Monday, April 07, 2008

Mister Whatsisname

I thought about my 7th grade History / English teacher today. Beats me why. I recall his appearance but not anything I learned in his classes. He taught both subjects to 7th graders & they were all he taught. I was stuck with him two periods every day. He was an awful teacher. The classroom had blackboards (I think they were green) covering two walls of the room. Many days, for one subject or the other, more often history, he would the fill the boards with notes written in a cramped if readable cursive, probably from a daily plan he'd been recycling for years. The teaching consisted of him reading what he had written while we copied it into our notebooks. Of course, all his classes that day got the same crap. Having arrived in middle school from the one-teacher, one-classroom routine of K-6, this was a horrendous introduction to the remaining years of public school edjikation.

In 8th grade, I had a pair of memorable teachers for those two subjects. Mr. Gelfond, the History teacher, was a fine storyteller - a necessary talent, although when exasperated he felt forced to halt discussion & make the class read the previous night's assigned text again. The English teacher, Miss Heathwood (yes, old with jiggly fat on her upper arms) was very strict, demanded that boys button the top button on our shirts & called us "Bowery bums." She made us memorize a bad poem, "Opportunity" by Edward Rowland Still. I liked rhyming poetry & I didn't stutter when I recited it to Miss Heathwood - we all recited it to her, individually & quietly, standing in front of her desk. The lesson was about memorizing, not poetry. For years afterward, I misremembered the poem as being by Tennyson, because we also read Tennyson in Miss Heathwood's class, selections from Idylls of the King. I loved Tennyson. I can't imagine any kid encountering AlfredTennyson in school nowadays. Maybe that's a good thing. Not such a good thing if kids aren't meeting Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman. Poetry is a leisurely area of literature prior to college, & only a portion of teachers even like poetry enough to enjoy teaching it. I had exactly three, in 4th, 8th, & 12th grades. Maybe poets get left behind so no child is at test time.

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Who was your 4th and 12th grade teachers? I had Mrs Belby for 4th and Mr Holtaway for 12th. My first name is Charlene
My favorite elementary school teacher was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Daly at St. Agnes School in Clark. Although I was a regular in her after-school detention, she did a fantastic job educating us on New Jersey history. I've been a big fan of the Garden State ever since.

On Sunday, I visited my old school for the first time in 24 years. It looked much brighter and cleaner nowadays than my time spent there in the 1970s and 80s.
Miss Edith Olson in 4th Grade. I have high regard now for Miss Olson. Norman Holtaway was one of the best lit teachers I had at any level including college & I regret not working harder for him. I handed him a piece of junk as my Senior paper, which he graded well probably on originality, chutzpah, & neat typing.
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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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