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English Instructor 1964-96

My memories of teaching English at Fullerton (Junior) College for thirty-two years (1964-96) are so rich and varied they'd need a book to do them justice. My students and my colleagues and I anguished over the Watts riots, the Vietnam war and stateside protests, the Kent State massacre, and the like, but we also rejoiced in the happiest, most congenial campus atmosphere we'd ever experienced or could imagine.

The nationwide "streaking" craze of the early seventies didn't pass us by. During one free eleven o'clock hour on a sunny spring Tuesday or Thursday, I sauntered into the quad just in time to spot a line of naked young men and women perched on the south-facing roof edge of the Student Union building, situated where the library now stands. Dozens of other students looked up at them from the quad, smiling and applauding or cheering. A few other nudes, holding hands, danced their way across the lawns.

Later that day I heard that a couple of streakers on motorcycles had somehow entered the first floor of the library, which stood where the College Center is now, and driven carefully around between the tables and stacks of bookshelves. My colleague Walt, never shy and always a ham, told me that he'd planned to demonstrate his solidarity with the students that day by stripping in the vestibule of the Humanities/Social Science building and galloping around the quad, but had been uncharacteristically disarmed by stage fright at the last minute. A few days later a student of mine gave me a mounted photo I still treasure of a trio of shapely students, two men and a woman, tripping the light fantastic on the quad in a pose Botticelli would have admired.

The most memorable and powerful teaching experience I ever had was in Fullerton College's Semester Abroad program, for which twenty-nine students and my wife Lynette joined me in Cambridge, England in the spring of 1989. My first and only European visit had been during four months of a sabbatical leave in 1971, when I was thirty-nine. I was keenly conscious of the rich opportunities awaiting my students, more than half of whom had never been outside of southern California.

In our rented Cambridge classroom in a local trade union hall, I did my best to introduce my students to the gems of British literature, from the old Scottish folk ballads to the stories told by Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims, from the sonnets of Shakespeare to the travels of Lemuel Gulliver, as told by Jonathan Swift. Outside the classroom, I led them on weekend trips to London and Bath and York. With the help of discounted student fares on all public transportation, they were soon transporting themselves not only all over the British Isles, but across the channel to France and the Netherlands, and when I reassembled my classes after our ten-day spring break, I learned that nearly all of them had traveled, by twos and threes, not only to Spain and Switzerland and Italy, but even as far as Turkey and the Greek islands. Three absentees sent apologies by way of a fellow student that they couldn't resist getting another couple of days' use out of the Eurail passes they'd been exploiting.

By then I was pretty sure my hopes for them were being fulfilled, and when I said goodbye to them all and holed up in my rented house outside Cambridge to read their final exams, I learned that some of them had found among the early British poets and playwrights and essayists the illuminations I'd wished them--with Herrick's Corinna, or Shakespeare's dark lady, or Marvell's coy mistress. Carpe diem, kids!

But they weren't all kids, of course. Two or three of them were nearly my age, and I thought I saw in them those hints of renewal and redirection I noticed in my "re-entry students," who made junior college classes more complicated and interesting than the uniformly young classes in the Minnesota liberal arts college where I taught my first five years. Fullerton College, from the perspective now of age 80, sixteen years into my retirement, taught me both the joy of sharing good things and an appreciation of lasting friendships, with students and colleagues alike.