Friday, March 1, 2019

Teachers

I've started listening to a podcast by Laura Tremaine called "10 Things I Want to Tell You." The most recent episode was about teachers who made a significant difference in your life--good or bad. The premise is that she sort of starts the conversation and then you should share your own Things to Tell in a journal or with friends or on social media. So here goes!

I have vivid memories of teachers starting with first grade...

My first grade teacher scared me. I wanted her to like me, and I think she did like me (I was a good student!) but she was intimidating. Now that I look back, I think that she probably wasn't a great fit for first grade, personality-wise. She was never mean to me, but I definitely was scared of her after watching other kids get in trouble. There was a little boy in my class who got paddled nearly every day. Yes--capital punishment, wooden paddle, hit by the teacher in the hallway. Almost every day. (I reminisced about at my high school reunion this with another guy who was in my first grade class and we were both traumatized by being witnesses to this.) This kid got in trouble all the time for acting up. I'm sure now he would be diagnosed with something and given support and special services and counseling, but in the late '80s, he just got the crap beat out of him on the daily. I actually peed my pants in her class one day because I was too scared to ask her if I could go to the bathroom because she got really mad when kids asked to go to the bathroom on their own instead of when we all went as a group. She saw the puddle near her desk and yelled and asked who did it and she MUST have known it was me? I mean, I was back at my desk this time and I tried to put on a wide-eyed innocent face, but I had to be the only one who smelled like fresh pee. I had on a dress, but my shoes were soaked in urine. I think it was the end of the day, though. She must have known it was me, but she never called me out on it, I remember my dad picked up that day because I ran up to him and hugged him and I didn't want to let go because I didn't want him to see my pee shoes. I wonder if he talked to the teacher about it? Because I do remember him telling me it was okay to ask her if I needed to go. Anyway, she ended up switching from first grade to fourth grade and that was probably a good move for everyone (though hopefully that poor kid who got paddled every day didn't get assigned to her classroom again).

My second grade teacher was the opposite. Mrs. Brandt was so kind and smelled really good and was very huggable. She would tell stories about her boys and it made me want to grow up and have a bunch of boys (LOL not so much now). I got to take home our class pet, a small turtle named Tiny Tim who was a good sport and never gave me salmonella. Once I got to school earlier and went to the classroom instead of the cafeteria because I never got to school early so I didn't know we were supposed to go to the cafeteria. Anyway, Mrs. Brandt let me stay in the room and help her set up, which I loved. I remember watching her use Lysol spray all over the desk and cubby of a little boy in my class and wondering why it was just his desk that got treated. I assumed maybe it was because he smelled strongly of wood smoke. I can't remember what she said to me about it, but I remember her basically telling me not to mention to any of my classmates that she did that.

My third grade teacher was also wonderful. I had Miss Tinsley maybe her second or third year of teaching? She was young and cute and she told me that I reminded her of Ramona Quimby, which I took as an enormous compliment. I felt comfortable enough in her class that I got a little chatty with my friend Mandy and sometimes we'd have to put our names on the board, which we sort of relished even though it was supposed to be a reprimand (if you got two checkmarks next to your name there were consequences, but I don't remember what they were because I would behave myself after that). Miss Tinsley also encouraged my reading. And she let us vote on the slogan for our class bulletin board when we made butterflies by tracing the outlines of our feet. The top two slogans were mine and this kid name Kevin. Kevin's slogan was "From Feet to Butterflies." (Kevin was apparently a literal kind of guy. He spiked his hair (or his mom did?) with a lot of gel and I thought he was very cute but I thought his slogan was super lame.) My slogan was "Butter Up Your Wings for Spring!" and my slogan won and I was very proud and I thought that Miss Tinsley was proud too because she always made me feel like she was rooting for me.

