From college kid to manhood
Well, here I was, a college graduate with a degree in Psychology, almost. Turns out I did not finish a Physics 137 class – Astronomy. Remember that I did very well in lecture classes and not so well in courses that required lots of reading for their exams. The Physics exams were always multiple choice, which have always baffled me – each answer looks like it COULD be correct. But I was hired and the district overlooked my one-class-short-of-a-degree status and hired me anyhow. I’d retake the course the following summer.
It was 1964 and there was an acute shortage of teachers, especially males, and especially males in the elementary schools. The superintendent told me that although I was teaching in a middle school as a male teaching elementary grades I would always be a desired commodity.
I traded my year-old '63 Rambler American which now had 35,000 miles, for a new 1964 Buick Electra Convertible. Payments: $107.34 per month, more athan a third of my take-home pay. By Christmas I'd sold the Buick and bought a new Rambler American Convertible. Payments: $60 per month.
There I was again, a stranger in a strange land. A teacher who had never even student taught and who had just two summer school teacher education classes under his belt and was almost a college graduate.
The sixth grade classes at Oxford Area Middle School were self-contained and homogeneously grouped, meaning the entire grade was divided up by academic ability. I was assigned to teach the fifth (next to the bottom) of six groups. With absolutely no teacher training and no student teaching, I don't remember having any curriculum guides, I was given teacher's edition textbooks and my responsibility was to teach sixth grade English, Math, History, Geography, Music, Art, and whatever else was on the schedule. The core courses I could do by staying one day ahead of the students but art? I had no sense of art. Music? I couldn’t even play the radio on key!
To make matters even more interesting, a few miles up the road was a small predominantly Black college called Lincoln University. It was 1964 and the Peace Corps was going strong. A group of Peace Corps volunteers was being trained at Lincoln University to be teachers and to be shipped out to the newly minted African country of Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar had merged to form the new country). Part of their training included student teaching. Since our small rural school district was so near, every teacher in the district including myself received a student teacher. Now picture this; I had neither student-teacher training nor teaching experience and knew precious little about teaching, yet within a few weeks of my initial school teaching assignment I was to become a Master Teacher to a student teacher. Her name was Phyllis Disney, she was from Denver, the niece of Walt Disney, and had already taken student teaching twice in Denver. She actually had more teaching experience than I did yet I was the Master Teacher! Somehow we muddled through.
By Mid October the student teachers had completed their work with us and were on their way to Africa and I was left alone in the classroom for the rest of the year. The segment from October to Christmas vacation was exhausting and a real challenge. I would often stop on the way home and pick up a hoagie (since it had all the food elements - meat, veggies, bread, etc.), take it home, eat it, and at 4:30 p.m. go to bed and sleep through until the next morning. It was that exhausting. I don't think I damaged the kids too much. Since I was not trained as a "standardized test" teacher, I did a lot of individual instruction, tutored after school, visited homes of students, and really got involved in the community. One little girl, Chloe, was black and the daughter of itinerant mushroom pickers. Oxford, PA was a big mushroom producing area. I had never seen abject poverty before going into her home.
I was reared the only son with three sisters my only chores at home was to take out the garbage. In college I did my own laundry but had all wash-and-wear clothes so I did no ironing. I either lived in the dorm or a basement apartment where Mrs. Shaw, the landlady did all the cleaning, laundry, and most of the cooking. Thus at 21 I was not only ill prepared for the teaching profession but also for bachelorhood and living on my own. I ate out regularly or brought take-out food home and on weekends usually drove the 300 miles to my parents home where my mother did my laundry, cooked, and sent me back with prepared meals.
One day I decided that I'd stretch my abilities and bought a package of "Heat-Em-And-Eat-Em" cinnamon rolls for the following morning's breakfast. I rarely ate breakfast but this was going to be the new me. I woke up early, put the package in the oven, turned up the oven to 300 or whatever it said on the directions. I then showered, dressed, and went to school, totally forgetting about the rolls in the oven. When I returned home that night the apartment stank of burned stuff and there were six cinders in the oven - still baking at 300 degrees. I did not make a very good bachelor. But neither did I burn the apartment down.