Wednesday, May 6, 2015
A Teacher Appreciates
It's Teacher Appreciation Week, and I know that we're supposed to thank teachers who've meant a lot to us for one reason or another.
And so I thank them.
But I want to do something a little different today--to express some appreciation from a teacher (okay, a retired one) to that wonderful middle school where I taught from 1966-1978, 1982-1997.
I've been waxing nostalgic about Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio) in some recent posts. For any number of reasons--the main one being this: As I see the test-mania that's overtaken America's public schools, I am more and more grateful that I got to teach during a period when tests were in their proper place--not in the driver's seat (and under the hood) but in the glove compartment with the other maps.
Although there were many, I want to use just one example here to show you how it used to be ... back in Camelot.
At the end of the 1984-1985 school year, I went to my building principal, Jerry Brodsky, and told him I'd like to try teaching Shakespeare to my eighth graders the following year. He asked a few questions; I answered them; he essentially said, "Go for it."
And so I did.
In 1985-1986 my classes and I read The Taming of the Shrew together--then watched that wacky 1967 Zeffirelli film with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Petruchio and Katherine.
I didn't know a lot about Shakespeare then--but I wanted to. And I knew that teaching it would inspire me to learn more and more and more.
And so it did.
By the time I retired from Harmon (January 1997), I'd read all the plays, seen many of them, taken groups of kids to productions. I'd learned a lot about Elizabethan culture and history. I'd broadened our classroom activities to include more and more and more. Music, art, food, games, clothing, religion, schooling, language (kids used thee and thou in class). My last few years I switched to Much Ado About Nothing--mostly because of the wonderful Kenneth Branagh film (1993).
Oh, and up at Aurora High School in 1990, I directed The Merry Wives of Windsor, the first Shakespeare play to appear in full on that stage.
I had a ball.
I think most of the kids did, too.
But then came the Proficiency Tests--and Shakespeare, of course, was not on them.
I'd been in the habit of spending an entire marking period (nine weeks) having the kids read and write about Shakespeare--and about the issues he raises in his plays. They memorized passages from the play. Memorized a sonnet to recite to the class ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"). Wrote stories.
But it wasn't going to be on The Tests. Not any of it.
And, seeing (as they say) the handwriting on the wall, I retired before I had to surrender too much of what I believed in.
So now I want to thank Harmon School--during this Teacher Appreciation Week--for providing an atmosphere where I could expand not only my students' horizons but my own as well. I was learning along with them--getting excited--looking forward to every class.
Oh, and many other teachers around the building were having the same sorts of happy experiences--being trusted, creating something new and exciting, getting kids interested ... It was a wonder of a school. I can't imagine a better place to teach. Or a better time to do so.