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Well-meaning folks

When i was growing up fat and sloppy a few adults tried to help me fit in better. Some were more gracious than others.

In the early grades classes formed a line to get weighed from time to time. Imagine it: everyone in a line, each in turn getting on a scale, the teacher noting the weights. In the second grade I had a teacher who clearly did not like me. Her name I remember: Mrs. Knusi. Pronounce the K, yes. This is upper Michigan. When I stepped on the scale one of these days she announced loudly to the whole class that I weighed far too much for a second grader. Never mind that she herself was fat. Did she think she was being helpful to point out what I already painfully knew?

In the fourth grade I had a teacher I loved. She put me in the group of "independent" students. We sat at the back of the classroom working at our own pace, doing arithmetic problems. I knew I was in this group because I did not need any help and could progress faster this way. I loved it. She also shared her life a bit with us, even invited us to visit her at her home. One day I took her up on that and went to her house. It was a small house. She welcomed us - I think I did not go alone but with a friend, Candy, my elementary school friend - and showed us a picture of her twin sister. Imagine my shock to learn that teachers not only have separate lives but some of them have twin sisters.

In the fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Shortridge (funny that I seem to be remembering the names of those I did not care for more than those that I did), would take me out of class and into the restroom, where she would suggest that I clean off my forearms, which were sooty with dirt picked up from playing jacks with Candy. We were late every day, Candy and I, even though we lived a half-block from that school, because we sat on her porch playing jacks until the last possible minute. Mrs. Shortridge was always making sure I cleaned my arms. A part of me was grateful but the other part was just too embarrassed and ashamed. You'd think I'd pick up and wash my own arms before getting into class. Maybe I did, eventually. I don't remember though. I do know that I am not late to anything any more. I really hate being late.

In junior high our class was divided. Half went to shop, the other to home ec, then switched for the second semester. Radical for that day, both boys and girls. I was a disaster at both, however. By that time I already knew quite a bit about cooking because I holed up at home to cook (more on housekeepers and cooking another time) and I had no real patience with the Betty Crocker school of cooking. The utter neatness of it all, for example. The little kitchens. You'd think I'd like it but we had to do things in teams and it was awful. Shop was awful too because I couldn't remember how to use the machines right but I had a shop teacher who sometimes took pity on me.

One well-meaning home ec teacher took me out of class to help me learn about keeping clean and mending things. If you can imagine a more embarrassing situation I'd like to hear it. I know she thought she was being helpful. What she did not realize is that I knew I was a disaster, I blamed myself, yet somehow I could not get hold of it all and change anything. I wasn't dumb. These teachers may have thought I was.

When I was in twelfth grade, in English class, we had a substitute teacher for a time. The teacher was the mother of some of my classmates, twins to be exact. These twins took it upon themselves to tell me what their mother said of me: that my mother didn't take very good care of me. I was shocked that this teacher blamed it on my mother; I was 17 at the time, after all. And I was again embarrassed at being singled out this way. That, of course, was not helpful. She didn't try to help me. Just took pity.

It was in tenth grade, I think, when I joined the Forensics club. I joined because I was so bad at public speaking. Most people join clubs because they are good at stuff. I joined because I wasn't. I had a coach that year who was a teacher who had a large effect on me. Well, let's admit I found him attractive. I was also amazed that he took such interest in me. He helped me choose a piece to memorize and present, and he pointed out what others might not have, that would help me. He noted that I was fiddling with the buttons on my dress as I talked. He made many suggestions that I didn't want to hear but that I later recognized as real and helpful. He looms in my mind as a person who focused just on me, who saw potential and tried to bring it out.

When I think about it he wasn't the first. My piano teacher, in my younger years, also tried. When I was in high school taking piano lessons she decided I was too fat and needed to diet. She presented me with plain peanut butter sandwiches and skim milk when I came for a lesson. Never mind that I had already eaten. Somehow I could not refuse. At the time I couldn't stand the bluish look of skim milk and the sandwiches were hardly appealing without some jam in them. This teacher once said if she could give me the gift of music she would but she couldn't, I had to work at it. In my high school years I finally started to work at it and it showed. Music was a way for me to escape yet also to share everything going on inside me without having to say a word.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 8th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
It's tragic that so many teachers, who have great influence over children's inner lives, are so incompetent, unloving, unempathetic, and even sadistic.

One kind person--even one caring and loving remark--can take a child through a hard year sometimes.

I, too, remember teachers who were ignorant, cruel, disliked me (for whatever reasons, baffling to me because I tried hard to please adults), and who played favorites in class.

