Back to school: Part Two

Posted 10.31.07

In my previous column, I mentioned The Latin School of Chicago, where I taught high school English for six years, and where I returned earlier this month to attend the fortieth reunion of my first (and favorite) class.

For several months in advance of the reunion, the primary organizer (my "naughty boy" who turned into a lawyer and a terrific guy) searched for his classmates and found almost all of them. E-mails flew back and forth, bringing everyone up to date.

Two evening parties saw classmates and faculty from France, Canada, and states as far away as Hawaii, California, Arizona, New York, and Rhode Island gather to reminisce and reconnect.

I was shocked to discover how many of these wealthy kids described their families as dysfunctional and often alcoholic, and how many felt, as one wrote, "like a fish in a tree" during their high school years.

Yet most of them survived and became contributing members of society. Their tales revealed both triumph and tragedy. What interested me most was to read about their memories of school. Many described delicious (but harmless) pranks, but nothing more serious than hiding someone's shoes, or snapping rubber bands across the room when the teacher's back was turned.

A few things struck me. Quite a few credited teachers not only with giving them the basics that allowed them to earn solid degrees and obtain good jobs, but also for extra help outside the classroom.

One woman wrote that what she learned most from her high school teachers was to believe she could do anything if she just tried.

Another revelation was how much the extra-curricular activities contributed to their lives. Many mentioned my summer school class in creative writing, others the school plays and concerts. I found it interesting that the arts were mentioned much more often than sports as a source of happy recollections.

One extremely ambitious undertaking involved the entire school. The music teacher suggested we attempt to produce the Benjamin Britten operetta, Noah's Flood. This involved eight older students who had demanding singing parts, and a chorus of 100 animals!

Noah, by the way, was played by Bob Balaban, who went on to star in many Hollywood movies, including the award-winning Gosford Park, which he also produced.

Parents sewed costumes, the art teacher designed masks, and the shop teacher helped erect an "ark."

Professional musicians were recruited for the small string orchestra, which the music teacher conducted from the organ, and I was delegated to conduct an amateur percussion ensemble consisting of all the grade seven and eight boys who couldn't sing.

I was also the stage director. What a challenge, and what a fabulous sense of accomplishment when everything worked as planned. Kids need this kind of huge project to help them learn cooperation and how different disciplines can work together. They never forgot Noah's Flood, and it was one of my happiest memories as well.

This reunion helped me realize how important teachers can be in the lives of their students.


Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. Her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.07