A few years after my wife and I were married, we drove down Holbrook Road in Centereach, Long Island. I’m not sure why. I imagine we were heading West on Middle Country Road toward the Smithaven Mall, and this would have been a detour.
At the Holbrook Road Elementary School, I took a right turn, following Smith Road on a winding course through a wooded area featuring stately old homes. Suddenly, we were passing a school on our left. The low, sprawling building of brown and cream brick sat in a valley flanked by trees and backed by athletic fields. My wife and I commented on how pretty the school looked, and that we never would have suspected a school was here.
At that time, my paperback writing career was going well, so I gave no more thought to the school on Smith Road. Beginning in the Fall of 1978, I would give it LOTS of thought.
A call from the Sachem School District came in late August of 1978. I learned later that this was unusual since most districts completed staffing for the coming year sometime in March. I also learned that it WASN’T unusual for the Sachem District, which liked to keep its options open (on the other hand, it also liked to keep its teachers).
The opening was in the Sachem High School English Department. Nervous as hell, and praying to any deity that might exist, I dressed up and appeared for an interview with an Assistant Principal.
When I arrived, I realized that Sachem High School was the pretty school in the valley! The entrance to the building was octagon-shaped, and was—sensibly—known as The Octagon. A custodian directed me to the Main Office.
There I sat down in the office of Assistant Principal John Cassese. At Sachem High School, each AP (there were five) was assigned stewardship of specific academic departments. John’s stewardship included the English Department. I sensed that this experience was not going to parallel my interview at William Floyd, Unlike stolid John Deubel, in his stolid suit, silver-haired John Cassese wore a flamboyant pumpkin-hued shirt and a colorful tie.
He was animated, enthusiastic, and inclined to break into a wide politician’s smile (not coincidentally, John ran for local office several times). I don’t remember the substance of the interview, but I remember getting “good vibes”, as we might have said back in 1978.
John bade me follow him into the Main Office, where I’d meet with the principal. Meanwhile, a young, powerfully muscled, bushy-bearded fellow bounded into the office, decked out in a blue and white jump suit. John introduced him to me as Jim Sentman, Chairman of the English Department.
Well, okay, then! After dour, Van-Dyked, gray-suited Irwin Abrams, this was a happy shock. Jim shook my hand heartily, and then effusively greeted a stunning blonde who entered the office, and who turned out to be a member of the English Department. This place was looking better and better.
At length, George Besculides emerged from his office and greeted me with a tight smile and a handshake. George was a compact man with thick dark hair and a squarish, pleasant face. He took me for a walk through the school’s corridors as he interviewed me. At one point a student was committing an infraction (students were in the building for Orientation). I have no clear memory of what it was, though I THINK the kid was without shoes. George asked me what I’d do about it, and I came up with a response that pleased him (don’t ask me what).
So I left the building, on that hot August day with a promise that I’d be contacted. I steeled myself to suffer through days of agony, but the phone rang the next day. I was hired! I still enjoy delicious swirls of delight in my chest as I type those words. I’d been cast into the outer darkness, condemned and vilified. Now, vindication.
At this point I had to meet Donald Fenner, the Assistant Superintendent for Personnel. I don’t recall meeting with anyone that high up at Floyd. I imagined this would be a variation of the “we do hard teaching here” harangue that John Deubel had given me a year earlier.
I met with Don in the District Office building. He was a tall, rangy man with thinning hair and a craggy face. His looks and way of speaking reminded me of Edward R. Murrow. He assured me, first of all, that Sachem didn’t necessarily put stock in a teacher’s early dismissal from another district (he didn’t say “especially Floyd”, but implied it). His tone became somber as he informed me that Sachem was the largest school district on Long Island in terms of population, and that the high school was more or less a factory. His gloomy description surprised me, but I wasn’t going to turn tail now.
Suddenly, my pastoral life as an unemployed homeowner became frantic. I had to have a medical exam, sign documents, and prep for my classes. My first Notice of Salary, dated August 21, 1978, promised $12,525 for the 1978/1979 academic year (about $43,400 in today’s dollars), so we could once again buy food for our son! Also, while I was starting at Step 1-1 on the salary schedule, I’d be bumped up once my Master’s Degree from Dowling was processed (while Sachem took a chance on previously dismissed teachers, it also started us all at Step 1-1).
When I met with Jim Sentman, I learned that I’d be teaching five sections of Kaleidoscopic View. In my mind, I responded, “Huh?” Turned out that this was simply English 10. In the late 1970s, English Departments were still giving cute names and “themes” to courses, presumably to make them more “relevant” to students. For Kaleidoscopic View, I’d be teaching the same literature and writing skills as I would in any other English 10 class.
At Floyd, I’d taught three sections of English and two of Reading. My first reaction to having five sections of the same class was relief. Only one set of lesson plans each week! By mid-year, I vowed fiercely to reach a point in my career when I’d never have to teach more than three sections of one class. As I’ll explain in another post, it was torment to repeat the same material five times a day.
But in September of 1978, I was a happy man. I was going to work at the high school in the valley—or as a waggish teaching colleague dubbed it, Happy Valley High School. I was back in the teaching game. I’d remain there until I retired in 2007, but the game itself would change often.