Those People in Your Past

I was the kind of kid who didn't question much about my schooling. If somebody said "This is the way things are going to be," I went along with it. It had to do with the times, of course. Teachers were kings and queens in their classrooms, and they made rules that suited their tastes. Lately, I've been thinking about a teacher I had who wasn't exactly the ideal educator.

I was in upper elementary school, and up to that point, I'd been appreciated by all my teachers. I didn't make trouble, I did my work to the best of my ability, and I smiled when they told jokes, because I was always paying attention.

At the beginning of the school year, this woman called me and another girl to her desk to tell us she saw that we'd gotten all A's so far in school, but we shouldn't expect that to happen now. According to her, no one deserved all A's. My classmate and I were dismayed, but as I said, kids accepted the teacher's word as law back then. I told my parents, who didn't like it much, but they didn't argue. I got all B's first marking period, though my work was done on time and correct . Second marking period, I got all A's. I guess she'd made her point, though I'm still not sure what it was.

Okay, so she had an educational philosophy that was odd. She was known as a "fun" teacher by many because she included music in the classroom, told interesting stories, and joked a lot, laughing loudly at her own humor.

But then I think back to specific incidents.

I was a nail biter back then. One day she stopped in the middle of whatever she was teaching to direct the whole class' attention at me. "Are you hungry?"

"No," I replied.

"Then get those hands out of your mouth."

Another time I was sitting on one foot. I did that a lot, because desks back then were designed for right-handed people and I had to twist around to fit. Again stopped her teaching to ask, "Are you trying to lay an egg?"


"Then sit in that chair like a normal person."

There was the time when she came bustling onto the playground to remove me from a game of "Pom, Pom, Pull-away," a slightly rough pastime that mostly boys played. She told me (and the assembled players) that I wasn't lady-like and made me join a game of "Drop the Handkerchief" with some girls.

And the time a boy who had a crush on me wrote a note to ask if I'd sit with him at lunch. I said yes, and as we started down the stairs (Yes, I'm so old my school had them), he took hold of my hand.

Standing at the bottom, she bellowed up like an angry bull. "Peggy! Let go of his hand right NOW!"

Me? What about him?

I have to admit that schools and teachers in those days saw themselves as arbiters of morality and decorum. The teacher was trying to mold us (me) into what she thought of as good citizens. I suppose as a farm girl who was a bit of a tomboy, I presented a challenge to her to make me "feminine".

But I wonder, too. If I was a good student who had never before had a minute's trouble with a teacher, why was I suddenly someone who should be embarrassed and criticized in front of my peers? A word after class about nail-biting and boys' games and sitting properly would have been just as effective. I wonder how other kids she chose to "fix" fared with her over the years. If it was bad for an A student with parents who were well-respected in the community, what was it like for those who couldn't meet her standards, or students whose parents wouldn't step in, no matter how badly she treated the kid?

To this day when I hear her name, I don't remember one thing she taught me. I feel only anger and resentment for the teacher who picked on a kid who'd never done anything to her, who used her position as a weapon, just because she could.


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