In the spring of 2011, I decided to step away from the traditional classroom and teaching. I felt that the rountine of class presentations and the repetition of 3-4 classes was just too much for me. I have never been a teacher who sticks to written notes and I found myself losing it in regard to covering the necessary material in all classes as they followed one another. To me it was like giving the same homily over and over! Honestly, I have a hard time repeating a homily twice!
In teaching Social Justice and Peace, I will always remember the section of the textbook dealing with the elderly of society and how we treat them. As I grow older, I try to be honest about aging and what I can do and to be honest about what I really should be letting go. So I want to admit that there were actually days when I could not remember the names of some of my students sitting right in front of me. It was embarrassing, to say the least. When I have failure of memory now and it is happening more and more often, I try to say that I am having a senior moment. Most people are kind enough to help me say the word I am groping for or to remember a name.
However, since I have left the classroom, some alums are disappointed. Some want me to teach their own sons, so that father-son can have the same experience. Actually there are a few monks still in the teaching ranks that are having this very experience right now. Abbot Michael would be one of those teachers.
So eventhough I have been getting some "flack" about not being in the classroom any more, there have been some suggestions about doing something on line. In many ways, I have never left the classroom-- the classroom has just taken on a different meaning. One alum, who has kept in contact all these years, would be Dan Mulhall of 1980.Of course, since Dan is in the same business that I dabble in, gardening and landscaping, etc., we have had a natural connection. But Dan is the alum who keeps encouraging me to think outside the box in regard to teaching and to try something electronically. Dan has been an avid reader ever since I have known him. I do believe there is a point when many students surpass their teachers. He would be one of them. Over the years he has suggested many books to me and he continues to re-read books of his days here at Mount Michael. It has been a pleasure to exchange opinions and thoughts about an author or a particular theme or thought expressed by an author. Just this past summer, when it was so hot and dry, Dan sent me an e-mail message to enquire about how I was holding up in regard to gardening under such extreme weather conditions. In the same message he mentioned that he had just re-read Michener's CENTENNIAL. I will always have very fond memories of teaching that long, long novel. I think to this day, there are some alums who play a type of trivia game in regard to characters and material treated in that novel. Who could ever forget: Pasquiel, my brooder--McKeag, Blue Leaf, Potato Brumbaugh, Rufus and on and on!
I must admit that there were some very memorable and wonderful moments in those literature classes over all those years. I am going to mention some names and I know that as soon as I do this I will miss some alums and some great discussions, however by doing this perhaps I can stir up some enthusiasm to go back to these pieces of literature and get alums and maybe even present students to do more reading. But before I start recalling classroom moments, I also want to admit that everything I did in the classroom was not always the best thing. When under strain and pressure I did not always response in the best way. I trust that I can be forgiven for those times. The old meaning of classroom is a closed chapter now and I want to move on to another one.
Here are just a few names an incidents that come to mind.
Brian Phipps -- INHERIT THE WIND -- Brian inspired me to teach that play -- I think Brian played Clarence Darrow in one of the drama presentations -- I always thought that it was rather tight casting for Brian was a perfect Clarence Darrow during the monkey trial, riddling William Jennings Bryan in regard the Bible.
Theodore Dreiser's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY -- I can't believe that I pulled students through that long novel, but it seemed like I struck the nail on the head with some alums -- Tim Zach, Mike O"Neill, Pat Regan.
The play ON GOLDEN POND -- to liven up class, I decided it would not be such a bad thing to do some acting in class. Of course, that meant that some students had to be female characters-- Mickey Gotsch was an awesome Ethel Thayer! This was Mick's junior year -- you bailed after that year for Elkhorn Public!
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST -- lots of alums come to mind with this novel. But one who sticks out in my mind would be Mike Cizek. Mike, you aruged with me for a long time whether or not Cheswick took his own life-- remember that? What do you think now? And having just written this, my mind also runs back to Ryan Moody of the class of 1992-- maybe I am confusing who doubted Cheswick's demise-- just one more indication of loss of memory.
Fydor Dostovevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. That is another novel that I am shocked about pulling students through. But it was such a great success that I refused to repeat the experience. John Lumir Drahota -- you were in one of those classes of Elective Literature. Remember?
Eugene O'Neill -- LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT-- I am pretty sure that this play is the reason why Tim Dalton did so well on the AP English Lit Exam. I was very impressed with your free response essay on this play, Tim. It was awesome.
These are just a few that come to mind right now. Perhaps we can get much more going by reading and discussing in the future.
I will just finish this blog with a few memories about style in the classroom.
Journal writing and creative writing did wonders for lots of students -- this was mostly in the 80's. Admittedly, that some entries in your journals were alittle off color and weak, but there were some great ones as well. I wished I had those to go back to right now.
Of recent years in theology class (Social Justice and Peace and Christian Lifestyles) there were several methods that I used that seemed to work really well.
I will just list three and let you students take over from there.
2)Building community and unity in the class -- each student sitting on the throne and listening to each of your classmates tell you about 3 qualities of character that he sees in you!
3)Field Trip to Schuyler, Nebraska.
So to be concrete-- if you want to get involved with this, your homework is to read Morris West's novel, THE CLOWNS OF GOD. I just re-read it again this past week. It was as exciting as the first time I read it. And it is so appropriate for this time of the year. I would guess that it will make your Advent and Christmas season so much better if you do read it.
Blessings and I hope to be hearing from you.
Fr. John/Padre Juan