What really got me interested in literature and why it could never happen today!
During my senior year in high school, my English class was the seventh and final period of the day. At lunch I saw that my teacher was on duty that day. After I introduced myself to him, he told me that he had spoken with a former English teacher about me and “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing I can teach you-“at that moment I was going to deny any knowledge of pranks and other shenanigans and assure him of my future exemplary behavior.
Then he continued, “so I am going to send you to the library where you can read what you want, and I will ask you to come to class when I need you.” I was thunderstruck, to say the least. When I reflect over forty years later, with nearly twenty of those years as a high school teacher (often of English), I realize that I could never do that for a student, and if I did, I would be called on the carpet for it.
In my high school then we had few electives, and the ones we had were primarily in music. While we did have Advanced classes, students were assigned to them in the seventh grade. The assignment was influenced by family income and the neighborhood where one lived. We were relatively new to the district. My elder brother had been in Advanced where we previously lived, so he had no problems maintain that status. In ninth grade some teachers successfully placed me in Advanced Social Studies, and I was looking at a career in law or something like that.
But as I sat in library (officially the Instructional Materials Center) devouring novels by Faulkner, Hesse, Mann, Hardy, Huxley, to name a few writers, in addition to poetry, I realized that I love language and literature. By then I was already editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, and contributed to the literary magazine. As I reflect on my life, it was this experience in the library that shaped my future careers. I was actually in the English classroom only a third of the time or so.
Since I also had one study hall a day, I often went to the library. Once, as was reading a novel, one of the librarians came over to me and said coolly, “Arthur, we have noticed that you are here a lot. What are you doing?” I calmly looked up at her and replied, “Reading” “Well, we’ll see about that, she replied. Reading in the library! Who would have suspected that?
Over the years I moved away from the area, and even when I was briefly back for a few years, never thanked Mr. Herrman for the life-changing opportunity he gave me that I can never give to any of my students.