This was the year of living dangerously-- back to school. In this case, studying at Villanova University (I loved the Main Line, the school, and the English department ). At age thirty-nine I was returning to school for an M.T.E degree (TE= teaching of English). Think of it as heavy on English courses and light on education courses. The goal was simple: earn a degree in one year and return to Graland.
I lived in Devon and often walked to school down Lancaster Avenue; sometimes, I took the Paoli Local and almost always missed my stop, for I was feverishly underlining an article for a paper or reading for a class. Classes began at 5:00 p.m., so there was ample time that year to explore my favorite places in Philadelphia and all the villages and towns on the Main Line. I was a tourist.
Oh, I guess I should mention my first teaching position was in Philadelphia. I taught English at Girard College (at that time, grades 1-12 boarding school for fatherless males); I lived in a dormitory there. As I grew weary of the sameness of my days, I had enrolled at Villanova University in 1972 and earned an M.A in English. It was a stretch given my workload at Girard.
Back to the sabbatical. The sabbatical created a monster named Phil who lauded every minute of the academic day. I read, researched, and wrote something every day. I even sketched out a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye -- pure garbage would be my two-word assessment of the outline. I wanted to write an epistolary novel using the characters from the book; I even visited
Valley Forge Academy, a school Salinger had attended. I threw my notes away one day when I realized the idea of my GAN was a pipe dream.
The monster Phil loved his classes. I was the walking-talking example of osmosis. I read and reread many of the assigned materials, especially eighteenth and nineteenth-century British novels and twentieth-century American literature. When one of my professors told me I needed to reread Tom Jones, I agreed. When that same professor glowed with praise for my paper on Tristram Shandy, I celebrated the next day at B.Altman-- a new sweater and lunch at the store’s Charleston Gardens. A month or so later, I suffered in silence when that same professor told me my paper on was a rambling mess-- it was. I surprised her at term’s end with a forty page annotated bibliography on the articles I had read as I lingered in the library’s stacks. It was a masterpiece-- isn’t hyperbole wonderful?
Another highlight of my year was teaching a class on verbals for my Methods of Teaching Grammar class. The professor and the class delighted me with their questions and earnest participation. I even threatened to have them sing Russ Bissell’s favorite ditty on gerunds.
That class and another methods class (literature and composition) were too easy, but they were the most important classes I took that year. The restored my faith in my ability to teach. Also, I could not imagine Charles Dickens and other Victorians would be too relevant for my English classes at Graland. Tobias Smollett did come in handy when I signed out books in the library at Graland using such curious names as Tobias Smollett, Roderick Random, and Peregrine Pickle. Mrs. Dodge shamed me for these. Later, I used Cyrus H. Ferntwaddle, a pseudonym I had used in the library at Girard College.
I could litter my final thoughts of this year with an encomium jammed packed with adjectives suggesting joy, but I shall not. A simple thank you must suffice. Thanks to Mike Teitelman and Tim Johnson for suggesting I apply for the sabbatical.