I'd been away for four years: one at Lake Forest College, two at Western Reserve Academy (from which I'd resigned: salary snit), one at Kent State University (freshman comp, part time) and the Learned Owl Book Shop (part time, minimum wage).
And when I returned, much had changed. The secondary schools had gone to a "campus" organization--one administrator in charge of the entire enterprise, 5-8; the high school and the middle school had building administrators who sometimes labored at the other level as well. An idea whose time had not come. But they tried it anyway.
But the biggest change for me? No kids knew who I was. Even though I'd taught there for twelve years (1966-1978), I was, once again, The New Guy, the one to be tested and bested. Nettled and hassled. Harassed and embarrassed. Yes, I did teach a few siblings of former students. And I still knew most of the faculty. But in every other way I was a Rookie, and the kids reminded me of it, every day.
Especially at lunch. I shared duty with an administrator (who will remain nameless) and my good friend Andy Kmetz, the art teacher, my partner on almost all of the Harmon drama productions. (We did a show that year--E. T., Phone Harmon--with a very small turnout at tryouts: the kids didn't know me yet, didn't trust me.) Andy loved the kids--knew them all--and would often spend most of the lunch hour talking with a few at a single table. Leaving me the other 5,000 to deal with. (Andy also loved cigarettes--and would disappear, every freaking day, for seven minutes back in the teachers' lounge, puffing away, while, again, I tried--and failed--to cope with the 5,000.) The Nameless Administrator was often absent, too, off in an office ... administering something.
And who were the 5,000? Ninth graders. They spent part of their day at Harmon, part up at the high school. And I had no influence over them whatsoever. I did not have them in class. I did not know their names. (Most of them didn't bother to learn mine, either.) Many of the boys were bigger than I. And everyone's principal aim at lunch--so it seemed to me--was to give me a preview of Hell.
I would walk by a table, hear "Asshole!" muttered as I passed. I would whirl. Look. See nothing but cherubic innocence.
I would see underneath a table a veritable grocery store of dropped food. Whose was it? No one's. What's my problem?
Once, trying to break up a fistfight (Andy was off smoking; the Administrator was... ?), I grabbed one large lad by the waist and was pulling him away when the other guy, swinging from his heels, clocked me in the jaw--the hardest punch I've ever suffered, before or after. He got three days at home. I got a sore jaw and a lot of amused looks from my students as, dazed, I waxed eloquent about the indirect object after lunch.
So many pleasant stories that year ...
Gradually, though, my eighth graders began to accept me as a member of the human race (teacher version), and when I did plays and other activities with them, I slowly--slowly--began to reforge the bonds that I'd spent twelve years establishing before.
By the end of the year (June 1983), we liked one another. And things only improved, in my view, every year until my retirement (January 1997).
TO BE CONTINUED