In the early 70’s we went to Virginia while Jack was in the Navy. I taught at Willis School: 40 kids, first year of integration, my second year of teaching, the first being in West Hartford where I was told I was God’s gift to education. This go-round I’d often escape the chaos to cry outside my classroom while Mr. Brown, my next door classroom neighbor put my class back into order, threatening all sorts of repercussions should they sass their teacher one more time. At the end of the year Ringling Brothers came to Hampton, and our principal told the teachers that we could walk our kids to the circus parade which would begin at 10:00. You guessed it: by the time I managed to get my class to the scene all we saw was the flip of the last elephant’s tail as it entered the tent. (Did I mention that it was on its way to 100 degrees?) To add insult to injury, when I got the kids back to the classroom I thought, “I’ll make lemonade from that packet I bought at the commissary.” The water was from the tap in the classroom. The packet had no sugar. A fitting note for a sour day.
(What did emerge from this year was that I recognized that “magical thinking” is rampant in education: I thought I was a good teacher because my West Hartford kids learned during their year with me. But when I did the same things during the Navy Year of the Circus Parade that Wasn’t and No One Learned, I realized that just because kids learn and teachers teach it doesn’t mean that the kids are learning the lessons the teacher is teaching. In West Hartford, the kids either already knew what was in the curriculum or parents filled in the blanks when they brought their homework home. In Hampton, without that out-of-school support piled on the turmoil of a first-year-of-integration setting, nothing happened.
It was the best lesson any person who wants to learn the craft of teaching could learn.
The elephants have had a bad lot of it:
(Many years ago, when our four kids were small, early one morning I brought them to the town baseball field where word had it we could see elephants pulling up the tent poles for the “Ring” Brothers circus scheduled for the weekend. Sure enough: there were three or four elephants involved in our local tent raising. I remember there being little sound to it all. The humans and elephants just tugged and tugged. I was naive about circus elephants at the time and so I don’t remember registering horror at the scene. There were no bull hooks in evidence.)