The thing about being a new young teacher is that they load you down with extra-curricular activities because you can’t say no.
So in those early years, I taught English and coached the Academic Decathlon team, then added Honors English, then added Shakespeare and Modern Literature, then added facilitating the GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) program (but only in exchange for cutting the AD team). In that last auspice, I was in charge of using an incredibly small budget to enrich the academic experience of our gifted and talented population (most of whom I knew through either the Honors or Shakespeare classes). And in my second year of Shakespeare, I had the opportunity to bring two actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s outreach program to Oxnard to present a “gifted” assembly and drop by our Shakespeare class.
The kids were blown away. And so was I. The actors on their way out told me about the summer classes OSF presents for high school teachers. The school’s staff development budget would pick up only a small fraction of the tab, so I would need to pick up the majority. And despite that I had just finished paying six months of alimony (following an ill-advised 11-month marriage), I scrounged the money for the trip.
I needed this trip, I told my mentor, Terry Taylor (another former high school English teacher of mine, and the vice-principal who hired me at Oxnard)… I needed it because I was beginning to lose faith in what I was doing. I was seeing incredible value in the lessons a program like “A Night with the Bard” could teach, but could see very little opportunity to replicate this kind of process-based learning in my other classes (and I can only guess at my frustration if I was still teaching in the standardized-tested-to-death hell that public education is today).
Terry, who had recently been named as principal back at Hueneme High, my alma mater, told me that she had an opening for a new Drama teacher. It was a great chance, but I had a class of seniors whom I felt could blow the roof off this year’s “A Night with the Bard”… and couldn’t let them down.
Then she said the impossible: If I agreed to come on the following year, she’d fill the position with a temp and hold the position for me.
Done Deal… and with three weeks’ growth of beard and hair that hadn’t been cut since the last “A Night with the Bard,” I hopped on my motorcycle and headed up to Ashland for two weeks of Shakespeare, theater, acting and study.
It was a dream come true. It was paradise and damned heady stuff. As a group of teachers, we saw every play, and all the Shakespeare productions twice.
If I went to Oregon a lover of Shakespeare, I came back a fanatic, a stalker, a man possessed.
And that year’s “A Night with the Bard” was incredible, the first in a real theater and my last. Its capper was an epic forty-minutes suite from The Merry Wives of Windsor, complete with a false-bottomed Falstaff, an eye-patched Ford, a comically unintelligible barkeep, busty mistresses and truly merry wives (directed by a young man who would end up earning an MFA in Theater Arts). It was a great way to say goodbye to both Oxnard High and “A Night with the Bard.”