Friday, March 30, 2007

Teachers, Part 2

Along about 6th grade, we all hit puberty. The boys' collective mind ended up in the gutter for the year and any comment that could be remotely construed sexual in nature sent them into gales of laughter. The girls, hormones all atwitter, were delighted to discover we had a young male teacher not too many years out of school. He pretended not to know we all had a crush on him and managed to teach us a few things that year. There was one day I remember that he pushed my temper to the limit. We were scheduled to have a quiz that day, and I had spent the previous night in feverish study for it. Instead of our customary quiz sheet, he announced that the quiz would have only one question. He wrote on the blackboard, "Why?". The compulsive students, of which I was one, were lost and could only panic over the thought of a blight on our academic record. Of course the results of the quiz did not become a matter of record. What it taught me was not to be blinded to the obvious by sheer panic.

Seventh grade was a major disappointment. We acquired a teacher who was having some kind of personal problem and was ultimately unable to cope with our little band of hellions. The boys were quick to spot and exploit her weaknesses. She failed to understand that we were not sweet little kids, but devious little teenagers. To make things worse, she was prickly, sensitive to perceived slights, and generally irritable. Needless to say, she did not endear herself to us and only incited us to harass her at every opportunity. She ended up taking medical leave and we finished out the year with "Miss Mittie" Bundick. Miss Mittie was another born teacher who didn't take any crap from her students. We had run amuck for much of the year, but she planted her thumb firmly on our little psyches and we kept to the straight and narrow until the term was over.

Now, what I learned from Mrs. H was never to underestimate my opponent. What I learned from Miss Mittie is that it's better to be in a class that is under control. You actually learn something.

In eighth grade we began to change classrooms and teachers for each subject. Life became more interesting when our world began to expand beyond the competence or incompetence of one person. Many of the teachers we encountered in the eighth grade would be the same teachers we had through high school and will be remembered in the next installment. There is, however, one thing that stands out about the eighth grade.

This was the year we were introduced to the concept of home economics and shop classes. These were new subjects for the Smiley school and it was the first time the girls and boys were split up for a period each day. Miss Thomas attempted to teach us to cook and sew. Mr. M took the boys in hand.

I thorougly enjoyed my year in home economics. I learned two things in particular that year. One was the art of making bread. The whole process fascinated me and I still like to make a loaf of bread from time to time. But more importantly, it was Miss Thomas who taught me to knit and crochet. We didn't learn any fancy stitches, but we did make some slippers and in the process I caught the knitting bug for life. From those basic knitting lessons I learned enough to be able to teach myself the fancy work later on. If not for Miss Thomas, I would probably never have learned to knit and I would have missed a lot of pleasurable moments clicking those needles together.

During the last six weeks of that spring semester, the administration in their infinite wisdom decided to send the boys to home ec and the girls to shop. I'm sure they thought it would be a good trans-gender experience, but Lord we girls were completely lost in that strange world of band saws and planes and various hard woods. In later years when I developed my fondness for dollhouse construction, I've thought back to that semester and wished that I had realized at the time what an opportunity I had been given. Instead, I spent six weeks pretty much immobilized from sheer terror of this strange world I had landed in. I did my best to just survive. Now I wish I had spent that time learning how to use a router. Hindsight.

I did get one other thing (other than panic attacks) from Mr. M that year. We acquired our first small dog from him when their dog had a litter of puppies. She was a little thing we named Dobie because she was half toy doberman. We adored that little dog and we've kept little dogs in the house ever since.

It was also in 1968 that I encountered the Mr. B who assigned us the task of compiling a family tree. He was our science teacher, so I'm not sure how he managed to work genealogy into his curriculum, but he did. I was generally bored out of my skull in his classes (the man seemed to always be talking about caliche). But one day he decided to talk about family history and I've not stopped talking family history since. He also let us knit in class, so I really should be more charitable toward him. But I sure got tired of talking about rocks.

I just recalled that it was in eighth grade that I decided to go out for the basketball team, so I also had Coach H for PE. I really should look that man up and apologize.


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