Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Harmon Middle School--Continues to Rule!
This is a piece I started some months back and never finished ... today I finished it.
Last week we heard that Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio) was ranked the 9th best middle school in the country.
I was not at all surprised--though I was thrilled, of course. I taught at that middle school in Aurora from 1966-1978, 1982-1997, and I always believed it was one of the best schools in the country--elementary, middle, high, university. (I'm not kidding.) So it's wonderful to see it receiving such wonderful notices in recent months (last fall it was also named a National Blue Ribbon School--here's a link to that ranking). Such awards are fairly new--a feature of the public's new wish to have rankings for schools, rankings, unfortunately, that sometimes rely heavily on standardized test results. Aurora generally scores well on such things, a combination of involved parents, good kids, excellent teachers and administrators, a safe environment, and an upper-middle-class community that values such things.
Followers of this site know that I'm not a fan of standardized tests (they ruin the curriculum in my view--or at least can trivialize it), but if they're going to be a factor in Harmon's winning awards, then I'm going to smile and feel happy for Harmon. Whatever it takes. Go, Jaguars!
Middle school teaching isn't the easiest thing to do. Many people recognize that. When I would tell people I was meeting for the first time that I taught in a middle school, they would sometimes shake their heads--in sorrow? sympathy? maybe even admiration? Some would even say things like, How do you do that? Those kids are crazy, aren't they?
Perhaps. Fortunately, I began my career in a place with some wonderful teachers. Eileen Kutinsky, Willetta Thomas, Jim Wright--I freely stole from them and others as I flailed in the whirlpool of my early years.
The kids were great, too. The first group of seventh graders I taught in the fall of 1966 are turning sixty this year (as I've written before), and some of them are now Facebook friends with children and grandchildren of their own.
They gave me the benefit of the doubt, those first classes. They sensed, I think, that I liked them, that I was doing the best I could (which initially wasn't all that impressive, I'll confess), that I was trying to make our time together useful--even enjoyable. I threw myself into school activities--newspaper, drama, sports, student council, creative writing--and got to know many of them well. And some strange combination of their early-adolescent insanity and my determination to be one of the teachers they respected (mixed with some heavy doses of daily terror--Can I do this? Am I going to survive this week?) resulted in a fairly long middle school career for me.
I once published an article in the Middle School Journal--May 1980 (see image below)--called "You Gotta Be Crazy to Teach"; it was piece that celebrated some of my crazier (i.e, most effective) colleagues--Andy Kmetz, Eileen Kutinsky, Bob Luckay, Tim DeFrange, Jerry Brodsky, Ted Clawson, and others.
I ended the piece with this: All other things being equal, however, when I interview teachers or teacher candidates, I now look at the eyes for that curious off-centered glow. I listen for the bizarre. Like certain primitive peoples, I have come to value the "crazies" among us; I know that they have some kind of special way with kids that is denied to most of their colleagues. And I know our schools need them desperately (24).
Harmon School always had a solid number of such folks; I'm guessing that they still do.