Another change in my life: I was adding ninth grade to my schedule. I had not taught ninth grade since my first traumatic years at the school. However, the 3:00 a.m. voices beseeched me to cast my assorted insecurities aside. Besides, if there was a year to leap to another grade, this was it.
They called themselves the gang of nine: Sarah, Stephanie, Joanna, Chandra, Damon, Steven, Jeremiah, Zach, and Hayden. Even though I never sleep in the bedroom where I am now living, there is a framed photo of the gang posing on and near the Sundial in Cranmer Park. It sits on the top of a chest accompanied by miscellaneous, probably sentimental, treasures.
In ninth grade English, the original plan to focus on King Arthur had taken a bit of a back seat-- Arthur was in the room. Call his knights, his queen, and him a visible presence. The days of reading Mary Stewart had succumbed to death by small print. We may have sampled some excerpts from John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. I did ask the kids to read Tortilla Flat as a prime example of literary allusion; my idea of screening Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr in the film fell apart, as did my formal lecture on the allusions. Not the first or last “big bungle” in my career.
Arthur’s replacement was a term paper on relevant topics pertaining to the Middle Ages-- from Stonehenge to chivalry, not to mention witchcraft and the roles of women. I recall spending a small fortune on books for the class and asking Karen Oldham to buy more books. Thanks to Katie Dodge, the collection was excellent, but the project and the books resulted in yet another Hickey obsession. I marched around bellowing, “You need more books for this topic.” It was a marvelous “exercise” in reading, research, note-taking, writing, and editing. I had never devoted so much time in my career to an assignment.
Somehow, I did sneak Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew into the curriculum. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made an appearance via film at the Frankels one Saturday afternoon. The boys in the class rebelled in a quiet way against my showing all of Kiss Me, Kate, a musical version based on the play. I thought I could pull it off; I erred. Imagine resisting Ann Miller singing “Too Darn Hot.”
One time, w even threw away copies of a grammar book when I noticed an outrageous error in the book-- something about gerunds ending in -ing (fine and dandy) and d-or -ed (not so fine, definitely, not dandy). I retrieved the books from the garbage can during a free period.
As always in these memory pieces, the above is just a snapshot -- albeit, often hazy -- about a year in teaching. I do not mean to ignore my two eighth grade classes that year. Suffice to say, the theme of rites of passage was alive and well in U-51. A deep regret was not teaching more grammar skills.