Driving into town across the old cobblestone streets, I could feel the nausea begin seep its way through every pore in my being. To this day, over 15 years later, the feeling can be reproduced in my body as I recall my days teaching at Nelsonville-York. For two years I taught science at Nelsonville-York Jr. High and lived in Buchtel, a town of 500 people right outside of the Nelsonville city limits. The two years I spent there included some of the best and worst times of my life. I already knew I was not meant to be a teacher, or at least not of this type, and as my first day as a new teacher began, the feeling was magnified. I’ll never forget the words of wisdom spoken to me by a fellow teacher as I led my students to my classroom following our “Welcome back to school!” assembly in the auditorium on that first morning of the new school year. He said to me, in all seriousness, “Welcome to trial by fire. Don’t let them see you smile, it’s a sign of weakness.” What in the world did I get myself into, I thought to myself.
Nelsonville was a place stricken by poverty. Once a booming coal town, all that was left of that period were remnants of the past. Brick and mortar fossils served as a reminder of its grand history, when villagers attended the opera, and the town held its head high in economic prosperity. Through my rose colored glasses, I could see clearly the beauty that once was, and it saddened me to no end.
The building where I taught for two years was half condemned. A relic of a building that had once boasted two wings full of bright eyed children, was now down to one. The hallway that used to connect the two wings together was boarded shut, and the windows on the condemned half had been broken out with stones over the years. What once had been a spectacular colonial style building housing the future of the coal industry, stood quietly abandoned. It’s brother next door, barely functioning, lasted a few more years before reaching the same destiny. Throughout the years there had been talk of remodeling the buildings, but due to their age and condition, it was cheaper just to build a new school.
The windows in my classroom went from the ceiling down to the top of the heater, about 4 feet off of the floor. The ceilings were extremely high, and the entire wall was filled with the gigantic windows. The windows were old, and somewhere during their years, had been stripped of all their curtains and blinds. For part of the day, the sun would shine in so brightly that I had trouble seeing my students at their desks, and the overhead projector was no match for the bright yellow nemesis. During the warmer weather, the huge amount of sunlight created a warmth in the room that was nearly unbearable. I mentioned my dilemma to the principal and the school custodian, hoping for a solution to the problem. When I arrived back in my classroom that Monday morning, my windows had been spray painted black from the ceiling down, leaving me about 4 feet of clear windows from the heaters upward. Problem solved.