A ride through the rain, a beer at The Night Owl, & a start…

Through the dark and the rain, we started our trip north at the intersection of I-70 and US Highway 51. Again, I’d never had any occasion to have ever been on any portion of this road, so I had no concept of its significance at that time. Suffice it to say, it’s another long and historic route between Louisiana and the far reaches of Ironwood, Michigan. It basically cuts right up through the middle of Illinois, with several well-known—and many not-so-well-known—towns along the way: Carbondale, Centralia, Patoka, Vandalia, Ramsey, Oconee, Pana, Macon, Decatur, Bloomington-Normal…OK, you get the idea.

But as we traveled through the rainstorm, over unfamiliar highway, Dad and I had some pretty good conversation. All these years later, I can’t really remember much of what we said, but I have very good feelings of that trip that was just Dad and me! I may have forgotten a lot of what we talked about as we worked our way northward on US-51 through the stormy night, but I haven’t forgotten Dad saying that it was time for a beer and a burger when we approached the Night Owl Tavern on the outskirts of Macon an hour or so into our trip.

The warm and welcoming roadhouse had stood there on the bend on US-51 for many, many years, and this would be my first of many stops whenever I would travel home from southern Illinois. That first time, however, was just Dad and me. It was so good to relax and savor the greasy burger and fries and the icy long neck beer—I think it was a Schlitz—and begin to believe that everything would work out for my fledgling career. With so many miles yet to travel, regrettably, we couldn’t stay there too long, and we paid our bill and got back on the highway for home. Regardless of the quick stop at the Night Owl in Macon, Illinois, it will forever be a reminder of a special time shared between my dad and me—no one else!

The remainder of our drive took us on up to Bloomington-Normal, where we joined up with Route 66 on which we’d travel for many miles, paralleling the under-construction Interstate 55. I honestly don’t remember much of any of this portion of the return trip home as I’d finally given into the world of sleep. After all, it had been a long day, and even more than the physical state of tiredness, I was mentally drained.

When Dad gently shook me awake in our driveway at some ungodly hour, I woke up and thanked him for driving all that way and getting us home through the dark and stormy night. I will always hold his love and special care in my heart for that exceedingly long day traveling with me. Plus, he had to go to work at the usual early hour in just a short time. My love for my dad will never be diminished, and that event in my life was a prime reason.

As things in life tend to occur, this day turned out to be well worth all of the hours and miles that my dad and I spent driving to “get me that first teaching job.” A few days after arriving back home, and caught up with my sleep, I received a call from the Mulberry Grove principal who said that the Board of Education and Superintendent had been impressed with me and what I would bring to their school and offered me a job. At that very moment, I knew that everything was good and that I couldn’t wait to share the exciting news with my dad when he got home from his job. 

There was so much ahead of me now, but I’d at least gotten my foot in the door. My teaching career had some direction toward the starting line now, having travelled those famous highways.

Moment of truth: The interview…

And so it began!

The one-story school building had that “summer-cleaned-ready-to-start” look and smell, which I quickly picked up on the moment I scurried inside out of the downpour.

It was nighttime now, and the interior of the place was dark, with the exception of the small office directly ahead of me, and the library a couple of doors down. It wasn’t hard to figure out that this would be where the board meeting would be held, and the sound of voices from there confirmed this for me.

I didn’t have time to stand around and assess the situation, as a short, slightly balding man approached me from the school office. He smiled and introduced himself and said that he was glad I’d made it all the way from “up North.” He told me to make myself comfortable in his office until they were ready for me, and he’d come get me when they were.

Like waiting in a doctor’s office, a million thoughts coursed through my mind as the minutes seemed to plod on like molasses. Finally, the principal came and got me, and we headed the short distance to the library where the superintendent and the entire board of education were seated around a couple of long tables in the center of the room. In front of them was a single chair, no doubt for me to sit in and perform to the best of my ability, if I wanted to secure a teaching position—my first—in their school. And as I managed to put on a “happy” face and look relaxed (I was anything but), I eased myself into the chair and took a couple of deep breaths, all the while noticing that each member seemed to be studying me very closely. A few friendly nods of heads were extended my way, but most were stoic, serious demeanors.