I remember several who were sadistic, even though they were too ignorant to know it, in that they enjoyed hurting children. Their lives were so empty, their attitudes toward us so filled with dislike and bitterness, that they took pleasure in our misery at their hands.
Jul. 8th, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
Too true. My second-grade teacher was clearly in this camp. She denied me opportunities she gave to the rest of the class, she ignored me except to point out my fatness. It may have been an unconscious way of attacking herself, when I think of it, but nevertheless it hurt me. Although interestingly I think she was so out front in her dislike of me that I sensed it and felt more anger than pain, which was probably healthy!

My first-grade teacher was different. When I was in seventh grade I met her by chance one day. She remembered me. She asked, "Are you still writing?" I was shocked. What writing did I do in first grade? I do remember some silly poetry. Somehow she remembered whatever it was.

I was lucky to have the beacons now and then. Without them I don't know if I could have overcome a lot that I dragged with me into adulthood.
Jul. 8th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
You said it's strange how we remember the people who hurt us more clearly, and that's very true for me, too.

When I look back at my childhood teachers, they were all middle-aged women who never smiled, never hugged or complimented or offered gentle support--in short, they would have been lousy parents and probably were. They were easily irritated, impatient, critical, bored with us.

Miss West was my third-grade music teacher and after I did a little on-stage solo, playing the part of an old woman picking up Paw-Paws, I went up to her and shyly asked if I'd done all right, and she hugged me and said I was wonderful! I loved her at once and have remembered that glorious moment for--let's see--fifty three years.

It took her thirty seconds, and her kindness to me helped me through an awful year with Mrs. Shawl, who glared at me all the time.
Jul. 8th, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! sometimes just a smile, a little comment, and all is well. The librarian's handling of the underpants event was perfect. It came naturally to her. I am not at all sure it would be so easy for me.
Jul. 8th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
I soooo remember those annual weigh ins!! They would bring the scale into the classroom and you would step up and the teacher would announce your weight to everyone. I also remember in 2nd grade the teacher saying very loudly, 'Well, Susan, I do believe you weigh more than anyone else in this class!' Thank you, bitch. I do not remember any of their names.

I don't even remember the name of the teacher I had in 7th grade who was really the cutest guy I had ever seen. He taught sentence structure. To this day, I can diagram even the most complicated sentence perfectly. Thank you, Mr. Really Cute.

That one is fun to remember. Thanks.
Jul. 8th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, sentence diagramming! I loved doing that! In fact, in the twelfth grade, when we were doing it again (neither of my children remembers ever learning this) we were supposed to come up with our own sentences and then diagram them. I was so good at diagramming that I made a long, complex sentence just to test myself. The teacher was neither amused nor impressed. I never did understand that.

In these dark times I also had a high school teacher who asked if I could babysit for him one time. I did, and I explored his records and other items, trying to get more of a feel for the guy - and believe me, I was fantasizing big time.
Jul. 8th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
Oh man, the group weigh in was HORRIBLE. They combined it with the scoliosis (sp) test AND, as if that wasn't enough public humiliation, they picked in our hair looking for LICE!

I've had psoriasis (on my scalp) for my whole life and of course the damn school nurse had to make a big ass production out of it come lice picking time (refering to it as "cradle cap", jsut what an elementary school kids wants, a label calling them a baby).

Since the school nurse had to make a big deal, my parents made a big deal. I spent way to many evenings, bawling and begging my mother to stop scraping the psoriasis crust off my scalp. I'd go to bed sniveling with my greasy hair and bloodied scalp.

Oh, and as for cruel teachers, I have two that stand out. My sixth grade teacher (name elludes me now) who used to have a "witty" comment for EVERY kid, usually pointing out a flaw or noting how he didn't like our clothes/hair/whatever.

The other was in high school. Mr. Robasky. BOTH of them (they were brothers, Ed and Carl) were pompous men who really thought they were far above the jobs they did. Ed, in particular, fancied himself a psychiatrist/pshycologist and would analyze his students, to the point of writing essay length comments on test papers (pointing out different flaws).

I was vindicated some years later when, while in college, a few of my professors were publically ridiculing a person who thought they were professor material. It was CARL! He was being ridiculed by the professors at the college he adored. SUCK IT, CARL!
Jul. 8th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
Oh lordy! Lice checks! I would have died on the spot. One reason: dandruff. I was, again, not too clean, and so I had outbreaks of dandruff.

Oh weren't they fun times?? But they honed us, didn't they?
Jul. 8th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
True. I wouldn't have the sense of humor I have today if not for the absolute HORROR that was course of my primary and high school learning.

And, I never would have learned the lice poem. (Never share a hat or comb or lice will make your head their home.)
Jul. 8th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
My day - maybe my life - is complete now. I know the lice poem. Thank you.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Judith Lautner
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