Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Today is National Teacher Day, a holiday made up by someone. Hallmark? The NEA? Indeed, I ask the students in my foundations classes every semester to reflect on this -- although not just on being appreciative, also on less than stellar experiences. And so in that spirit, here's a link to my story, Seven Teachers.

Recently my sister commented that she had remarked (sadly) to her husband that if something happened to them, their six-year-old granddaughter would not remember much about them. He said she would -- until asked what he remembers from 1958? She's right, of course, but I am still amazed at the number of people who say they can remember very little of what went on in school, especially in the early grades. Some cannot even remember teachers' names, including those from high school. This is not the case for me. I always intended to add to Seven Teachers, considered it a work in progress. I haven't, and most likely won't. However I am going to try a little exercise -- a list of things I remember from each year.

Kindergarten, Mrs. M: It was half-day; I went in the morning. We lived across the road from the school. My brother drove me. On the first day, I couldn't wait to get inside; ran up the stairs without looking back. As the youngest, I wanted to go to school, just like my older sister and brothers. I had a kind teacher who my siblings also had; the was the only kindergarten teacher at that time. I met my best friend on the first day. She spent a lot of time sitting on the teacher's lap, crying. I remember the i.t.a. alphabet on the wall above the blackboard. Decorating another wall were cardboard shoe cut-outs with laces and our names. We didn't get a shoe on the wall until we'd learned to tie a bow. I excelled except at this task, and I recall the anxiety I felt about not having my shoe up there until I finally mastered tying my shoes.

Grade 1, Mrs. T: Again I remember liking the teacher, a woman who was also well-known to my family. It was not nearly as memorable a year as kindergarten, but I do have memories of reading i.t.a. books and writing stories using i.t.a. We started having gym class with Miss A, and she was mean. (This is elaborated on in both Seven Teachers and Gym Teacher from H-ll, although she isn't the main character.)

Grade 2, Mrs. H: I had a teacher worthy of teacher appreciation day; she's featured in Seven Teachers. I do remember we had ability groups that were pretty easy to identify by level; I am not sure this is best practice today. But with the i.t.a. transition, I don't believe she had a choice. I was sent to the Principal's office for the first (and only) time in my elementary school years, when Mrs. H was out of the room and Mrs. F, who taught the other second grade class, was watching us. Another girl punched me to get a brown crayon away from me, and we were both sent to the office. I remember the humiliation I felt, sitting there squirming while the secretaries made sarcastic remarks to me as I waited for my punishment. But the principal never spoke to me. Instead Mrs. H came and bailed me out. She said, "I knew you were not at fault and I'm sorry you got sent to the Principal's office." This was also my first year with the Gym Teacher from Hell (also featured in Seven Teachers). We moved from Boiceville to West Shokan and I was thrilled.

Grade 3, Mrs. C and Mr. B: The ability groups issue became less obvious, because the school switched to tracking in this grade. Prior to this, I had been with my kindergarten peers for three years, while the afternoon kindergarten class had also been together, with different teachers for Grades 1 and 2. For grade 3 they sorted us into two sections, based on "ability." Both classes had the same teachers, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Mrs. C taught math and social studies; Mr. B taught English and science. I liked Mrs. C a lot, but Mr. B not so much. He also  has earned a spot in Seven Teachers. In math that year I remember timed tests for the times tables, and how many kids freaked out over them. It did seem cruel and anxiety-producing, but today I am thankful I learned the multiply in my head. I also remember Mrs. C cut her hand cooking Thanksgiving dinner and was out for weeks, because she needed surgery to repair the tendon.

Grade 4, Miss I and Mr. D: Miss I is another teacher featured in Seven Teachers, and not for the appreciation reason. About Mr. D, I remember he was a gentle teacher who must have had affection for geography. I recall making relief maps with paper mache. It is during this year that I have my first memory of my "difficult" friend. She had been put into my class in Grade 3, but she wasn't on my radar screen. Miss I was trying to illustrate sets in math -- asked us to get into groups if our houses had 2 or 3 or 4 bedrooms or our fathers worked at IBM or owned businesses or were a teacher etc. My friend did not go into a group and when asked why, responded "I don't have a father." It stuck with me.

Grades 5 and 6, Mrs. V and Mr. H: Mrs. V taught fifth grade in the morning, and sixth grade in the afternoon. Mr. H taught sixth grade in the morning, and fifth grade in the afternoon. So we had them for two years, and the other section had two different teachers over the two years. Both were quite influential in terms of learning -- the two year stretch may have been the reason. I liked both of these grades and teachers, Mrs. V in particular. I liked math and English especially, and each teacher taught one of those. I wasn't crazy about science, but she must have been a good teacher because I don't remember being repelled by the subject, as I was in Grade 3 with the weird Mr. B. Although I didn't have this problem and I liked him a lot, now I know that there was too much singling out of students in Mr. H's class, and even then it made me uncomfortable.