I don’t recall after all these years exactly how long the interview lasted, but it seemed as though it was much longer than it really was. Throughout the whole ordeal, I could hear the rain pounding unmercifully on the roof, which made hearing difficult. When the interview had come to a close, and I was still a functioning human, I had a pretty positive feeling about it all. I seemed to have handled all of their questions–unexpected ones as well as the “usual” type. If nothing else, I had gained a valuable bit of experience in the interviewing process—and with the whole school board, superintendent, and principal, to boot! 

Afterwards, the principal told me that he thought I’d done well and that the board seemed to be impressed. Of course there were other candidates to interview in the days ahead, but I could expect to hear from him—one way or another—by the first of the next week. He wished me luck and reminded me to travel back home safely that night. 

And so, I returned to the car where dad was waiting, and the rain had eased up a bit. I gave a quick rundown of all that had taken place and how I felt about things. I knew I’d spend many miles on the ride ahead, rolling things over in my mind of how I could have done better, and I was awfully glad that my dad was with me on that dark and stormy night.

But now, we needed to get ourselves northbound, as it would be very late when we got home to Western Springs. Without further delay, we pulled out of the school parking lot and turned back to the interstate to head a short distance eastward to Vandalia where we’d connect with another old and famous highway to begin our travel north.

Until next time…

A long-ago teaching job interview “adventure” . . .

I have now been retired from teaching middle school kids reading and English since June of 2007, yet I still can recall—with vivid clarity—the  job interview back in late-summer of 1973 that helped me get the proverbial “foot in the door” and eventually secure a teaching job. It had become rather a hectic and frantic “scramble” that summer to overcome the loss of a position before I even had the position! 

None of this helter-skelter would have been necessary had the job I’d thought was mine had acutally been offered to me. Alas, it wasn’t, and the whole unforeseen experience was a colossal wakeup call, one I very much needed, mind you! How naive I had been to believe that my first teaching position was a foregone conclusion. . . in the bag. . . a sure thing, etc.! I even had delusions of spending most of that post-graduation summer lazing around and taking my sweet time gathering up whatever I would need for my new life in a different town.

Oh, how wrong I was!

When June turned into July, and I still hadn’t heard from the superintendent, who’d previously “unofficially” assured me that I’d have a job in the school system back in my old hometown following my graduation, I began to worry. As much as I hated it, I called and spoke with him directly. After the general run-around, he informed me that the job was no longer vacant and wished me good luck on my future career endeavors. Thus, any thoughts of “lazing around” for the rest of the summer quickly flew the coop!

After a period of disbelief and shock, I came to my senses and knew I had to figure out a way to jump start my situation and get going on a now-crucial job search. During this near-panic-driven stage, I saw an ad in the local paper for a teacher employment agency.

Without hesitating, I contacted the agency and signed up to receive vacancy notices each week, even though I understood that any job I took would require me to pay a fee out of my first contract. At this point, I wasn’t too picky and didn’t rule out any opening that came my way. It was imperative to find something before the new school year was to begin. July didn’t offer me much wiggle room in that regard!

Soon, I began receiving the “vacancy” bulletins, with job listings and contact information. Had we had our computers and iPads and the Internet then, all of this probably would have been solved before it really got going!

Although I was not very familiar with much of Illinois outside of suburban Chicago, I was willing to go just about anywhere if there was job security and a pathway to a worthwhile career in the mix. I think it was kind of the beginning of my interest in setting off to previously unheard of spots. Of course, being twenty-three, I’m sure I didn’t always think things through all the way, but I had to go about things a different way now.

The first opening that looked “possible,” was at a high school in a small town in central Illinois, not far from Champaign. “Might as well get things going,” I told myself. I arranged for an interview with the principal there. I’d like to say that the two-and-a-half hour drive through the cornfields in typical summer heat a few days later, paid substantial dividends.

