Ninth grade English class

On the centennial birthday of Bel Kaufmann, author of Up the Down Staircase, I've beamed down into ninth grade, 1969-1970, Millard Lefler Jr. High, land of the dread One Way Hall.

This is not the semester Beverly Renee Blume (nee Austin) with the pink Coke-bottle thick glasses was my English teacher.  It must be the semester she was my journalism instructor instead.  Sniffing blue stencil correction fluid left my memories a bit warped.  In Miss Bev's English class we read The Odyssey, The Iliad, or maybe both on that wine dark sea.  Miss Austin took time off from teaching to get married to an army officer on his leave from Viet Nam and have a short honeymoon.  Her most memorable lesson is the importance of considering initials when naming our future infants, as a monogram was unfortunate no matter how curly the script: 

Instead, it is the semester I had a young spitfire English teacher named Deb Wightman first thing in the morning in the dreary dust mote-filled spare room between the Typing and Art classrooms, far from the drinking fountain, but close to the back stairs down toward the gym and the lunchroom. Miss Wightman (or maybe Miss Whiteman) had peculiar dry breakable straw blond hair in a flip, and one navy blue suit. She was part-time. She weighed about 105 pounds, wore pointy toe flats, and sat ON the desk at the front of the room!

A surprising number of secondary students get through school now without actually reading any books. Miss Wightman soon became Mrs. Ens, and was assigned to classes for reluctant readers, full-time. But that one semester Miss Wightman introduced us to Poe with "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Cask of Amontillado", and we took turns reading aloud. Then we studied The Pushcart War, The Mouse that Roared, Animal Farm, and 1984. To end the semester, we read Up the Down Staircase. She is my Bel Kaufmann nominee of excellence in English teaching in those early teen years.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


Kim said...

Love the monogram story. When my Sisi's adoption was about to become final I told her she could choose her own new middle name. She picked "hamburger." Her monogram (the poor kid has 2 last names) would have been SHAT. I said no, as much for that as for the actual name she picked out.

Kathleen said...

Love this!


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