I stayed the night, last Wednesday,
at Charlie and Jane Mescher's in Celina, Ohio. In the morning, I rose when they did, and followed their morning ritual, which gets Jane off to her job on time, at the hospital in St. Mary's, and gets Charlie off to his day of teaching at Marion Local High School in Maria Stein, Ohio. I went with him. We drove through a heck of a rain storm.
I met with Charlie's Advanced Placement English students during the second period. I read them a short-lined poem from my "Letters Home" Civil War series, "I find/the more/a man/has here" and we discussed it. I read them "The Blessings" from my "Married to Prairie" series, and we discussed it. Somewhere, as I got to talking about how we measure our lines, I mentioned Ginsberg's line, and Whitman's line, and my own sweeping line in my "Chicago, Be Gone" poem; so, quick, Charlie printed off a copy of of the poem and I read portions of that as well, and we discussed it. I had also talked about persona and voice and mask, and I finished up by reading a few poems from The Big Book of Ben Zen. These students were attentive and interested and interesting and polite and funny and respectful. The class period ended much too quickly. Seemed like we'd just started and the bell rang to end the proceedings.
In the fourth period, I met with Charlie's College English II class, which has a little more emphasis on writing as part of the course work. These are the students who read and discussed my farm memoir, Curlew: Home. I was there to talk about writing the book, to answer their questions about it, to encourage them to write about the world there at their fingertips. I told them right off that if they didn't have any questions for me, I would have some for them. Charlie had already told me that Curlew: Home seemed to give some of these students permission to write about the everyday stuff of their lives: Maria Stein lies in Ohio farm country, and if these students didn't live on the farm, they had parents and grandparents who did.
Again, the College English II students were everything you'd want a bunch of students to be, and besides that, some of them were TALL. I mean TALL. At the end of class we all gathered in front of the blackboard for a photo, all the students and the not-so-famous author; and I was standing next to a girl who was taller than I am! That doesn't happen very often. Yeah, she's a basketball player. There were two or three girls from the basketball team in the class. The bell to end this session came much too soon, too.
Charlie and I took our lunch during the next period, the fifth hour. A long line of students graciously let us cut in line ahead of them - thanks, guys! We got our pizza pockets and our salad and went back to the faculty lounge to eat. It's an interesting bunch who eat together, including Lynn Yates whom I'd met at supper the night before. The chemistry/physics teacher was there: he has a good sense of humor, and good thing, too, because he puts up with some ribbing. He also officiates basketball games and had told his colleagues that, during a game he officiated last week, one of the coaches said to him: "I hate you."
"You didn't tell us he called a time-out to tell you he hated you," someone said. Everyone laughed.
Charlie had to get back to teaching for the sixth hour, and another group of teachers came to have their lunch together at the same table. I stayed and listened to them talk. I'll repeat the essence of what I said yesterday: if these teachers are any indication, public education is in a lot better shape than the proponents of "No Child Left Behind" would like to suggest. Yeah, teachers joke about trading in their problem students, but you know what: they care a hell of a lot about all their students. What a terrific school Marion Local High School seems to be.
Charlie had a full day of teaching, so after lunch hour was over I went back to grading my own students papers. Yep, I'd brought school work with me, and I worked at it while Charlie was in class. When Charlie was done for the day, we were going to tramp about Mercer County, Ohio, for a bit, to see a few of the sights.