Wa-a-a-a-y back in the day , early to mid-sixties, I was blessed by having a Southern gentleman, Superintendent D. F. Osborne , hire me to teach senior English at Winder-Barrow High School. He took a huge chance on an unknown, inexperienced ” wanna-be ” , and I continue to be forever grateful !
Because of him I had the honor and the distinct privilege of teaching some of the smartest and nicest students I’ve ever come in contact with. I loved….. LOVE…….. them to the moon and back !!!! They, and they alone, kindled my life-long passion.
But my charge was to prepare them for whatever their future held, and , in particular, to ready them for college, jobs, or challenges the next year might bring. No standards, no curriculum, , no state mandates————just an expectation that I would do just that : get them ready !
We have long since lost the autonomy of the classroom teacher.
And so I leapt ! Thinking on my own college experience and having been a strong student of the English language, I reached deeply into what had helped me and what I lacked. In particular, I tried to keep in mind that many of these students were possibly weak in English, instead having interests in math or science or agriculture , etc. Hence, my direction.
No grammar books ! Dictionaries required for each student every day ! Sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, spelling, pronunciation , and more , all came from classic literature , from the masters.
And then assigned : one-page, one-paragraph themes 2 or 3 times a week, 50 new (?) words to spell , define, and use in a sentence weekly.
I initiated a process of taking a broad subject such as AUTOMOBILES and having my students break it down into its smallest part : THE WINDSHIELD WIPER ON THE PASSENGER SIDE as an example. A descriptive theme was assigned, to be completed in one-page, one paragraph format.
Add in book reports, term papers , and English lit——and you have it !
I gave 2 grades on every theme : content and mechanics. A misspelled word , the use of second person, a run-on sentence, etc. bought a C in mechanics. Any two earned the much-dreaded F. If the mechanics were poor, but the content was good, the average was often not too bad.
Because they had resources to use : personal dictionary and readily available literature , grammar and work books on the communal book shelf, it didn’t take long for most of them to write the perfect theme. Interestingly enough, many parents, including three school board members , appreciated the ” comeuppance ” of their children, prior to the shock of college English.
Would not change a thing .
And then I met another challenge, some 25 years later , my first year at Franklin County High School: a class of 28 senior boys who had to pass my English class or they would not graduate.
I had been away from education for many years but got a call from new principal, Jack Slaton, who had an emergency. I took the job and learned a totally different lesson for sure !!!!!!!!
My first lesson was the need to build their confidence, and what a hard task that was. These guys had no desire to be there, would probably never care if their subjects and verbs agreed, and resented the powers-that-be who put them in this position. And I was supposed to make it work.
Some of these young men were gifted with strong hands-on abilities, but writing a complete sentence sent them over the edge. Some were more than capable but had no interest. Some were just plain lazy. And there were those who just needed a little tough love.
I don’t recollect all the efforts I ( and they ) made. But I do remember a couple of things that seemed to work.
Being human, even if ornery, they appreciated praise . So anytime work was graded, I put the names of the 90+ scorers on the blackboard and left them there until the next grading took place. Just like any of us , they reveled in the positive attention.
I found that the competition grew ( all that testosterone) and all grades improved and continued improving. Success breeds success.
And then I learned that they liked being read to . And so on the days that work was completed, and attitudes were positive, I would take a few minutes at the end of class and read aloud. One of their favorite books , and mine, too, was SOUNDER, the story of a coon dog. Most of these guys hunted, so they loved the book.
And they ducked their heads to hide the tears……………
Oh, how much I learned from all the kids——— the bright and the dull, the energetic and the lazy, the sweet and the cranky, the ambitious and the satisfied.
They all matter, and this diversity is what makes life real and relevant .
It was a wonderful beginning for what became my passion : loving teenagers with all their quirks and issues, and trying to reach out as I could and how I could. Many times I failed, but it was never because my heart was not trying.
And to the educators who believe that they are doing the teaching ———- you have missed the point !!!!