My fourth grade teacher was also lovely. Her name was Mrs. Copeland and she read aloud to us every day (James and the Giant Peach was particularly memorable). She also wore visible eye shadow, which I thought was very glamorous. One day, though, she hurt my feelings SO much. She wasn't even there--we had a substitute--and she had left a note for the sub with lesson plans and also listing students who were good helpers. I must have been up near her desk talking to the sub or just nosing around (who knows?!) but I could easily read her perfect penmanship and she had written, "Amie, Mandy, and Leslie are all good helpers." I could not believe my name was not on that list. Like I wanted to put my head on my desk and cry. I didn't do that, but my heart was broken a little bit. After that year, Mrs. Copeland quit teaching and opened a little gift shop on the square and in middle school I'd often walk down there and buy cinnamon gummy bears from her, so there were no hard feelings. I think she quit teaching because our class was challenging. There was one kid who wrote sentences for his spelling words and put the word "fart" in every sentence. The laughter was riotous and I'm sure he got sent to the office, but I will always remember how awed I was by his nerve and how funny it was to hear him read a sentence about a fart out loud.

After fourth grade we went to middle school. I had some great and memorable teachers, but we switched classes so it was a different relationship only seeing them for an hour or so per subject. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Snyder, my fifth grade reading teacher. She told me once that if you cut my veins, words would come out. And I took that as another huge compliment. I read like crazy in her class. I could get all my work done and she'd let me sit and read whatever I wanted. My friend Monica likes to remind me of the time I basically read the entirety of Wait Till Helen Comes during our class period. I did love Mary Downing Hahn. Fifth grade was when I really decided I wanted to be a writer, and Mrs. Snyder totally encouraged that.

I can't list my best and most impactful teachers without talking about the other Mrs. Copeland, who was even more influential--in part because she taught me from second grade through sixth grade. She was the gifted teacher and we'd go to her "Action Class" one day a week. Mrs. Copeland put up with and encouraged all of our quirks and weird interests. She is honestly the teacher that I probably would want to emulate the most with my own classroom persona as a professor. She was always kind, but she did not put up with nonsense. She was always encouraging and patient, but we knew we were being held to high standards. She was not exactly warm and fuzzy, but she made us feel loved and made us want to impress her, too. I often felt like I wasn't as smart or talented as my classmates with their ACT-word vocabularies or super quick math-minds. But she encouraged my creative writing and my love of logic puzzles ("mind-benders" we called them) and I always felt seen, known, understood, and appreciated in her classroom.

In high school, I had a drama coach named Mr. Grooms who was legendary. He left after my freshman or sophomore year, but he made me feel like I had talent for drama and he also gave me a pep talk before a drama competition event that Monica and I still reference for each other to this day ("Even if you don't go to finals, you can still graduate from high school, you can still go to prom..." I had a little trouble with perspective.)

I had some memorable college professors. There was the huge, bearded history professor who taught a class about the Holocaust and sobbed on the day we discussed Holocaust deniers. There was the uber crunchy environmental science professor who drove me to the hospital the day I sprained my ankle on the way to her class (first I had to sit through her lecture with my foot iced and elevated--but she did send one of my classmates to get the ice for me). But it was a young English professor, Dr. Kelemen, who really served as my mentor and made me believe I had to chops to do graduate school or law school. I'm actually embarrassed when I think about my behavior in his Shakespeare class... I should have been a better student and talked more... I now appreciate student participation so much! I didn't do a good job of it as a student myself. Dr. Kelemen really talked to me like an adult and a peer. I remember going to get coffee with him and his wife to talk about my GRE scores and my options and feeling that I wanted to be just like the both of them. He gave me such great feedback on my writing--stuff that I still think about today. He invited the English majors to a holiday party that he and his wife hosted with friends and professors and someone was handing out stickers that said "Martin Sheen is my president" and I was like "These people are amazing. How do I hang out with people like this all the time?" Years later, when David and I were in London, Dr. Kelemen happened to be there at the same time. We met up with him a couple of his friends and went out to dinner and it was so intimidating and so cool. He has since left academia, but I am so grateful that I got to be his student. I do not have a stellar academic career--I don't say that out of false modesty--it's just true. I haven't focused on academic publishing or anything like that. But I do love teaching college students and I'm not terrible at it. And I can truly say that there is no way I would be here in this job if it weren't for him!

So those were my most memorable teachers... the ones who really made a difference in my life. I'm so grateful for them, and I'm grateful that Zuzu's first grade teacher is wonderful--so much so that Zuzu is convinced I know nothing and Ms. Williams knows everything and I don't even really mind.

