Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

... and 50 years ago, about now ...

I know--hard to read--see below.

I realized last night that it was almost exactly fifty years ago--the spring of 1967, the end of my very first year of teaching (Aurora Middle School; Aurora, Ohio)--that I mounted the first middle school play production of my career (there would be more than 30 more).

The only program I have--see above--is a mess. Reproduced on an old ditto machine, the pages have faded; the undersides have leaked through. (More about this later.)

That play happened entirely because of a school bus problem. (Pause for a moment while I lead up to this more properly.)

It was already a difficult year for me, right from the beginning. My parents had just moved from Hiram to Des Moines, Iowa, where both would be teaching at Drake University. My older brother and younger brother were both in Cambridge, Mass.--Dave (younger) beginning his college years at Harvard; Richard (older) in grad school there. So ... my family ... all gone, far, far away.

I was living in a spare and pretty bare apartment in Twinsburg, five miles from Aurora. I knew no one in Twinsburg. My pitiful take-home salary--on the 1st and 15th of each month--was $168.42. I had no money to do anything except pay bills and eat (a little). (Rent $75; car $60).

And what was I doing in a damn middle school!?!? When I'd recently done my student teaching at nearby West Geauga High School (11th grade English), my critic teacher advised me, as my tenure there was ending: "Whatever you do, don't get stuck in a junior high school!"

And now there I was.

I had applied for only two jobs--Garrettsville (where my mom had taught for ten years) and Aurora (just eleven miles west of Hiram). Aurora offered me a job--7th grade "Core" (English and American history). I took it. (Good thing: G'ville didn't come through.)

So now ... there I was ... "stuck in a junior high school'--well, a middle school, one of the first in Ohio, by the way. I was terrified: My own worst school years were junior high; I was certifiable; I was sure my students would be, as well (some were).

Another confusion: Aurora was building its new high school, but it wasn't finished when the school year began (1966-67), so for about six weeks we were on "split sessions": The high school was there in the morning; we were there in the afternoon. It was nice, I guess: I could sleep in (and did). But odd, as well.

When the new high school was ready in October, the high school moved out of "our" building, taking with them most everything that was worth a damn (A-V equipment, etc.).

And there we were. It was only the second year for the Aurora Middle School--and only the first when we would occupy our own space. I was in Room 116, and I'm sure the chaos I caused those early years is still echoing around in the old AMS hallways. (We would get our own new building, Harmon School, in 1974.)

Anyway, back to the bus problem ..

It seems there was a scheduling issue with the buses, and so we needed to keep the kids about 1/2 hour longer each day than we had planned for.

What to do?

Our principal, Ray Clough (pronounced CLUFF), gathered the faculty together one day after school that first week, told us the problem, and announced his solution: a half-hour "activity period" each day. Teachers would sponsor clubs and what-not; kids would sign up.

As I've thought about that meeting off and on for the past half-century, I remain amazed at the reaction of the faculty. Most of us were young--very young in some cases (like mine)--but even the veteran teachers (in their 30s and 40s) reacted with amazing ... exuberance. We would do it! (No talk of extra pay, no grousing about extra responsibilities.)

The clubs and activities would not meet all five days--kids could have several things going on. So, right there, were born the school newspaper, leathercraft, student council, science club--and Jim Wright, who taught 8th grade math, had a rifle club! (They shot at targets with .22's in a crawlspace under the floor alongside the gym ... can you imagine!) And a fencing club! (Why weren't pubescent eyeballs all over the floor in the fencing area?!!?)

Among my offerings was Drama Club--and we decided we would write an original show and produce it in the spring.

I suggested this because I'd done something very similar just the year before, my senior year at Hiram College. The Sigma-Theta Follies--an annual tradition. A few of us Thetas and our sister-Sigmas wrote a musical during the year, produced it in the spring. My year we wrote/ performed The Alamo, a story about a group of heroes (all mixed up--James Bond and Davy Crockett among them) who founded a retirement community for themselves--in the Alamo. But ... biased ... they don't want, you know Mexicans ... war ensues. Clever, eh? Culturally appropriate and sensitive? PC to the max?

And so we gathered there, some seventh and eighth graders, in my room a couple of days a week after school, and began writing The Founding of Aurora ...

to be continued

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