Death of a Teacher

The End of the Day on the Central Coast

Harry Kalas, the venerable announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies for over 40 years, died last month. He died the Death of a Broadcaster, in his booth, preparing to call the game. Mr. Kalas left this place in a squeeze play—his last out. But oh what a final inning!

Willy Loman, tragic Average Man from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, would have killed for such a death. His lamentations about the perfect death of the successful salesman, Dave Singleman, still resonate with modern audiences.

Willy said [of Singleman’s death], “What could be more satisfying than to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? When he died, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral.”

In an idealistic elegy, Willie marvels at the type of death Dave Singleman experienced, in the smoker car of the New York, New Haven and Hartford. “When he died—and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his in his green velvet slippers…”

Over the many years I taught this American play to students who knew no war, no want, and for the most part, no hardship, I attempted to shock them into some sort of forced consciousness.

Let’s say that I died yesterday, the Death of a Teacher. How might Arthur Miller have written this death?

You would be making your best point!

We would be engaged and enthralled at your delivery!

You would be sitting on your stool, vibrant and funny!

We would be asking real questions, not ones designed to look smart!

You wouldn’t be answering our real questions; you would be Socratic and weaken our questions by your own!

We would have an “Ah ha” moment!

You would remind us that “Ah ha” is a palindrome!

As this discussion reached its peak and I had my students as emotionally engaged as sixteen-year-olds can be about a piece of literature, I asked them to write down a job they would like to have, their ideal job. Children of immigrant parents, many wanted to be doctors, electrical engineers, computer programmers…the types of jobs that make money and have prestige. No one wanted to be a journalist, a teacher, a nurse, or a travel agent. They then were to become Arthur Miller and write the dialogue for Death of a Computer Programmer.

The next day, each student read his bit. You might be surprised to learn that we had tears during these readings.

Was it the loss of the ideal? Or the pain of the real?

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in On fiction, Writing and Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Death of a Teacher

  1. I remember seeing the news regarding Kalas’ passing. I remember thinking how perfect it was. He went exactly how he might have hoped.

    So, nice use of the classic Death Of A Salesman teacher my teacher. I remember watching a stage film production starring Dustin Hoffman. He was excellent in the role of Willie.

    Hmm, how would I like to go? This is a good question. Still, I do hope to be around for awhile right along with you.

  2. Cheri says:

    He was one of the lucky ones, don’t you think?

    What Sci-Fi pictures or books would you recommend about Roswell?

  3. Chourou says:

    In this week, here in Japan, we had the 11th memorial day of a journalist who worked for press and died at the age of 29. He was in the branch office working late at night with his colleague and shot to death by a hit man with a rifle or the like. The guy suddenly and silently entered into the office and pulled the trigger with saying nothing. The suspect has not been caught yet. This assaulting allegedly seems to have been done by ultra-right wing , and to had something to do with a cover story or a campaign that the journalist were engaged in, but still uncleared.

    Your posting this time reminds me of this, “ The death of a journalist”.He left a big homework to us: How should we keep on fighting against the “dark-matters” which are intending to suppress the freedom of speech or thought? The memorial day is the day that makes us think about that every year.

  4. Cheri says:

    Sometimes journalists are literally in the line of fire for exposing the dark side of human nature.

    Here in the SF Bay Area, last year, well respected journalist Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey was shot on the street by one of members of the group he was investigating.

    And yes, he left big homework for all of us, Chourou.

  5. Christopher says:

    I’ve never failed to weep each time I’ve seen Death of a Salesman on the stage. No other play has done this to me.

    Because it speaks to me in a way no other play has, Death of a Salesman is, for me, the greatest play ever.

    • Cheri says:

      I cannot decide between Death of a Salesman and Our Town. I have never taught Our Town without getting that big lump in my throat and trying not to cry. For me, Our Town reminds us of all of the regular days we failed to appreciate.

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