(I know blog comments are nearly dead... but I'm so curious about good teachers and scary teachers and whether you went to school when kids still got paddled and whether you remember things in vivid detail from grade school the way I do--I've been told by some friends that my memory is kind of freaky. So if you have a story--tell me in the comments or on IG or share it on FB or something!)

15 comments:

  1. I had so many great teachers! I don’t have time to write much, but had to laugh at the idea of paddling. What?! Growing up in Eugene, Oregon in the 80s, there was definitely no paddling for bad behavior!

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    1. It’s different in the Ozarks than in the PNW!

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  2. Still reading!!

    I remember my teachers really well too! Mrs Clady was kindergarten and was lovely! Our art teacher that year had a family of paddles in her arsenal! First grade was Mrs Bray and she scared me to death. I remember having so much classwork I could never finish it all. She had a bookshelf of mystery boxes of things to do if you finished your work and it broke my heart to never get to choose one. My second grade teacher later swapped to seventh grade so I got to have her twice! She was one of my favorites and is a Facebook friend today. She helped me through the great math struggle of Jr high. I remember starting out thinking I wouldn't like my 8th grade teacher but I really did in the end. In high school, I adored my french teacher Ms Joseph and my British Lit teacher Mrs Redding, who occasionally still has lunch with me and my girlfriends. Ms Jo got me through a terrible Jr year when my grandfather was gravely I'll and she and Mrs Redding always let me hang out in their classrooms during the off period of lunch hour. So many great teachers, I chose education to study in college because I admired them so much. I did not end up pursuing teachers but they definitely made an impact on my life!

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    1. Omg now I’m kind of broken hearted about those mystery boxes too... I don’t think teachers realize how these things affect kids sometimes!

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  3. No paddling stories. But I did grow up in a suburban district and had a pretty scary 3rd grade teacher (thankfully she was 3rd grade and not 1st!) She threw a desk across the room and screamed at our class *a lot*, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't happen today in that district (FZ). Many of my high school teachers are still there, and great. One of them is a building principal in the district. It was funny because when I was student teaching he was giving one of the teachers a hard time about showing 10 Things I hate about you in class (Shakespeare comparison), but he showed us Braveheart and the Godfather in class so it seemed funny to me how things had changed...

    My kids have okay but not awesome teachers this year. Matthew LOVES his teacher. I'm okay with her except she is constantly texting about how *not fast* he is learning his sight words, which honestly doesn't even make my radar for kindergarten. (Not that we aren't practicing them but it took him 2 years of preschool and a semester of kindergarten to finally get all his letters down and he still needs to get a few sounds down. So no, he's probably not going to have 50 sight words memorized by the end of kindergarten. Plus he lost his IEP. So thanks for the weekly texts asking how the sight words are coming but I'm just happy he's not crawling under the table losing his mind that the paper fell off his crayon anymore, and also I'm like 18 years pregnant and really crabby so...)

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    1. I love everything about this comment. Except for the desk-throwing teacher and the annoying texts.

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  4. I had some great teachers and some lousy teachers (and a lot of them in between), and I will probably have to do my own blog post to do them justice...! But yes, I do have some very vivid memories from grade school... and yes, I went to school at a time when the strap was still used -- I remember very early in my school career in Grade 1, our class was ushered into the principal's office & they showed it to us! I guess they were thinking it would be a deterrent -- it was for me! ;)

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  5. Here you go, Brooke! :)

    https://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.com/2019/03/memories-of-my-teachers.html

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  6. I skipped 4th grade, essentially. My teacher was that bad and she hated me and we did no real academics and we, for example, spent weeks on end, sitting under our desks pretending to be animals (science unit , maybe?). She also had a weird disdain for orange snacks so she forbade (sp?) Cheetos, carrots, etc.

