A few days ago I began a response to a FB query from a former student about to begin his student teaching. As is my custom, I got off the subject and wrote about my own student teaching--high school juniors in the winter of 1966 at West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio. I noted that when I arrived at the school for my first day "on duty," I learned in the office that my critic teacher ("CT," I'm calling him) had called in sick and that I would be teaching his classes all day--unsupervised. BTW: This is now forbidden--as it should have been back in the winter of 1966 when I faced four different sections of English III having only learned minutes before that I was going to be their teacher for the day. RFD (Recipe for Disaster).
Actually, it wasn't that bad. I did have a bit of a hassle in homeroom (I had no idea what I was supposed to do), but some kids helped me figure it out (after one behemoth had tried to confuse me--not hard to do), and the clock hands--all day--seemed to be moving not through air but through peanut butter. Every time I looked at the clock, it looked back and seemed to say: I go really slowly, don't I, when you want me to go fast!? A lesson I'd already learned in the dentist's chair.
By the end of the day I was exhausted. I was a smoker in those days, and during my free period--and lunch--I smoked about four packs. And all teachers know: Time flies during free periods and lunch--but not the rest of the day.
In the car, riding home with Mike Furrillo, I shared my day with him, and he was kind of quiet, though he did indicate that he didn't think giving me those classes like that was a very good idea. (I agreed.) And, later, even my parents (I was living at home that term), who never said much about the other adults in my life, were ... concerned ... about what had happened.
Next day: A very healthy-looking CT arrived with a wide smile on his face. "I always do that with my student teachers," he crowed. "Sink or swim." I thought of many bad words that I dared not utter.
CT had a good time while I was there, I guess. He saw each of my four classes a single time. He wrote me short little notes with advice like Don't always call on the kids who have their hands in the air. That sort of thing. But that was it. Four classroom visits the entire term. My Hiram College supervisor was there for a period, as well, and wrote things like Don't always call on the kids who have their hands in the air.
That term was the hardest I'd ever worked in my life. The preparations for classes, the paper-grading, creating quizzes and tests, the anxiety (oh, the anxiety!) that never seemed to diminish.
I wasn't too imaginative. The kids had literature anthologies, and we basically plowed through them, reading poems and stories, most of which I'd read at Hiram College, which had an excellent English department. And I found myself doing and saying things that my favorite teachers had done. My high school algebra teacher, for example, when she made a mistake on the board, would always lie and say that she was just seeing if anyone would catch her. I never thought that was a good idea. So I developed a better one: A different kind of lie.
Example: We were reading "anyone lives in a pretty how town" by E. E. Cummings, and I had no clue what that poem was about in the winter of 1966. Here it is, smarties:
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
So I zipped through it, said a few sage (?) things, and moved on--or, rather, tried to move on. A smart kid named Ed (naturally, my father's name) said, "I think there's a whole lot more to it than that."
"Oh, yes," I lied, lied, lied, "but we need to move on ..." Actually, we didn't need to move on; I did.
After school I would find CT in the teachers' lounge, relaxing after a full day of coffee and cigarettes and laughter (and naps?). "How'd it go?" he'd ask. "Great," I'd lie. "Great," he'd say. "You're doing a great job."
NEXT TIME: Some things I did during student teaching--then: how I dealt with the student teachers I had later in my career.