Dawn Reader

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

I Always Walked to School, 3

More about the opening days of my teaching career--exactly fifty years ago ...

And I had a salary!

$5100 a year, and, as I discovered on my first payday (we were paid on the 1st and 15th of every month), that worked out to $168.42 for each paycheck. Bucks up!

And then I started paying bills. Buying food. Paying utilities. Etc. (Bucks down!)

My checkbook balance was usually, oh, about .08 by the end of a pay period--and the worst thing? Those months when the 15th (or 1st) came right after a weekend. Miserable.

I had no extra money for anything. Movies, plays, travels, etc.--forget it! I began to understand with a preternatural clarity the expression paycheck-to-paycheck. Fortunately, there were a couple of families in Aurora--the Bissells, the Frenches--who would invite me over now and then for a meal, and I would eat everything except the chair I was sitting on--though it surely looked tasty to me.

I had no real clue about the size of my classes. Whatever they gave me, I figured, was "normal." What they gave me that first year? Five classes, forty students in each. Two hundred students a day. Five days a week. I just shrugged and got on with it. This is normal, right?

The kids were grouped somewhat by ability--and the English curriculum was married to the American history curriculum into something called Core; I had each class for two periods. I'd never heard of Core; I didn't know how to merge the two subjects; no one else seemed to know, either. I had Core 2 and Core 4 (1 and 2 were the top half of the kids; 3 and 4, the lower) + a class called Reading, a class for the Core 3s and 4s. I knew nothing about teaching reading--I'd done my student teaching in (and preparation for) secondary school classes. At that level, we figured, you know, kids knew how to read ... hah!

So, I was soon doing what all the other Core teachers were doing, grades 5-8: teaching English one period, history the other. (Within a year or two, by the way, we were entirely departmentalized--Core faded into the mists of curricular history.)

Oh, and when I asked our principal (Mr. Clough--pronounced Kluff) what we were supposed to teach in English and history (American in 7th grade), he handed me a "curriculum guide," a document which, I quickly discovered, was no more than a list of the chapter titles in our textbooks. I don't remember the name of the history text (I taught it only one year), but the English book was Language for Daily Use, 7, a very traditional book: grammar, sentence diagramming, chapters on public speaking, composition, vocabulary, letter-writing, writing reports, and so on.
my actual copy, which,
obviously, I kept
The book was narcotizing. But I marched us through it, focusing on the grammar and usage chapters, day after deadly day. I don't know how the students stood it--or me. But soon I was making up stupid and/or outrageous sentences for them to analyze, and both of us began having more fun--sentences like The little boy shot an arrow at the TV. The crow ate only the man's left eyeball. That sort of thing.

In history? Well ... I just marched through that book, as well. Kids answered the questions at the end of each chapter. Etc. I showed dull filmstrips now and then. I'm bored just writing about it, fifty years later.

As the year went along, I loosened up more and more as I began to discover what the kids (and I) were capable of.  I even assigned some creative writing and got the first Arctic blast that freezes writing teachers in place for days on end while they try to grade the alpine piles of papers.

And Reading class? Well, we did have some readers (but no curriculum telling me what I ought to be teaching), so, basically, we read stories all year and talked about them. Our text was Doorways to Discovery, and, yes, I kept a copy (and have blogged about that book, too--Google it).
For the first six weeks of school that year (1966-67) we were on split session with Aurora High School, whose new building up on Pioneer Trail did not open until October. AHS was in the building from 8-12 (as I recall); we, from 12:30-4:30 (or so?). And when the high school finally moved out, they took with them pretty much everything of value--A-V equipment, books, supplies, etc. But they did leave behind one thing I found pretty useful ...

To be continued ...

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