Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Journey to RICHARD II (Part 8)

Harmon Middle School
Aurora, Ohio
In the fall of 1985 I was beginning my fourth year back at Harmon Middle School after a hiatus of four years. Some things were the same that year: I had all the eighth graders in English; our textbooks were the same. But there was one very big change: Our son, Steve, was in my class.

We had started Steve at Harmon at the end of the first marking period during his sixth grade year. He'd had a lousy situation in Hudson (a very bad teacher with whom he had to spend most of the day), and the administration had been unwilling to make any alterations. So Joyce and I agreed to yank him out of Hudson and transfer him to Harmon, where I knew I would be paying tuition for an out-of-district student but where I also knew he would have some of the best teachers of his life. And he did. (He knows it, too, and when he was a legislator in Ohio, he instituted something called the "Harmon Commission," which sought to encourage innovative teaching--the sort he'd known in middle school; he's a Democrat, however, so when Ohio's political climate changed in 2010, he lost his bid for a third term, and the Harmon Commission went buh-bye.)

It was tough for him, at first, being in a new school a couple of months after it had started. One of my saddest memories is "spying" on him out at lunch the first day. He went to a table, all by himself, and was sitting there, alone, nibbling at his little brown-bag lunch, while my heart was disintegrating. But then--bless those Harmon kids!--a group swept him up, took him to their table, and soon he formed friendships that have been among the most meaningful of his life. He joined athletic teams (basketball), joined clubs (bicycle club, with Denny Reiser, was one of them), played in the band with the Brookharts, participated in seven school play productions, all directed by his Old Man.

I should add that not all was totally novel for him there. He knew many of the teachers (my friends), had attended any number of events there, had helped me out over the summer in my classroom, etc. Still ... he didn't know many (any?) kids, and their welcome of him still makes my heart swell.

The 1985-1986 school year was my twentieth in education. I'd taught twelve years in Aurora, one at Lake Forest College, two at Western Reserve Academy, one at Kent State University, and was, as I said, beginning my fourth year back in Aurora. By then, I think I'd become a much better teacher than I'd been in some of those early years. I was more--what?--assiduous about preparation, about grading, about doing all the other tasks that this most demanding profession ... demands. I was also more confident--a bit more sure that the things I was doing were (a) effective and (b) worthwhile. (Some times I was still spectacularly wrong.)

But having Steve in class was like a jolt of Jolt. Before he was my student, we had gotten along great; he loved and respected me (and vice-versa); I didn't want anything to mess that up. So as I was preparing for that year--and throughout that year--I discovered that there were more levels of effort above the ones where I'd been operating.  This was a surprise: I thought I'd been working as hard as I could.  I was wrong.

It was that year, I think, that I started becoming obsessive about my profession--determined to learn everything about the subjects I was teaching. It was that year that I began--or at least intensified--the trips to literary sites (including cemeteries!), the obsessive reading, and the other signs of madness that characterized my behavior--in and out of the classroom--after that.

And nowhere was this more evident than my decision that year to introduce my eighth graders to Shakespeare. In 1985-1986, I was still pretty much a dummy about the Bard. Oh, yes, I'd taught a few of the plays at Western Reserve Academy; I'd seen movies, been to a few productions (I'd seen former Aurora Jaguars John Mlinek and Dave Prittie (AHS class of 1972) play, respectively, Hamlet and Laertes in KSU's production of Hamlet--talk about a thrill), had read many of the plays (not yet all of them).

But Shakespeare with middle-schoolers?  I'd actually been opposed to the idea earlier in my career. But now it seemed like a great idea.  I thought about plays the kids could relate to and quickly settled on The Taming of the Shrew--for reasons I'll get into next time!

TO BE CONTINUED: Shrew at Harmon School, 1986-1993.

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