Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

But, of course, I didn't really retire ...

April 2008
one of my WRA Eng III classes with writer Brock Clarke

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about my final year at Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio), the finest school that ever was (and still is, from all I've heard). I'd retired in January 1997 certain that I would never teach again.

I was wrong.

As I often am.

At the time (1997) I was already fully submerged in Lake Mary Shelley and was learning everything I could about her, about her family and friends, about Frankenstein and her other books (about which I'd known nothing). I had a literary agent. I was gonna write another YA biography, this one of Mary Shelley. I was gonna ...

But by the spring of 2001 I found myself in a strange, unexpected situation: I missed teaching. What! I could not return to public school, though: I'd let my Ohio certification lapse, and in order to restore it, so declared the State of Ohio, I would have to takes some new courses--several of them. I was indignant when I learned that (especially when I discovered several grammar and usage errors in the official letter telling me I was no longer qualified to teach English in Ohio public schools).

But with the aid of some friends I got back on the faculty of Western Reserve Academy (where I'd taught from 1979-81). Private schools do not have to adhere to Ohio's standards for teacher qualification, so I was golden there (if not in Ohio's eyes). And I enjoyed yet another batch of years--a decade. I retired for the second (and final) time in June 2011.

Teaching at WRA was another variety of wonderful--very different from a public middle school (where I'd labored and loved). I taught eleventh graders--youngsters who were in the final throes of college dreams and applications, of disappointments and thrilling successes.And as I gradually made the transition from 8th graders to 11th graders, I found myself, again, wandering in a forest full of wonders.

Eleventh grade was American literature (plus Hamlet, that great American classic--as I always liked to joke), and American lit was my primary background and love. So each year I took the kids through American literary history (after we'd disposed of the Melancholy Dane--"Good night, sweet prince ..."), from the Pilgrims and Puritans (and the poems of Anne Bradstreet) to a contemporary writer, someone whom I would often find a way (with WRA's splendid help) to bring to school to meet with the kids, who'd read that writer's newest book.

Oh, did I have fun--except with some of the very formulaic writing that the school began to insist more and more that we do. I hated it. There's is a universe of discourse out there--so many ways to write what you're thinking and feeling--but we had to focus on one tiny (and largely passé) way: the five-paragraph essay. But never mind ... I want to be nostalgic right now, not bitter!

The WRA kids were great to me. We laughed often. They tolerated my signs of imminent ... disarray (like my telling at the end of a period an anecdote I'd already told at the beginning--this happened!). I had more fun than I'd had since ... well, since I'd been at Harmon Middle School.

But, as I indicated yesterday, health issues arose, became more insistent I pay attention to them, and so I knew it was time. I wanted to leave while I was still more or less myself--and not some shadow thereof. And so I did.

During the school year, I still see WRA students down at Open Door Coffee, where I hang out, and they are friendly--I've gotten to know a few who come there regularly (occasionally, I get a request for some help with an essay or a literary passage; I'm invariably grateful). I've been invited back up to speak on campus most every year since I left, and that's wonderful, too--a way to introduce myself to a new batch of kids, some of whom I'll later see at Open Door.

I also get other surprises down there now and then--students from Harmon Days who drop in to surprise me. It's just impossible for me to believe that those first seventh graders I taught back in 1966 are now in their sixties and are, like me, grandparents ...  I was 21 when I met some of them; they were 12.

And as this new school year's starting, I'm reminded that my own career began fifty years ago at the Aurora Middle School (as it was then called--before Harmon was built). I think I'll be writing about that next week ...

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