Tag Archives: high school

Memories of high school English with Mrs. Gerhardt (1964-65)

One day my sophomore English class convened to find, on each desk, a blank piece of paper. Our teacher wore a serious expression. “Today is lottery day”, she announced. We silently shuffled our mental files, arriving quickly at Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery that we had read earlier in the year. We looked at Mrs. Gerhardt inquiringly. She told us to turn over our papers – she had one, too. A young woman had the black spot. Another pause. Mrs. Gerhardt crumpled her paper and threw it at the chosen victim. We followed suit, littering the classroom.

There was a collective sigh… Release of tension? Discussion followed. The “victim” was asked how she felt. “I knew you wouldn’t really hurt me.” My high school did not protect us from controversial and potentially upsetting literature. Wikipedia tells me that The Lottery (published in 1948) was so unpopular and notorious that it was banned in some jurisdictions, and Jackson received hate mail. Some would define the theme as “it can’t happen here”.

How many teachers can teachers can plan a class that you remember FIFTY YEARS later? Mrs. Gerhardt was a wonderful, stimulating teacher. She took us seriously as readers and writers.

Sophomore year was reserved for American literature, with the usual deviations. Every year, we read one play from Shakespeare (sophomore year, maybe it was MacBeth), worked our way through a grammar text identified only by the name of the author (Warriner), and gobbled up vocabulary from a book calledWorld Wealth. We got SO good at grammar and vocabulary! That left at least 70% of our classroom time for other pursuits.

What did we do? We read! Sometimes we read plays. I was cast as the mother in Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Two boys with theatrical inclinations performed Edward Albee’s Zoo Story. And once each semester, we had a “Folk Day”. We prepared and shared whatever we wanted, so long as it had some relationship to American folk culture. This was in the day of the “hootenanny”, of folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary, of Bob Dylan. Folk Day was wildly popular. A friend and I sang an old English folk song, a love ballad, accompanying ourselves with guitar and recorder.

Searching for something that didn’t require a partner, I stumbled on the book Over Their Dead Bodies – Yankee Epitaphs and History by T Mann and J Green. Great! It qualified for Folk Day. But I had a problem. One of the epitaphs struck me so funny that I couldn’t read it aloud without cracking up. I de-sensitized myself by repeating it over and over, until I could recite it with a straight face. This planted it permanently in my brain:

Under the sod and under the trees

Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.

He is not there, there’s only the pod.

Pease shelled out and went to God.

Really?! Was the author kidding us? Has anyone else got such a silly bit of drivel stuck in his/her brain from decades ago? Please share under comments. Using Amazon, I confirmed that this book was published in 1962. Used copies are available! Genealogy fans take notice.

I already wrote about the journals Mrs. Gerhardt required of us. See my blog entry of July 8, 2016. Fifty years of my journal writing has been consigned to a reliable archive.

Another activity from sophomore English was the Book of the Month competition. I think it actually happened four times a year. This wasn’t just an oral book report. You had to “sell” your book as the “best” book, make everyone want to read it. The class voted, and two books (there were two sections of Honors English) would be posted as winners. Once I went all out. I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, and plugged it as exciting and patriotic. And I won! But the other class, in a fit of mischief, all agreed to vote for someone who did a terrible job on a perfectly awful sounding book. Mrs. Gerhardt, offended, posted my name and winning title/author in lonely splendor on the classroom bulletin board.

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Gerhardt! You enriched our lives and kept us busily occupied through a year of adolescence.

If YOU had a wonderful teacher in high school, please share!

Letter to my High School French teacher

Dear Dr. Schacht,

Barbara K (with whom I have maintained a lifelong friendship) has encouraged me to write to you about our time at Hall High and your role in our education. I am happy to do so!

Marian G remembers our culinary adventures (did you eat periwinkles?). I remember our singing! You rendered La Marseillaise with great conviction. I can still sing at least one drinking song. I remember the realization that French is pronounced a little bit differently when sung.

Studying French always seemed somewhat peripheral to me in high school. I knew from early on that I was headed for training in the sciences. The value of language training became evident to me gradually, as I traveled and struggled to understand the world around me.

I regret that I never had the opportunity to become fluent in spoken French. Did you know I dropped out of our French class in senior year because of a health problem? Infected tonsils! But we had already covered lots of ground, and I value what I learned.

My next language was German, required for Chemistry majors at Michigan State University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. Despite studying German for only just over a year, I became more proficient than I was with French, because I spent a long summer holiday in Germany in 1971. I traveled with IAESTE, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience, a United Nations program. IAESTE arranged jobs for students. I worked at the Institut fur Kernforschung in Berlin, in the company of a dozen or so other foreign students. German was our first common language, English second, then French, then handwaving… It was a wonderful summer, and came at a time when my American campus (located not so far from Kent State in Ohio) was riven with political stress.

I also count Dutch in my linguistic toolbox. I learned it word-for-word from German. I also spent an IAESTE summer in the Netherlands, at the Technical University of Eindhoven.

Berlin and Eindhoven will always be special to me.

I’ve spent most of my career at a small public college in southern New Jersey, now (grandiosely?) titled Stockton University. I taught Environmental Chemistry and Pollution Management. Applied chemistry and engineering are my strengths. Recently, I’ve worked in Facilities Management, specializing in “green” design and energy management.

Stockton University lists “global awareness” as a pillar of its education, but does not require students to study a language. Harrumph!

I have two sons, now ages 26 and 32. My older son got excellent training in Spanish during high school, completing an Advanced Placement class. His college of choice was St. John’s in Maryland, the “Great Books” college, where everyone studies two years each of Greek and French. After college, he traveled to Argentina.

I regret to say that my younger son learned only rudimentary French and Spanish. But he aspires to travel.

I have not yet read your books of which Barbara gave me copies. I plan to do so. Almost everything I read is “reviewed” in my blog (AMG Reading Journal at http://www.amgreader.wordpress.com) which I invite you to visit.

I want to thank you for being part of the good educational experience I had at Hall High. I wish you good health.

Sincerely, Alice G

Hall High School, class of 1967