Starting in 1978 (I think) and ending in 2002, I was one of two, sometimes three, English teachers at our high school. That meant every student capable of sitting in a desk for fifty minutes had at least one class from me. For most it was sophomore English and speech.
Years later, the results of my work are on display on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and it's pretty interesting. I get to keep track of where everyone lives, whom they marry (or don't), how their kids are growing, and how they feel about life in general.
Mostly, I love it. I get comments sometimes from those who aren't sure of their English skills and worry that I will correct their posts. (Not a chance, unless you ask me to.) I get memories of the "good old days," often funny incidents but sometimes messages of thanks for what I hope was respect for all my students. I get a few political arguments, though I try to keep out of the worst of that quagmire. (The funniest/saddest was from a student who was so lazy in high school he wouldn't pick up a book, much less read one. Before the election he sent me a list of articles I should read because I apparently hadn't digested the "correct" information on current affairs.)
The best thing about social media is seeing my former students' successes. Whether it's those children they keep posting photos of every
day; their announcement of a degree, new job, promotion, business, etc.; or the pics of their recent trip to Grand Canyon or Paris or the Halibut Festival, I love seeing them out there doing stuff.
Keep those posts coming, people. When you were everyone's teacher for almost three decades, there's a lot to catch up on.
Aug 21, 2017
Nov 21, 2016
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.
Oct 31, 2016
I still have it. I think of her every time I take it out of its cupboard, though I can't think of a single time I saw Grandma sewing. It's hers, and that's enough.
My other grandmother was the type who asked her progeny what they wanted of her things long before she died. One day when I was visiting I told her about my new hobby, refinishing old furniture. Pointing to a table that had always sat in her living room, she explained that as a young woman she too had taken up that task. The classic-style table was cherry wood, she told me, and she had rescued it from somewhere and given it new life with elbow grease and varnish. "Maybe you'll want it when I'm gone," she said, and I readily agreed, though it was weird to consider that time. I've had it for forty years, and though I've downsized a few times, I can't let that particular piece go.
Keepsakes mean something to us, though they might mean nothing to others. When I die, I have no doubt someone will toss the battered basket of needles and thread in my sewing cabinet. The table will be sold or donated. No one will know how those items brought back memories each time I saw them, memories of Grandma P. or Grandma Mac, who taught me so much and loved me in such different ways.
Things don't really mean much to me, but some things attach to memories, and memories mean a lot.
Dec 5, 2015
I remember Christmas. I’d start thinking in late September about what each person in my family would like for a gift. Barb was always the easiest to buy for, because…books. She didn’t much care what kind as long as it was something she could learn from. And she could learn from mystery novels about motives and justice, from classics about life and integrity, or from Bill Bryson about just about anything. She honestly didn’t care what she was reading, as long as she was reading.
Retta wasn’t hard to buy for either, but for a different reason. She told you what she wanted, in detail, with directions and a price range. Sometimes it was written down, just to be sure.
That left Mom and Dad, who always said they didn’t want anything. That’s such an unsatisfactory answer to “What would you like for Christmas?” but it’s what we always got. Dad was funny because for some strange reason, the man who never shopped would go out late in November and buy himself new underwear, socks, and undershirts. He wore the same suit to church every Sunday and had a farmer’s disgust for things like bathrobes and bedroom slippers. Apparently real men get completely dressed before they leave their bedrooms in the morning and stay that way until bedtime. For Dad then, there wasn’t much to buy except new, bright-white handkerchiefs.
And Mom? What do you buy for the woman who spends her life making everyone else’s life easier? It seemed unfair to buy household goods or aprons. Mom shared any gift that could be shared, so chocolates or fancy teas was, if not wasted, at least not personal enough in my view. My favorite gift to her was a pair of earrings that thrilled her with their beauty. I was so pleased to see her wear them that first time that I didn’t notice until years later that she never wore them a second time. When she died, I found them tucked in a corner of her jewelry box, and as an adult, I saw how cheap and gaudy they were. I understood then that Mom would never have chosen them, but she'd kept them anyway. They mattered because I’d bought them for her and her alone, and she knew they were given with love.
Nov 28, 2015
Barb's Christmas Memories
I remember Christmas. We always went to our grandparents’ house for dinner. The times I remember best were when Faye and I were around eight and nine. Our cousins were all boys, and they lived in faraway Muskegon, so we seldom saw them. They were rough-and-tumble types, and I never enjoyed their company much, though Faye was always willing to play Monkey in the Middle or King of the Hill with them.
Dad and Uncle Marv, the sons-in-law, sat in the living room, smoking and swapping stories with Grandpa Lemmon. Mom, Aunt Marilyn, and Grandma worked together in the kitchen, each preparing her signature dishes. Grandma cooked the turkey, filling it with spicy stuffing and making delicious gravy from the drippings. Mom liked to do the salads, and I would help her clean and slice vegetables for tossed salad, pasta salad, potato salad, broccoli salad, and fruit salad. Aunt Mar was the side dish expert, and she’d bring a squash to roast, her famous brown-sugar beans, and some new recipe she’d gotten from her recipe-card club.
I remember bits and pieces of the men's conversations, mostly about agriculture or the hunting season just completed. The women talked of their children and the small irritations of mice in the house and stains on the linen tablecloth. Mom encouraged me to join in, but I preferred to listen, peering into the world of adults. I could never see my future as one of them, cooking for a dozen people and chatting about curtains.
Did I despise their small-town lives and homey talk? Never. I loved feeling part of those dinners, though I knew even then it was not be the life for me. I didn’t feel they were wrong. I was the one who was different, because I didn’t long for a kitchen to cook in or children to tend. Still, I loved watching them. They knew who they were. They knew what they were. Christmas was my chance to observe, though it often felt as if I were watching an alien species.
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