breakfast.  We talked about our careers ... he would be retiring soon, as well.  First period I had a long, emotional talk with principal Jerry Brodsky.  I'd taught and worked with him since the late 1960s.  At lunch, I sat with some of the other old timers, and we ended up reminiscing about our strike in 1978.

In my final class that day--with some sixth graders--sat Erin Patch.  Her father, Greg, had been in the first class I'd ever taught back in 1966.  Strange ...

The superintendent came by to bid me farewell (that was nice of him).  Jerry announced on the PA at the end of the day that I was retiring, and lots of kids, on their way to the buses, stopped in the hall to say good-bye.  My eyes had not been dry for an hour.  Before I left, I stopped in and said good-bye to custodians Dale Dean and Kathy Coopy, who had always offered me such outstanding help over the years--especially around play time.  Wet eyes again.

The snow was heavy that day; a lot of colleagues left early.  I struggled out to the car.  I carried with me the briefcase my parents had given me when I started teaching in 1966.  I hadn't used it in years.  But I used it that day to carry out of the building my final few belongings.  It was heavy with memories ...

No comments:

Post a Comment