Thursday, May 2, 2013
English 101, Part II
A few days ago I wrote that our son was going to be teaching Freshman English at the University of Akron this fall, and when he told us, it got me to thinking about my own experiences as a freshman at Hiram College in the summer of 1962. So I wrote about them.
I also taught Freshman English, once upon a time, at Kent State, spring term, 1982. But there's a little back story about how I ended up there. At the end of the 1977-1978 school year, I had left Harmon Middle School in Aurora (where I'd taught twelve years). And for the 1978-1979 year, Joyce and I taught at Lake Forest College (north of Chicago). But I missed the public school classroom--missed Harmon School--so we left after only one year to come back to Ohio.
But there were no jobs in Aurora that fall of 1979 (I finally got back to Aurora in the fall of 1982), but Joyce and I landed on our feet: Western Reserve Academy had two openings, so there we went. Joyce would stay until 1990, but at the end of the 1980-1981 academic year I got in a Salary Snit with the Headmaster (he offered X; I wanted X + 2000; he offered X; I quit), and suddenly I was unemployed.
I thought I would have an easy time getting another job. I was young (36); I had a Ph.D.; I had excellent recommendations from all my employers--except, now, from one. I had published some essays in magazines and newspapers. I was inflated with self-regard--like a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade balloon with gas.
No teaching jobs available.
Uh oh. (That hissing sound you hear is the self-regard leaking from my career balloon.)
I was married; our son had just turned eight; we had a mortgage, a car payment ... We got trouble, my friends, right here in River City! Fortunately, I got a part-time job (minimum wage) at the Learned Owl, our local bookstore, and KSU offered me a couple of sections of Freshman English (worse than minimum wage). But it was money; we wouldn't starve.
The other day I found the notebook I'd kept for the spring term at KSU, English 10002. Kent didn't give me a lot to work with--just a general course description--so I could do pretty much what I wanted. Here's what the catalog said (I reproduced it on my syllabus): Composition course with literature as the focus, but with continued emphasis on writing better essays. Critical and research writing. And "Course Goals": English 10002 is a composition course that uses literature as the material from which reading and writing skills will be developed.
We did have one required book--X. J. Kennedy's anthology Literature, a massive volume that could serve as a stone in an Egyptian pyramid. And, from the first half of the course, the students had some sort of grammar/usage handbook. And I could pick some supplementary texts.
I chose The Odyssey and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Light reading for the spring.
In the fifteen-week session (M-W-F) the students--I had a total of fifty--wrote three 750-word critical essays and a research paper; we also did exercises in grammar/usage/mechanics; reading quizzes; a final exam.
And how did it go?