Two memories from Grade 6: 1) it was the presidential election, and Mr. H and one student (the son of our music teacher, and sadly, this student was killed in an alcohol-related accident senior year) supported McGovern. Everyone else in class supported Nixon. 2) I consider this year to be the actual start of a friendship with my troubled friend. It was facilitated by my "best" friend -- the one I'd met the first day of kindergarten, who had been put in the "other" section of class after Grade 2. Before grade 2, we were sorted by the hamlet we lived in, rather than tracked. As a result of the scrambling, she became friends with some kids who lived near this other girl who was now in my class. Sometimes my "best" friend would be invited to the party of a kid in her class that this girl from my class was also attending. They got to know each other, and the three of us slowly became friends.

Grade 7: This marked the beginning of junior high. I remember I couldn't wait to get out of elementary school, but I also remember it turned out to be a disappointment. My goat, Heidi, died right before the school year started, which erased my excitement. We changed classes. Gym was better; I had a teacher who was on the verge of retirement who was a heavy drinker, and she stayed in her office and didn't care what we were (not) doing. Of course I didn't become a jock, and in subsequent years when I did have to make some effort, I still didn't like it, even though I had an occasional competent teacher (and one who was a little too flirty with the popular girls). I had to take general music, which was taught using the Socratic Method. I did fine, but it was terrifying. Mrs. or Ms. (not sure which) H, the science teacher was young, green, and obsessed with discipline. (She is not one of the Seven Teachers, but she is briefly mentioned in the opening, and also here. We took home economics; no fault of the teacher, but that was pretty much a waste of time. I wrote a paper about one-room schools for my seventh grade social studies project on local history - a harbinger of things to come?

Grade 8: I was placed in accelerated math and art. Neither turned into a great experience, in both cases it was the fault of the teacher, but for whatever reason I did not include them in Seven Teachers. The art teacher is mentioned here. About the math class, Mr. C was possibly the worst (academic) teacher I have ever had in my life. Another Mr. H teaching social studies, with a few choice memories from his class. I recall him sneering at me about status symbols because of my parents' car; I remember his stepson was a friend of my brother's and he told us stories about how they didn't get along; I remember an obnoxious guy who sat behind me snapping my bra strap; I remember another obnoxious guy opening the door of our class and yelling "guinea guinea wop wop" at me. My "best" friend moved away at the end of the year. This was very traumatic for both of us, and led to my budding friendship with the other girl going into full bloom, with mostly negative consequences (for me). At the end of this year, the Traver Hollow Bridge, which connects West Shokan to Boiceville, was closed and our bus had to go around the Reservoir to Shokan to get us back and forth to school. This situation continued almost until I graduated. I am not a lark now, and was not a lark then; I missed the bus often.

Grade 9: I landed the same teacher for math as the year before, the school refused to change my placement and I suffered another year. In social studies, I remember Mr. W liked anthropology, and tolerated rampant cheating. I started taking Spanish, and loved it. I took physics, and hated it. Not because of the subject matter, which I found interesting, because the teacher was a blowhard.

Grade 10: Social Studies also stands out -- I must have been tracked into a class that was not the top one, and this continued in eleventh grade. In both cases, the atmosphere was bedlam. I did like my tenth grade social studies teacher, he was an amiable guy. One time he said to some kids in the cafeteria, "you should all be smiling like she is," indicating me. I responded, "I may be smiling but you have no idea what I'm thinking" and he laughed. Once again, I got the same teacher for math as I'd had in eighth and ninth grades, but this time the guidance counselor moved me when I told her I would drop math entirely if she didn't, since only a year was required to graduate high school at that time.  So, for the next two years I had a math teacher who was strict, but very skilled. I spent a lot of time in many classes doing monotonous homework assignments for the next class rather than paying attention. We were permitted to take English selectives -- this and art were the two bright spots. I started taking extra classes rather than study halls. At the end of the year, I was recommended for a year of study in Mexico because of my performance in Spanish class. I thought about it and declined. The teacher, Mr. W, asked me if it was my parents' decision? I said no, it was mine. (And it was; they thought I should accept.) I wanted to go to college, not come back for another year of high school.

Grade 11: I wrote for the school newspaper and continued enjoying English selectives, although one teacher really stands out, Ms. S -- she taught writing -- and I wrote about her in Seven Teachers. I loved her classes. The others, who taught reading courses, did not strike me then or now as having any special insight into classic novels (another of the selectives teachers is also one of the Seven). The same is true for social studies; I remember being forced to rewrite a review of a Maya Angelou book that I'd written not because it had errors or did not meet guidelines, but because he did not agree with my take on the reading. I continued doubling up on classes. My friend's life went from bad to worse and she moved in with us in November of that year. By June, I had enough credits to achieve my goal: graduating and getting the h-ll out of there. At this point I had to go -- for academic and social reasons. My parents visited the school to be sure it was a good idea -- I was only 16 -- and the administrators said they believed it was. They had nothing to offer me.

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