My teaching career began in Philadelphia on January 7, 1969; my teaching career ends in Denver on June 8, 2018. “‘Tis enough,’twill serve,” as a renowned upstart once wrote. Not a run as long as Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, for that piece of theatrical history has been running for sixty-six years; I shamefully acknowledge I thought my first day at Graland was close to the Kelly debacle of Broadway lore-- one performance at the Broadhurst Theatre in NYC.
Thanks to the efforts of many too numerous to list, I survived the baptism by spitballs (my first job) and by (imaginary) brickbats here. I threw away my suits, not my button-down shirts or my beloved knit ties, and persisted. Stubborn always, I was determined to “force-feed” my somewhat recalcitrant charges what I thought they needed. I did not care that I was the target of laughter. I felt no shock when I discovered people thought I was crazy; God bless Mike Teitelman who told parents I was eccentric, and that was what he wanted. I just wanted to teach.
It took me more than two years to feel comfortable, but I survived and finally thought I could make it after all-- and didn’t need to throw my hat in the air on a busy street in Minneapolis. A source of phenomenal encouragement came from some members of the classes of 1980 and 1981 and Mrs. Gorham -- they even cheered when I climbed on a chair and asked them to do the same. I asked one day, “Doesn’t everyone recite pronouns this way?” The two sections indulged me and even invented a life for Doofo, a charming miscreant, who wandered through Words, Phrases, and Clauses.
Thanks to Bev Noia’s willingness to change the English curriculum, my English students began studying Greek mythology, my hobby horse, my answer to Tristram Shandy’s Uncle Toby’s obsession with “war toys.”Of course, we read other books--almost always novels--wrote, studied vocabulary, and all that jazz. Along the way, I regaled my willing subjects with childhood stories and ate my baby food. Wildy enough, they learned and loved grammar and mythology -- not all of them, of course.
By 1986, I added eighth grade English to my repertoire -- I had taught eighth grade during my gestational years, but now I actually knew what I was doing. Enter Salinger, Lee, Hemingway, Knowles, Steinbeck, and Bible stories. Gosh, I had a ball. Yes, I still stood on chairs, wrote on walls, and did remarkable things to/with desks, especially during an introduction to prepositions. I did miss my piano, but that’s a story too ponderous to relate in this letter. I even had the privilege of teaching a ninth-grade English class in 1990-91. King Arthur, the Middle Ages, and the shrew that must be tamed are but three memories. I miss that gang of nine.
Along the way to year forty-one, I taught Latin for twenty years and worked in the Development Office with an emphasis on alumni and archives. I even worked in the library for one year and caused a power outage in the Georgia Nelson Building. A celebration of “The Pancake Boy” never happened again. Besides, no one would ever want me to wield electric frying pans. In addition, I was a member of the SSST and taught Foundations of Literacy (later, Foundations of Learning); I shall end my career as the school’s archivist.
However, it’s time to leave my cave and explore. I am setting out for my Ithaca -- in this case New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. To pilfer and modify some words from a poem by Constantine Cavafy, I hope my road will be a long one, filled with adventure and discovery. If I encounter the Laestrygonians, Cyclops, and Poseidon, I shall remind them I knew them when all of us were young. Then, I shall throw Bulfinch’s Mythology at them. I may even sing the gerund song. That’s certainly scarier than the Sirens.
I know that Miss Nelson’s school is in good hands. She is smiling and probably planning Kite Day, one of her favorite activities.
Pax vobiscum. . . Valete!
Philip William Hickey H’81