Quite frankly, it was a complete waste of time from the very beginning. The lethargic principal seemed merely to be going through the motions, not really showing any interest in what I might have to offer as a member of the teaching staff. Disappointed, I went back out into the hot and humid air and headed back northbound, thinking about what my next opportunity would be, or, perhaps, what other field of work I might consider.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. The next job bulletin I received included a couple of potentially rewarding positions, and I quickly contacted the appropriate people at the two schools to arrange interviews.

The first one, in Munster, Indiana, just southeast of Chicago and not a far drive at all from home, would be with a high school principal on a Tuesday morning a week from my phone call.

The second one, in a place named Mulberry Grove, in south central Illinois, would take place the same evening of my Munster interview.

Two interviews in one day. . . Hundreds of miles apart. . . Could it be done, realistically? 

I had no idea, but at this point, I was willing to give it a try. After digging out my Rand-McNally Road Atlas, I figured that it would be about 350 miles between the two places. When I mentioned this situation to my parents, they were glad I was getting some leads for a job, but they thought my plan wasn’t a wise one to attempt alone.

Stay tuned.

Until next time

The greatest place, but where are we headed?

Another beautiful fall day here in northern Illinois, and I love being surrounded by the splendid colors and the fields that have gone from lush green to various shades of brown and gold as they await harvest. And as I do on a daily basis, I remind myself just what a wonderful land I live in, and I ask myself: How can this not be the greatest place on earth?

And yet I hear on the news almost daily that young people from various parts of the United States are intent on joining the evil world that is Isis, Isil, or whatever else the group goes by, to fight against the United States and its allies.

It’s almost as though these young folks think that it’s just another one of the games in their world of games, and nothing to really be taken seriously. Perhaps they feel that when they grow bored with things, they’ll quit and scurry back home to wherever home is here in the U.S., and all will be cool again. For their sakes, before it’s too late, I hope that they realize the inherent danger into which they’re immersing themselves. If nothing else is obvious, it’s pretty certain that this enemy is evil incarnate and the terror is anything but a game.

How has it come to this? I ask myself this question over and over. I think back to my years of teaching and picture the faces of students who were usually curious and eager to grow and do their best. Many were kids from different parts of the world whose parents had come to America and become citizens who proudly basked in the glow of being part of this country.

Our school stressed teaching the principles of democracy, and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were vital parts of the social studies curriculum. And fortunately for our students and the rest of us teachers, our school had a terrific teacher who brought all of that to life and did a remarkable job year after year. Thus, students left 8th grade with a respect and understanding of America’s founding  and an appreciation of its framework and heritage.

Sadly, when she retired, all of that changed. Not only did the focus shift away from that key concept of American history, but an emphasis on multi-cultural education began to appear across the curriculum. Newer and younger teachers who replaced her were more comfortable in this new curriculum shift, and at the same time, the state’s educational goals changed, and traditional education as we had known it was forever changed. No longer would there be a strict requirement to teach the Constitution!

It was a shame that students now would move along to high school without the strong background of knowing about our nation’s founding fathers and the precious documents on which our country has stood since the beginning.

One of the joys of my teaching career was accompanying our 8th graders on the three-day trip to Washington, D.C., each February. It was a terrific opportunity to spend time with kids and to point out the landmarks of our nation’s history and culture. To say the least, it was a wonderful “classroom”—those buildings that comprise the Smithsonian and the memorials and precious monuments on which so much American history is etched.

I often wonder what happened to those students I had the chance opportunity to teach and know for but a brief time. And years removed from them and their ups and downs, their joys and sorrow, I wonder if being so distraught or lost in some way, they ever entertained thoughts of joining up with our enemy, as so many of today’s young people are doing. I’d like to think that there still burns in each of them a sense of pride and patriotism that we taught and stressed in our lessons long ago. We can only hope…CortlandWriter