The nightmare of my elementary school years, other than recess, was the show and tell moment. Some children dominate with elan a room; they work a room as if they were veteran raconteurs. Despite my struggles with loquaciousness as a teacher, I was a shy boy who was inordinately silent; I was the last to be chosen for any activity and would have been cast off the island -- ?? out of the house??-- on that television show whose name I do not recall.
One particular show and tell moment is firmly etched in my mind. Welcome to third grade and slumbering through twenty children droning on the topic, “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.” I knew I wanted to be a librarian or a movie critic. My father voiced qualms about my choice of topic. I was eight or nine years old with a limited understanding of “a lot” of stuff and did not comprehend why my father was worried. I decided I would give my speech on why I wanted to be a movie critic. No one fell asleep or threw spitballs, but my speech did not win me any friends. I even shared my hobby of cutting out movie reviews from the newspapers. That night I told my father I should have given my speech about wanting to be a librarian, even though many of my classmates hated the librarian, Sister Mary Agnes.
Back to Graland.
One day, I found myself in Tim Johnson’s office. Tim was offering me a job in the Graland library; the school would pay my tuition to study for a degree in Library Science. I agreed. I began that summer at Villanova University. I loved the class on children’s literature and started reading about archiving. I was primped and primed to wow the library world. My head was awash in ideas.
I was wrong-- I was a less than perfect librarian, a librarian who could not work with conversation in the background, a librarian who wanted to spread the sacred word of books (and irritated many of the Graland faculty-- I photocopied articles and book reviews; two of my seventh-grade colleagues told me I was wasting paper), a librarian who asked all the wrong questions and didn’t ask the right questions-- even though both Karen Oldham and Inara Humeyumptewa were stellar colleagues who exuded the essence of professionalism and competence. They were superb role models.
I primarily worked with the third and fourth graders (the classes of 1995 and 1994); Tom Hughes, Nanette Newman, Melinda Young, Parthenia Williams, Ron Ritchhart, and Mimi Bodel were fans of the library and did their best to offer guidance. The third-grade teachers did their best to offer suggestions about picture books that could be read during library class; the kids loved learning more about the library and the Dewey Decimal System. The curriculum Karen provided was a boon to this novice; also, she knew what children would like at that age. Karen was a gem.
That year the fourth-grade teachers proposed a change in the fourth-grade curriculum, a change I openly embraced. It was a risk, almost an interruption of the library’s magical scope and sequence program. The team wanted more of a support teacher who would not only help the kids in the library but also be available to help the kids with their writing on their country reports. I loved it. Since Greek mythology was a favorite of mine, working on and reading mythology was fun. I can see the fourth graders sitting by the fireplace with their mythology puppets.
My favorite activity was organizing/ adding new cards into the card catalog. I worked on them often, usually on Saturdays. I double-checked everything, for I was swimming in unknown waters. Sometimes, I argued with the cataloging cards prepared by professional librarians. For example, I wanted Bernard Evslin’s Greeks Bearing Gifts to be shelved with mythology -- hence, a change in the call number. The book was a retelling of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. A retelling was not literature. Inara and Karen talked me down from the ledge -- the world continued in its orbit.
While on the subject of my world continuing in its orbit: I did teach one section of English seven. I often referred to the class as playtime, for it was a time of day to put away my insecurities and just teach. It was also the beginning of my friendship and admiration for the class of 1991.
Despite the length of this memory piece, I must share a memory of this class-- it’s funny. Hayden Hirschfeld asked whether he could tape one of our classes for his brother Barry. I hesitated but agreed. It was always difficult saying no to Hayden, especially since I had met Matt Oldham and him when they were in kindergarten; they highlighted my day by calling me Mr. Grouch, a nickname I had earned from the class of 1981 (Chris, Matt’s brother, was in the class). Hayden told me Barry thought I was nervous and as a result, was dull. I did not deny.
My other favorite activity other than the times Karen asked me to read to first graders was recess duty with the ninth graders. The class of 1989 was a wonderful group who exuded a fondness for the school and their classes. They were so darn friendly. Their thirtieth reunion is this May. Subtle hint, class of 1989.