The art of teaching all students individually, according to their own rate, was the process we all tried to discover in the beginning years of Peters Middle School. None of the teachers involved had been trained in this method, and few had the raw passion to learn, but all made a mighty effort to find some way to achieve cohesiveness in the faculty that could be translated to better teaching for all students.
The ordeal we, as a group of teachers, went through was a test of fire. We were challenged on every front, asked to do things that we sometimes had no faith in successfully completing. To a teacher, I know of none that backed down from that challenge, we tried things we had no confidence in being successful, and found many of them, to our surprise, to be quite successful. We tried things that were successful under previous teaching environments, and found them impossible in this new situation. Slowly, we began to find the way; slowly we learned what worked and what did not work.
Allen’s book is 85% pure history as it happened at the time. It is about 10% fiction, which is good, as the reader will never know what was actually said, and what was made up for dramatic effect. It was 15%….Oh, where is Frank Rich, the math teacher, when we need him!
Several of the beginning teachers have passed away since the beginning of the school. In fact, I just attended the Memorial Service of the character Allen called Bill Townsend on the day this is being written.
Frank Rich did not enjoy a long retirement before he passed away as did Bill Townsend; he ‘died with his boots on’ in his last year of teaching at Peters Middle School, just a few months before his announced retirement. Some of the original faculty moved to other schools, and several found work in other occupations. But, all shared a special part of their lives during the beginning years of this school.
Allen has written a work that has been polished over many years. I had the fortune to read an early draft a few years after I left Peters Middle School, and this draft has improved considerably from the beginning. During the reading and typing of this book, I found parts of it to be pure genius, achieving literary excellence as he paints his picture of various events. His inscriptions are inspired and accurate, according to my recollection of the years I personally shared with him on the 7th grade team. He has a different style of humor, bringing recollections back to life (even though a few never happened, or were actually attributed to a different individual) and it was a natural to center those humorous recollections on the page and change to bold print, to highlight their contribution to the work. But, readers beware, not all in this book is accurate, some literary license has been invoked to achieve a better story.
Some of the passages made me laugh, some made me cry. I sometimes found I wished I had never read the work, as it brought back some unpleasant memories I would have rather forgotten. Yet, there is much to be learned in this book, if only the reader takes the time to think about what is offered. During my years teaching at the High School while Allen taught the same students at the old Elementary school he describes in his work, I had a sign on the wall that said: “You can lead a student to knowledge, but you can’t make him think”. The same applies to reading this book. There is much experience to learn from, if the reader takes the time to ponder what has been tried in the beginning years of this school.