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  7. I was homeschooled and never finished college (yet!) BUT I did go to public school for 7th grade ('94-'95) and really loved my art teacher. She was so sweet and encouraging and I think she's the reason I tried harder to draw more things. I learned that we put a piece of ourselves inside our art, whether it's the size of the drawing (small could indicate shyness while large could mean outgoing), or how you draw your own features without realizing it. One girl had really big eyes and most of the things she drew had big eyes.
    My history teacher was a perv. I hated going in his class. I mean, we were a bunch of 12-13 year olds and he would give A's to the girls who showed cleavage or an upper thigh. Gross. I didn't ever think to look him up on social media, though.
    I enjoyed my science class. My teacher had gorgeous handwriting and she read the textbook out loud in a way that was entertaining. She had to teach us sex-ed and would get so mad when kids would giggle at the anatomical terms, like detention-mad.
    Math was weird. My teacher would hum really quietly to himself, but loud enough where we could hear him. He was easily distracted and would go on long lectures, so I never really knew what we were supposed to be doing. The assignments were confusing and I still have a hard time with math. I'm homeschooling my own kids so I'm trying to learn math along with them.
    My other teachers were just ordinary and didn't stand out *shrug*.

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    1. Omg gross pervy history teacher. Ugh.

      Beautiful handwriting is so memorable, isn’t it?!

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  8. So, so many good teachers...

    I was homeschooled, so I had one school teacher all the way up, except that by high school, both my parents worked full time, so I was basically teaching myself. I was also getting involved with the nerdy side of the internet, and fell in with a group of people (the Academy of S. Gabriel, www.s-gabriel.org) who ran a mailing list where we received questions about medieval names and heraldry, researched answers, and then nominated a person to collate the research and write a report/answer. Those reports went through numerous drafts while people suggested rewrites, added new research, etc. It was the best preparation for academic writing ever, because I learned how to collate research AND how not to be so special about my writing that I couldn't take criticism.

    I had a number of good Sunday school teachers, but Nick Marino stands out; I had him the year before I moved, when I was 10, and he (and a friend of mine who was in his class and who also moved away at the same time) corresponded off and on for a few years. After about a decade of not having been in touch, I tracked down his address, sent him an invite to my wedding, AND HE CAME. That's how good a teacher he was.

    Prof. Byrd and Dr. Rauti, at UW-Madison. They let me take their graduate seminars as an undergraduate, they pushed me in every respect, and Prof. Byrd regularly tried to steer me away from going to grad school (as he did everyone, not just me, because it was hard, expensive, and incredibly difficult to get an academic job), and when I DID get accepted into the grad programme at the same uni, he became my first PhD advisor and did everything he could to support me. I've lost track of how many independent or small group studies he ran that I took, both during the academic year and over summer.

    Prof. Kunen in the math department took someone who hadn't done ANY math since failing calculus in high school and got her through a grad level foundations of math course without ever making me feel like I was stupid or wasting his time in office hours. When I took one of his undergrad classes that magically had no pre-reqs even though it was a 500-level course, he *modified the midterm exam for me* when he realised that he'd previously tested people on linear equations even though we didn't learn them in that course, because usually everyone had taken the previous course, where they had learned them.

    Prof. Rosenberg, who taught 2/3 of 1st semester Greek and then went on maternity leave, and then was back for 3rd semester Greek, and once turned up with her 8 month old in tow, set up a little travel high chair, opened a jar of babyfood, and started feeding her daughter and drilling us on grammar; her babysitter had called in sick just an hour earlier.

    Prof. Loewe, my final PhD supervisor, after I switched programmes and moved overseas, whose guidance and support I consciously reflect in basically every single thing I do when supervising my own students.

    I have been VERY lucky.

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    1. I love these stories and the support you received at the university level!

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  9. I’m of an older generation here, so my experiences of being in infants and juniors in the UK will be very different. School dinners weren’t means tested, they were free for all attendees and one of my earliest memories are of thr teacher supervising. She was ineffectual and maintained that “Vincent” spitting in the custard was merely an outlet for his anger at society in general. For the most part all of my teachers were pretty positive. Sure one smoked and drank pretty openly in the classroom, but it was a time when our parents collectively thought it was just the pressure of dealing with 10 year olds. Senior school and college were definitely better . Zero bad memories, plenty of positive encouragement . There were lower expectations then. My generation believed parents were ultimately responsible for their offspring whereas these days it doesn’t seem that way.

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