Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Any Advice?" Part One

I got a FB message yesterday from a former student who's about to begin his student teaching. "I'm looking forward to it," he said, "but you have any advice?"

I messaged back a few platitudes (typing in my lame-fingered way on my iPhone), but it got me thinking ... what advice would I give young people going into teaching today?

Let's endure a flashback first. I did my own student teaching, January-March 1966, at West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio, which, according to GoogleMaps, lies 23.4 mi northwest our former home in Hiram--a journey of some thirty minutes. I rode to school every day with Mike Furrillo, a former Garrettsville teaching colleague of my mom's, who was teaching science in the junior high right next to WGHS. I learned a lot from Mike, riding along in his little VW Bug (one of the things I learned: don't get a VW Bug--it was cold in that little car). He would talk about how he did things; I would ask questions--and listen. And on the way home, I would vent, and he would listen--and ask questions--and listen some more.

My first day was a nightmare. I'd already visited the school for a day, a couple of weeks earlier, to meet my supervisor (in those days--called a "critic teacher"), and I'd watched his classes all day. (He had four sections of English III: two were college-prep, two were general.) I'd been really impressed. To the college-prep kids he was teaching Hawthorne's story about the Fountain of Youth, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." (Link to text of the story.) Basically, Dr. Heidegger invites to his home four old friends (three men and a woman); they sample the water; they feel younger; they want more; they cavort around; they want more; they break the container ... (won't tell you the end--you former English III students of mine had better remember!). Anyway, there's a passage in the story that my critic teacher (I'll call him "CT" because, believe me, there are other names I'd like to call him!) focused on. Here it is ...

 Yet, by a strange deception, owing to the duskiness of the chamber, and the antique dresses which they still wore, the tall mirror is said to have reflected the figures of the three old, gray, withered grandsires, ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled grandam.

Anyway, CT began class that day by asking if anyone had a mirror. (All the girls did.) He took one and pointed it a girl in the front row. "What do you see?" he asked. "Myself," said the somewhat puzzled girl. He moved to the next kid (a boy): "What do you see?" "Myself." He did it several more times, and soon the kids were laughing and enjoying themselves.

And then CT said, "But is it really your self that you see?" Silence. "Let's see what Hawthorne says."

I thought that was amazing. But I was worried, too: Could I possibly come up with something like that every day? I was pretty sure I couldn't.

Anyway, all the kids in the classes seemed nice--and they were friendly to me. And a few weeks later I was actually looking forward to returning to begin my official tenure at the school. And very frightened, as well.

But when I got there, I learned in the office that CT was absent that day.

And ... I was going to have to teach his classes all day ... unprepared ... and so began one of the longest days of my life ...


*I write about these events in much more detail in my memoir Schoolboy, available on Amazon/Kindle: Link to the book on Amazon.

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