I've written several previous posts about the beginning of my teaching career--exactly 50 years ago this fall. I think I'll wrap it up with this one. The image above is from the yearbook of the Aurora Middle School my first year--1966-67--only the 2nd year Aurora even had a middle school.
I mentioned last time that for about six weeks the middle school and high school were on split sessions in the fall of 1966; then, in October, the high school moved to its new building up on W. Pioneer Trail, and the Aurora Middle School (102 E. Garfield Rd.!) now had its first exclusive home: the old high school building.
I mentioned, as well, that our curriculum that year was sort of "iffy"; follow the textbook was the basic advice I got from the principal, Mr. Clough, and so I did, for a while. I also mentioned that the high school, when they departed in October, took with them much of the A-V equipment and other things of varying degrees of pedagogical value (!). But they did leave behind an old set of 9th grade literature books--Prose and Poetry for Appreciation (pub. by L. W. Singer, 1955)--a classroom set--in my room (#116)--and I used them often, especially with my Reading classes, which, as I said, I had no idea how to teach.
I've written in earlier posts--somewhat extensively--about this book, so I'll say here only that the students and I loved the old radio-play The Hitch-Hiker, a play that we occasionally, over the years, performed for the school over the PA system around Halloween.
Before I move on here, let me end with just some thoughts and memories--in no particular order of importance--things I don't want to forget--or to forget to mention.
- I was blessed that year to have some outstanding older colleagues, who quickly welcomed me to the school (and to the profession) and who inspired me in so many different ways. Jim Wright (8th grade math), Eileen Kutinsky (6th grade science), Willetta Thomas (Reading), and Jerry Huth (phys ed).
- The school was also full of first-year and other early-career teachers, a great bunch with whom I had so much fun--and from whom I learned so much--especially Gary Miller (6th grade Core), Gale Peck (7th grade math), Marty Klipec (7th grade science), Judy Thornton (also 7th grade Core).
- Available A-V equipment: 1 opaque projector (for the entire school), several overhead projectors, some filmstrip projectors, a couple of 16mm film projectors, chalk, blackboards (ours were green), pull-down maps. Being really creative was using colored chalk.
- I also had terrific fun with so many of the kids, some of whom are now Facebook friends (and in their early sixties!). I didn't make mistakes every day back then; I made them, oh, every minute or so. From minor to major. Things I said, did, didn't do, should have done but didn't, etc. The kids were forgiving, for the most part (more so than I would have been at that age), and I--the more I learned about the middle-school age the more I grew to love them. I hope it showed.
- Early that fall of 1966, Mr. Clough told us we were going to have to add a half-hour to the day (a bus problem), and he had decided we would have what we'd call "Activity Period." This changed my life. I started a drama group (I'd been in plays in high school, had been involved in an original production in college), and we wrote a play (we claimed it was a comedy) that year--The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath (don't ask)--and I had so much fun (and it really did go over pretty well, performed on the gym floor--we had no stage) that I started doing plays pretty much every year--and by the end of my career I was doing three a year.
- I also got involved, in Activity Period, with the school newspaper, with student government, and other activities--and these helped me get to know the kids better, and I was learning quickly that the better I knew them, the better I became as a teacher.
- I also coached 7th grade boys' basketball that year--and had more fun. But I was soon swamped with work and realized I would have to begin surrendering things (like coaching) to focus on the things I most loved (like plays and teaching writing and literature). And so I did ...
I was so lucky that first year. A "new" school; a principal who encouraged me; older colleagues who showed me the way; younger ones who showed me that excellence in teaching is not one thing but many things. There are many effective styles of teaching, and this is a lesson that subsequent decades have only reinforced.
And I am most of all grateful to those young Harmon Jaguars, who, it's true, occasionally snarled and clawed (as did I), but who showed me over my long career that there is nothing in this world more capacious and more humbling than the human heart.