Year four brought a modicum of instability, for I so missed Mrs. Gorham. Mr. Teitelman assured me she would visit-- not to mention she lived at 385 Ash St. I could race to her house easily during lunch or a free period. As Jimmy Durante -- and later, Bing Crosby-- often sang, You got to accentuate( ac-cent--tchu-ate) the positive, eliminate the negative; latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mister In-between.” Grasping onto the positive would require much work. I was very nervous about my life without Mrs. Gorham.
However, I almost succeeded.
Before the school year began, I gathered my notes on many conversations between Bev Noia and me about teaching seventh grade English, including her thoughts on needed changes in teaching methodology; I moved my classroom to Mrs. Gorham’s old room in the Gates Science bldg; I decorated the room with grammar signs; I prepared for my eighth grade English class.
Soon, it was time to think about my new seventh graders. I would be teaching three sections of seventh grade; Mrs. Noia would be teaching the other section. The department with the administrative approval had abolished the rigidity of sectioning kids into four sections -- honors, one, two, and three. Now, there would be two high sections and two regular sections. We were striving to eliminate the stigma of elitism. Meeting the students’ needs became the handy-dandy way of explaining what we were doing.
In a previous posting, I wrote about the department adding Greek mythology, Bible stories, and King Arthur to the curriculum. I was very excited about teaching Bible stories -- in reality, only stories related to the Old Testament. When Mrs. Noia came to Graland, she introduced the works of Bernard Evslin. His The Greek Gods and Heroes and Monsters of Greek Myths entertained students for many years; in fact, in later years, The Trojan War and Ulysses assumed sacrosanct status. In addition, I used his Signs and Wonders in my eighth-grade class.
I remember my eighth-grade class more clearly than the seventh grade English classes. My eighth-grade section was a small one -- a bit on the rowdy side thanks to some young men whom I shall protect-- not sure about the statute of limitations’ laws. Not sure about the apostrophe as well. Besides, it is more fun rehashing the past at Alumni Reunions. My favorite memory concerns an oral presentation on West Side Story. The presenter had not read the book and asked his two best friends to highlight what he needed to know. To be kind: they lied to him. It was quite hilarious; I felt bad for the young man who had not read the book.
In some ways, my three seventh grade classes were hindered by the paucity of girls in each section - thirteen?? There is nothing like an antsy Middle School boy to tax the teacher. Alas, patience was never my strength. Years later, some kind souls from the class told me they had enjoyed the class.I was surprised.
Of course, happiness was teaching some mythology and grammar. I do recall teaching Shane, one of my favorite books. This was a perfect book for students who did not like to read, for Jack Schaeffer spun a compelling yarn-- not to mention it was a hero story. Shane was not a Greek superhero, but in the eyes of Joey Starrett, that man was a hero. Also, I laugh as I think about a mini-debate on one quote: What a man knows isn’t important. It’s what he is that counts.” One boy wondered whether that meant he did not have to learn verb tenses in French and memorize the helping verbs in English. All bellowed. Also, “That’s the best stump I ever ate” was worthy of discussion that year and years following.
It was a good, yet exhausting, year. Oh, Mike Teitelman, as always, was right. Mrs. Gorham often visited. Madame Guiberteau and Madame Harper always told me when Mrs. Gorham would be in the language lab. She continued telling me stories about Graland history.