Thursday, April 6, 2017

Part 2: High School Twice

Frustration, fear, and fury marked my seven years of teaching at Holland Hall.

My experience was not atypical for working women back then.

Questions asked of me during that early summer interview would be illegal now but were standard practice then for hiring women. Did I have a boyfriend? Did I plan to marry and have a family? Did I belong to a church? Did I have a long-term commitment to Tulsa? Society assumed marriage and full-time homemaking were the ultimate female ambitions.

A large part of my appealing candidacy, I was told, was the fact that I was single.

I got the job but didn’t meet my teaching partners until August.

The first one said he’d agreed to my hiring, despite my master’s degree. He delivered a pronouncement about the unsuitability of overly educated people for teaching. (He was the only member of the English department without an advanced degree.) He warned me against deviating from his curriculum. All lectures, classroom discussions, tests, and assignments would be determined by him. To keep my students aligned with his, I’d need to meet with him before each class and take notes about how he presented every lesson.

His closing words: “Don’t get any of your own ideas.”

My other counterpart was visibly discouraged to learn I’d be teaching material I hadn’t read since my own high school years. She’d devoted her personal and professional life to studying and traveling abroad, visiting the haunts of these illustrious authors, only to be handed someone who just fell off the turnip truck.

Explaining she had little time for me, she delivered a clear message:  I was on my own.

Welcome, Karen.

My other responsibility was competitive speech and debate. Because I’d participated in tournaments in high school, I had some background and drove our participants to Saturday events where I served as a judge. Fortunately, a staffing change the end of that year allowed me to escape into the drama program, an area where I was better suited.

Several months into my first year, I crossed the Commons after school, apparently looking pale and hopeless. Carlos Tuttle, wise and wonderfully independent Upper School Head during my first years there, ushered me into his office and asked how things were going.

Tearfully, I admitted I couldn’t do the job.

He laughed. “Of course you can’t. We knew it was impossible. Now let’s talk about how to help you.” That’s one of the rare moments when anyone understood my perplexing assignment or offered constructive assistance. Carlos patiently accepted my many mistakes and generously congratulated my successes.

Much of that initial juggling year remains a blur to this day.

However, I vowed to succeed.

The students were incredible. Quick, funny, sweet, smart. They captured me, heart and soul. 

A classic overachiever, I’d never failed in school yet. I could see how to improve my work.

I’d soon learn that didn’t matter.

Eventually labeled as a problem, my second high school experience was about to be viewed as anything but brilliant.

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  1. Keep writing, keep remembering, keep constant in your quest to bring light to the darkness in which folks have left you.

  2. I am amazed you kept gong for 7 years. I am equally amazed how little we realized you went through. Self-absorbed teenagers. You came through that fire fire and pressure and I love dearly the diamond you are.

    1. Self-absorption is the point of being a teenager. And honestly, what could you have done? I imagine the students thought the faculty sat around in the lounge having kumbaya moments. Hardly. Nevertheless, I appreciate the diamond image. A new way to think about the value of my experience. See? That's the incredible benefit I continue to receive from you to this day.

    2. "Kumbaya, my lord. Kumbaya." Yeah, I can imagine those words tripping off of Ted Sloane's tongue through his teeth-clinched cigarette holder and circling smoke.

    3. He was a unique character. But really, so was I.

  3. Not surprised to hear that Mr. Tuttle offered you warmth & strong encouragement. Just a couple of years ago, I saw him at an Alum event & he recognized me by name immediately. He mentioned that he had served on the vestry at Trinity Episcopal Church in the mid-1970s when my grandmother was being browbeaten during her struggle to become Oklahoma's 1st woman priest. He told me about standing up for her. Yes, he is a fine man. (And she won the fight!) - Anne Morrow Cooper HH '72

    1. This doesn't surprise me about Carlos. A man with mighty convictions, he stood up for many of us. "Browbeaten" is an adjective that resonates with me. Honestly, I wish I'd experienced HH during your era.