The story in last week's News about the groundbreaking for a new building for Newton High School brought back many memories of the quirks of the old building.
The building was initially an open-concept school building, the latest educational fad from California. Open-concept means little or no walls to separate classrooms and halls. My first class in the building was next to a typing class (when they really had typewriters, not computers). Imagine my frustration when as I am trying to talk about short stories or sentence parts, the typing teacher suddenly calls out a letter and then 30 typewriters clack. And the letters and clacking go on for the hour. I am sure the typing teacher did not like my telling her students about short stories and distracting them from the appropriate letter to clack.
The next quarter the typing classes were moved to a more enclosed area. But I guess I had gotten used to talking rather loudly. The back row of my class room faced away from the back row of the classroom behind (or in front) of mine. The poor student in the back row of the other teacher's class just gave up and turned his desk around and joined my class. He could hear me better than his own teacher.
Then there was the heating and cooling system. If something quit working, you could count on it being at least two months before it was fixed because, inevitably, the part needed had to be ordered from east Outer Mongolia. One year when I had a classroom that had a window and outside wall, I taught for two months in my coat and the metal wall that was on the outside of the building was covered in frost that never melted.
The roof of the building also presented problems. It was a flat roof with the heating and air conditioning units on top of it. I think it leaked the first time it rained after we were in the building. At one point, it leaked so badly that the administration had to cancel the typing classes because the typewriters were plugged into outlets in the floor and the floor was flooded. Water was running down the central supports of the building and out of the electric outlets. We almost had to call off school for rain. You had to keep an umbrella in your classroom, not to keep you dry, but to poke holes in the ceiling tiles when they bulged and sagged with water. If you didn't poke a hole in them, they would, at some point, explode and scatter debris over your classroom and students.
One time, all the electricity in the building went out. Remember only a few classrooms had windows and many were three or four classrooms away from a window or outside door. At that time, there were no emergency lights that came on when the other lights went out. One English teacher's room got so dark, that no one could see anything. The students decided it would be good fun to toss dictionaries that were on a cart across her room. She decided she needed help to restore order and yelled into the hall, "I need a man."
Needless to say, we had a good laugh about that in the teacher's lounge for several weeks.
I would guess the pit was the most distinctive quirk of the school. One time as an end-of-school prank students put a car in the pit. It also had a pay phone until students discovered they could use the pay phone to call in a bomb scare. That call would get them out of class and whatever test they did not want to take.
Once the secretary answered the phone and heard a bomb threat. She went to find a principal and no one was in the office. She put the information on a sticky note and put it on the principal's door. No one found the note until the next day. So much for the bomb threat.
I don't know what the school board plans to do with the old Newton High building. But if they decide to tear it down, I want to be there to cheer, or gloat. I want to tell that building that no matter what you did to me, I survived and outlasted you.
Paula Travis is a Newton County resident and retired schoolteacher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.