Grace Lange


Grace Lange

Well, I guess it was somebody heard about me being at Troy High School. I was teaching the advanced placement classes, and this person was a friend of Doyle McKinney, and Doyle McKinney was hiring the English Department. So it was kind of in that fashion that my name came up. I was interviewed, and I think it was in a house or something like that. It definitely was not in any official kind of building. I went upstairs and sat down in front of Fred Bremer and Doyle McKinney. I do remember that Doyle McKinney asked me just the right question. I had just read an article on the new poetry, and he asked me a question about that, and I was able to really come on as if I knew what I was talking about. And that impressed him. Doyle McKinney looked at Fred Bremer, and then Fred Bremer said, "Do you like her better than so and so?" (whoever they had just decided on) and Doyle said, "Yes." So I was the first English teacher hired. They did this right in front of me. It was really quite informal.

At first it was just a few temporary buildings. They were unfinished inside for the most part. I mean to say, they were just empty halls. We did have chairs for the classrooms. Then for the teacher's offices there was one large building, and we each had a desk. That is, each department had a desk, so Pat Grignon, who was the other part of the English Department, and I had a desk. That was the English Department.

There was a lot of dirt, and the surrounding hillsides were covered with dry grass and cactus. There was a little pavement from one building to another, and there was one patch of green lawn that I recall where the flagpole, and the state and national flags were. You would come on campus in the morning, and Fred Bremer was always sort of patrolling around just to see if you were dressed properly. The women were not allowed to wear pants or long skirts, which were in fashion then. So we were kind of checked to make sure we were, you know, "kosher."

There was definitely a dress code. All of the men had to wear ties, and the hair couldn't brush the shoulder. It was as severe a dress code as the students had. The students were not allowed to have long hair even though that was in style, or sideburns, or any facial hair.

Pat and I talked about what we thought the English program should be about, and then we'd try to find a textbook that represented kind of what we had agreed on. Then between the textbook and our background, we just devised a curriculum for the English Department. Actually it worked very well, and Pat and I used that right up to the end actually. When I retired from teaching, we were still fundamentally using that approach. Pat and I were. There were other members of the department by that time that were not doing that. But we were quite satisfied with the way it was structured and very productive.

We had what amounted to a grammar class and English 200, and essay writing and then, of course, advanced composition. That allowed a little bit of room for some creative writing, but it was really advanced essay. So that was it. That was the curriculum.

I think the biggest change was one of attitude, and it was so good to have a loosening up. In the beginning there were so many restrictions on dress. It was very structured, very, very structured. By the time Dr. Lombardi came on [1974], things had changed considerably. There was a great loosening up, and then we went through a period of time when we got to try all kinds of new things. We sat in circles. We got to experiment with teaching methods, and I really enjoyed that time. Then we kind of settled down into using the best of the experimentation. I think Saddleback, at least by the time I retired, which was in 1986, but at the time I retired, a good meeting place had come between the tightness and the experimental.

What's made it special? I cannot separate it from what was happening in my personal life also. So, it was special to me as a person because it gave me a chance to express myself in a way that I truly loved to do. I always felt that I was cheating somebody because here I was doing exactly what I wanted to do -the freedom to do it in a way I wanted to do it, and I got paid for it. There were times when they had to remind me to come pick up my paycheck. It's not because I didn't need the money, I certainly did need the money. I wasn't working for the money. It was a pleasure the whole time, and then I was given this golden handshake and taught five years after I retired in 1986. My very special class, which was classical mythology, and I just absolutely loved it.

I think, when I look back on the many different classes I taught (because I taught poetry, drama, novel s, survey courses, the composition courses as well as classical mythology), that I especially liked my folklore class, American folklore. It was a curriculum that I worked up completely on my own. I pursued that for about three or four years, and then moved into mythology.

In almost every class there was a student, there would be one or two students who would get it. You would think, yes, it's working because they're getting it, somebody's getting it! So I must be doing the right thing.

I was filled with joy at having a position at a community college, and I loved having the desk that was the division desk. I loved not having disciplinary problems or writing hall passes and all of that that I'd had when I taught in junior high and high school. I was just grateful all the while. I really didn't have anything to complain about.

I was just glad to be there, and I knew it was going to get better. I didn't come from Harvard to Saddleback College. I was starting out, and I was really just grateful to be there.