Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Under the Influence

This morning I got a Facebook comment/question from Bob (he was "Bobby" then), a student from years ago ... okay, decades ago. And here it is ...

I've always pondered ... who was your most influential colleague?

Well, that's a good question (as I replied to him) because I had all kinds of colleagues in my 45-year career. In my earliest days at the Aurora Middle School (1966-74, the year we moved to a new building, Harmon School) there were a number of veteran teachers (hah! they were about 30-40 years younger than I am now!) from whom I learned different things.
  • Jim Wright (math), Wiletta Thomas (reading), Eileen Kutinsky--all showed me that you can have fun while you're doing your job, an insight I was not really prepared for.
My younger colleagues were important too.
  • Judy Thornton (who shared the 7th graders with me for English and Amer history), Gale Peck (math), Marty Klipec (science)--all showed me different ways of coping with the difficulties of being a first-year teacher: all the new preparations, finding time for grading, etc., dealing with misbehavior, etc. And they were my first friends in the profession. So important.
Later, some other wonderful teachers joined our faculty (and I'm going to insult some by forgetting--but give a 72-yr-old some sympathy!).
  • Andy Kmetz (art), Ted Clawson (instrumental music), the Brookharts (ditto), history-teaching wizards Luckay and Balbach, English-teaching colleagues Fayth Shirkey, Jerry Hayes, Tim DeFrange, Penny Wolfe. Again, from each of them I learned different things. From Fayth, for example, I learned that there is no necessary correlation between being demanding and being liked. There were kids who adored her--despite her insistence on standards, on behavior, on working
And I was blessed, throughout my Aurora years, to have excellent building principals, men who supported me (when I deserved it) and made me feel that this was something I could do. Ray Clough (first year), Lino DeAnna (second year), Mike Lenzo (many years), Jerry Brodsky (final years)--I never had the experience of, you know, Battling with a Boss--or hating one of them. Hard to imagine: thirty years of working with men whom I respected--and who respected me. Not many people--anywhere--have that kind of good fortune.

When I retired from public-school teaching and worked at Western Reserve Academy about a dozen years, I had some other magnificent models to learn from.
  • Tom Davis (the English department chair who hired me and became a dear friend; he had a ball in class--loved reading brand-new books with the kids, both teaching and learning at the same time); James "Mac" McClelland (who also had so much fun with the kids in class), Eric Gustavson (a scholar in every way), Bob Pryce (French) was a great intellectual example for me. William Appling (vocal music--perhaps the most talented man I've ever known; our son, later, adored him), John Haile (valued colleague and deeply supportive administrator), Diccon and Donalee Ong (he had been a student--then a gifted colleague; she is one of the best play directors I've ever seen). Midge Karam (vocal music--and still on the faculty) is a wonder, too: She does so much for her students, in and out of class. She has often left me dazzled by what she's able to accomplish.
  • There were some younger ones, too, at WRA--three young men (Nick Lewis, Kevin O'Brien, Jason Gough)--all have moved on elsewhere). They were bright, dedicated, determined, effective. Jeannie Kidera (who's also moved on) was the creative writing teacher who had a devoted and grateful Band of Followers. And my final year at WRA (2010-11) there was an intern with us, Walter Klyce, who, all-around, is unbelievably talented (music, theater, literature--whatever the hell he wanted to do he could do). After a couple of years at WRA he left ... and got his M.D. at Brown Univ.
Oh, there are so many others, Bob--and I'm embarrassed (in advance) for (a) not remembering them, (b) not including them.

But--now that I've evaded your question about the most influential, well, that one's actually easy.

It's Joyce Dyer, whom I met and married in 1969. We met in a summer-school graduate English course at Kent State, and I'd never known anyone remotely like her--someone who was so similar to me in some ways, so delightfully different in others.

But, oh, what a teacher she has been (she retired a couple of years ago from Hiram College). We taught together for a couple of years at WRA and one at Lake Forest College. I've never known anyone who worked so hard for her students, who was so absolutely devoted to them and to her subject. She reads all the time, has written many articles and books, has taught me so much about writing and literature and, well, about just being a person. Watching her work and play with our son was an education in itself. The best mother I've ever seen.

And so, Bob, I was blessed: I've gotten to live in the same house with my greatest influence--for more than 47 years now.

Short question, long answer--that's what you get with an Old Guy!

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