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.