Dawn Reader

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Twenty-Five Things I Miss About Teaching at Western Reserve Academy

Brick Row

I had a couple of stints at WRA: 1979-81, 2001-2011 (with a health-related year off in the middle of that).  I turned 57 that first year back and discovered I was no longer capable of working full-time in a boarding school, a place that requires so much of its faculty--not just classes, but meals, dormitory duty, coaching, committees, advising, and on and on.  But the school was very accommodating, allowing me to be part-time for the remainder of my time there.  And what a wonderful time it was for me.

My years in public school had been demanding in a much different way.  Sometimes I had as many as 200 students a day--with three different class preparations.  And every year, of course, there were kids who just did not want to be in school--no--stronger: who hated school.  I generally ended up getting along with most everyone, though, and, as I wrote yesterday, I loved my years in a public middle school.  Loved them.

WRA was very different.  I never had more than three classes, usually with no more than a dozen or so students in them.  I taught English III--juniors--a course that comprised lots of writing and reading.  The junior year the school devoted to American literature + Hamlet (that great American hero).  And because I adore Shakespeare and American literature, it was a perfect fit.  And walking or biking to work every day was nice, too (the school is only a couple of blocks from our house).

Today, I miss a lot of things about the school.  Here are twenty-five of them ...

1. My students.
2. My colleagues.
3. Teaching Hamlet--stopping them after the first line ("Who's there?") and joking about how hard Shakespeare is--acting out the, uh, "country matters" scene with Hamlet hand-puppets--laughing about the pirate scene (even a great play can have a dumb idea).
4. The summer reading--the last few years it featured great plays from the American theater, including August: Osage County, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Crucible, The Glass Menagerie, and Fences.
5. Reading the students' essays about their experiences with their families, with Shakespeare, about a favorite book from childhood, about parties (blackmail!).  (I was somewhat less charmed by reading 45 earnest essays on Hawthorne.)
6. My students.
7. My colleagues.
8. The moment in The Scarlet Letter when Hester tells a distraught Dimmesdale: "Thou shalt not go alone."  I still get goose flesh when I read that scene.  I used to tell my students, "That is love.  Taking another's hand in the wilderness, holding on."
9. Showing the old Disney cartoon of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" after we've read the story.
10. Traveling all over the country in the summers (sometimes with the help of school stipends) to visit the homes and graves of famous American writers.  Making my students watch the ensuing PowerPoints.
11. That moment in Melville's "Benito Cereno" when the students realize that old Herman has manipulated them into rooting for the wrong team.
12. Reading The Call of the Wild with my students (yes, I did it with high school kids, too!).
13. Helping students read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, an amazing, landmark novel.
14. Hearing--over and over, every year--a student say something I'd never thought of about a book I'd read twenty times.
15. Reading all the other books by the writers I was teaching--and biographies. too.
16. Speaking to Morning Meetings and assemblies, where the students were always so gracious and welcoming.
17. My students.
18. My colleagues.
19. Laughing about "inappropriate" things in class (oh, the stuff you can say when you're old!).
20. Making up stupid poems to recite to students and faculty.
21. Watching the discomfort among the students as they read Kate Chopin's The Awakening--a novel that features a woman who realizes she does not want to be a wife and mother--but already is both.
22. Watching students interact with the writers we brought to campus.  What a sight!  Watching and listening to students sit in class with an author whose book they've just read (among them, Tobias Wolff, Robert Sullivan, Dan Chaon, Brock Clarke).  (When I was in high school, I didn't get to sit in class and ask Hemingway and Steinbeck questions!)
23. Reading The Great Gatsby with students--watching many of them fall in love with it.
24. Reading Flannery O'Connor with students--oh, can she shock, even nowadays.
25. Sitting down with students and going over their writing with them individually.  Great progress can happen in a short time in that kind of setting.
25a. My students.
25b: My colleagues.


  1. Dan,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Your words actually bring back very fond memories of my time at WRA as a student and as one of your colleagues.

    I only wish the WRA of our memories still existed today.

    Hope you are well,

  2. This is great, Dan. Thanks for sharing. I am proud to be a WRA alum and current faculty member!


  3. Dan,

    I can tell you many times when we asked our children "What was the best part of your day?"-a ritual in our household-your name was mentioned multiple times.

    Not only your enthusiastic singing of a Beatles tune to celebrate a birthday in morning meeting, but poems and musings you shared in the dawn at morning meeting that somehow stayed with our teenagers all day and was shared in the evening.

    For some cosmic and unfortunate ripple in the universe our three children passed their time at Reserve never having you as a teacher, but they learned from you none the less.

    The Clarks.

  4. And Ten Things I miss about YOU...
    1. Your laugh!
    2. You riding your bike ridiculously slowly so we could talk for a moment or two on my walk to Hayden.
    3. Celebrity Gossip...
    4. Seeing you at Thursday Final Dress Rehearsals.
    5. Your ornery sense of humor - followed by your laugh!
    6. The reverence with which you talk about books and writers
    7. The kindness with which you always followed up attendance at a performance with a note - I have printed and treasure them.
    8. Talking with you about Bill Appling; crying with you about Bill.
    9. The look you get when you talk about Joyce :-)
    10. Your quiet but intensely powerful intellectual leadership. Yours is the face I see & the voice I hear when others talk about living the life of the mind.

    Thanks for brightening my day - you are missed!
    Love, Midge

  5. Dan -
    You are, in a word, my IDOL! Your list says it all. The end.

    Love (and see you at Caribou),