Thornton Cline, author of “Not My Time to Go” on Indigo Sea Press.
A Rambling Man (Part One) from Chapter Eight
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in.
Psalm 107:4 NJK
Call me a rambling man or a wilderness man, but I felt lost for a long time. I was growing restless from spending almost 20 years in school, non-stop. I was working on my Ph. D. in music education at Eastman School of Music. I felt like a professional student. I had no life. I asked myself if studying was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was so ready for an adventure, outside the confines of the school.
The year was 1979, and I was traveling the country doing job interviews for a teaching position at a high school or college. In the end, I was offered two teaching positions—one in Long Island, New York and one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I took the Cedar Rapids position directing orchestra at a high school. The cost of living and the opportunities outweighed the Long Island position. In July, I packed what little I had and headed west to Cedar Rapids in my sporty, silver Capri. In August, I started my first day as orchestra director. I was excited about my new position. I had great passion for teaching and knew that I would love being the orchestra director.
In addition to conducting the high school students, I taught a Suzuki violin class at the elementary schools. One of the greatest insecurities that I possessed at the time was my perception of how others saw me. I was age-conscious. I had been told repeatedly, that I looked as young as many of the high school students. That was a huge problem for me to overcome. Some suggested that I grow a mustache and dress more maturely to give myself an older look.
Even though I knew they meant well, I nevertheless carried that “age-chip” on my shoulder. Everyone knew it, even those who didn’t know me. That particular insecurity was difficult for me to hide.
My first week of teaching was fair. I had my work cut out for me. I was inexperienced as a first-year teacher, and the students took advantage of my inexperience and youthful appearance. The high school and middle school students looked at me as though I was one of them.
The days turned into weeks as I struggled to maintain authority and discipline at the high school and middle school. I was not experienced in disciplinary problems and did not know how to handle unruly behavior. The students didn’t seem to respect me like I had hoped they would. By the end of the semester, I felt like a dismal failure as a teacher. I was self-conscious about my lack of authority, my inexperience in teaching, and my youthful appearance that it started to affect my teaching in a seriously destructive way.
The principal, Mr. Detrich, called me to prepare for my mid-semester evaluation in January. Mr. Detrich told me he would be observing my strategies, class plans, and teaching style. The thought of such an evaluation made me even more nervous than I had been before. Whenever I imagined that January observation in front of disrespectful and unruly students, it made me feel sick all over my body.
When that first Monday in January rolled around, I had to drag myself out of bed just to begin teaching again. The teaching climate began to go downhill for me on that first week of the new semester. The middle and high school students refused to cooperate with me. Behavior was completely out of control. I had a student-led revolt on my hands, orchestrated to humiliate me, and designed to embarrass and discourage me, so I would quit teaching and leave the school system.
Mr. Detrich observed my teaching style and strategies (or lack of them) as promised. He called me into his office afterward for a meeting. Mr. Detrich said he was very disappointed in me as an orchestra teacher. He was greatly concerned about the unruliness and chaos taking place in my classroom.
Mr. Detrich told me that there was nothing that could be done to turn around the grave situation this late in the game. He offered me a proposal that I continue to serve out my year contract by attending all classes. But the orchestra classes would be considered study halls with the assistant principal sitting in on all of those classes, keeping order with the students until the end of the year. I was ordered not to do any teaching, but rather to sit in the study hall quietly with the assistant principal. This would turn out to be one of the most humiliating experiences I would experience in my life. Principal Dietrich’s proposed agreement with me was approved by the local school board. I patiently waited out my time, drawing a paycheck until school ended in May. I felt totally disgraced and humiliated. Could I ever teach again?
(Read part two from “Not My Time To Go” in June)