|No wonder they fired me in Clarkton when I looked like this (Nashville, TN, all dressed up for a job interview).|
Friday, August 21, 2015
My Spectacularly Unsuccessful Teaching Career
Departing from my usual arts writing, I’d like to share this with some of my friends.
Yes, I was a teacher for a brief moment a long time ago.
In 1970 I was hired to teach art in the tiny town of Clarkton, Missouri. For a $200 bonus they also got me to direct a school play. I had never before directed a play. The last (and only) play I had been in was in the first grade when I was one of the dwarfs in Snow White.
In Clarkton, population approximately 2,500 at the time, I taught high school art classes three days a week and junior high and elementary art the other two days (high school and junior high shared a building and the elementary school next door was connected to the high school by a covered walkway). I at least got to spend enough time with my 10th, 11th and 12th grade students to learn their names, not so with the earlier grades where I felt I accomplished absolutely nothing; at best I was a fun babysitter.
I did a pretty good job with the high school students, but I have to admit that my classes got pretty wild. I was not good at disciplining the students. My theory was that if you made the classes interesting enough, discipline would not be necessary. That theory proved to be partially true, but definitely not completely true.
My end-of-year evaluation gave me high marks on innovation and knowledge of subject but ended with this statement from the principal: “The noise from Mr. Clayton’s class, especially the laughter, is disrupting to other classes. Not recommended for rehire.”
Thus ended my public school teaching career with the exception of a few years substitute teaching in Nashville, Tennessee and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where my inability to keep the kids in line was even more of a problem.
After that I was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi for about three years and a half-time studio art instructor and gallery director. And then I was laid off. That’s code for fired. The reason given was that I had only an MA degree and the job required an MFA, which is a terminal degree in studio art. Of course my MA was good enough when they needed me. The real reason I was fired, which I heard through the grape vine, was that the college hired some hotshot in another department who agreed to come only if they also hired his wife, an art teacher. So she got my job and I got the hell out of Mississippi—the end of my teaching career and the beginning of a career as an artist and writer in Olympia, Washington.