I stood at the door of my first teaching job in Indianapolis wondering if it would be my life’s work. I loved literature, I loved writing, but deep down inside, I was scared to death because I knew teaching was about kids and that was a huge responsibility.
What would this year hold as I faced those fresh-faced juniors to teach them American literature and how to write. Little did I know I would fall in love with teaching and spend the next 43 years doing this very thing. The summer before I left for my new job, my grandmother gave me a key ring that said ‘God is love’ on it. She told me to BE THE LIGHT and that has been my motto ever since.
Teaching students to love two hundred years of literature, helping them to develop writing skills and advising them as they build their student newspaper were all part of my day. I did not know it then, but did find out a few months later that a teacher’s life is a life of very little sleep. We worry, fret, cajole, and anguish over “our kids” just like parents do. That was a real eye opener.
I must say, the world of journalism education has really changed since then. I remember teaching my students how to use a hot wax roller to create an adhesive back on their galley sheets, so they could be mounted on a pica board and taken to the printer. We typed the galleys on an electric typewriter that actually counted the spaces we needed to reset the type in the correct width to present a justified column. We also learned how to mount tool lines with the tiniest of tapes and cross cut the corners on a 45º angle so they looked perfect. I also learned how to develop black and white film and print photos that year. All of this knowledge would come in handy seven years later in another job. I am so glad that little old yearbook adviser took me under her wing and said, you need to learn to do this so you can teach kids to do it, because it is their publication.
Today, it is just not the same doing photos in PhotoShop. Same principles, yes, but the process is not the same. Dektol and developer, I do miss you and the artistic way you enticed us all as photos emerged from the paper. Doing the newspaper was the biggest part of my life as I stayed after school for many hours helping the kids write their best stories and design their best page layouts and print their best photos. It was so intense and I wondered if all of my teaching career it would be this way or if it would get easier.
Another thing I learned that year had to do with tornados. I had never seen one, but had heard that they were dangerous. Our first school drill was a storm drill and not a fire drill. There were many days in that school year and the next school year, that we ducked for cover in hallways where there were no windows and the steel beams of the building would cover us as winds blew over the school. I was never so happy to be in a basement in my life.
In the spring of that year, I went back to my alma mater to visit my roommate and her husband. On the way to their house, I decided to stop by the college to go to the bookstore, my favorite place. When I came out I could see a storm brewing, so I hopped in my beautiful red 1969 Cougar and took off for their house, just 12 miles away from the campus. As I left the last turn before leaving the small college town, I saw this mammoth funnel cloud coming toward me from the left. At that point I thought may days were over and floored the gas pedal. I remember seeing 100 mph on the speedometer and realized that something had hit the room of my car, which made me push the pedal even harder. As I outraced the tornado and pulled into my college roommate’s driveway, I knew there was a reason I was still here and that was to teach. Getting out of the car, I noticed that the thud I had heard on the roof of my car as I raced to their house had come from a piece of the flying barn roof I had seen in the funnel cloud. So much for that beautiful vinyl roof.
As I went to the front door, my roommate’s husband opened the door and said “Are you okay?” Of course, I could not talk and ended up passing out from the trauma of the experience.
Yes, it was very dark in that funnel cloud that came at me that day, but I could see the light ahead of me and I kept my eye on the light to get free. After some great tea and a warm bed, I knew that my grandmother’s advice was right: teachers need to BE THE LIGHT ahead of the child, so the child can see the path to the future.