Lime often says something that sets me off and running. She recently did a post at her House of Lime about a good kindergarten teacher and a bad first day of kindergarten.
I have had a series of good and bad experiences with public education. I hesitate to say bad things... not... despite earning my living in one for 16 years. Sheesh. I have seen good, bad, so-so in school staff and in parents and students.
I was a so-so student who was fairly lazy. I think that I convinced myself that as long as I passed the tests that homework was optional. It isn't. But I did have a knack for charming male teachers... which gave me A grades... and good recall on anything from a lecture, reading or on film... which gave me passing scores. My parents were frequently treated to a standard speech about how bright and witty I was but not living up to my potential. It near drove my father insane but for me that was part of the point. I was number 5 in a line up of honor student sisters and sport star brother... I had no special talent to offer and was exhausted by the competition.
I began school on a high... put in a TAG pre-school program run by our local college. But that soon faded. I ended up in a group that were taught to be sight spellers and my rememberer did not work that well. I was easily distracted by other students, the clouds in the sky and any movement by bugs. Looking at words and trying to recall them just was not interesting to me. I became a horrible speller.
My father used to read my papers... that I was sure were finished and circle the misspelled words... and I would have to re-write the darned things using the dictionary he provided... a giant unabridged thing that had its own stand. I was then distracted by all the great words and it took me hours to finish things.
Tenth grade found me in the classroom of the world's most awful English teacher. Every Wednesday we had a spelling test. Every Wednesday she would prop her butt on Richard's desk... he was at a track meet those days, so it was empty. She would lean over and watch what I was writing on my paper. As soon as I misspelled a word, she would snatch up my paper... wad it up into a ball and say "Rebecca gets an F again!" and then shoot it into the waste basket.
Sometimes I actually studied and tried and would make it through most of the list before the snatch... but eventually I began to misspell the first word on purpose, just to get the humiliation over and done with. I complained to my dad and it did no good until...
Richard was my friend. Everyone knew about the way I ended my spelling lessons. It was a source of laughter but an upset for me. Duh. Richard began his Wednesdays in class, but left after about ten minutes for track. One day, he looked at me and winked. I watched him undo the screws under his desk top and slip the nuts into his pocket that held the screws before he left as teacher wrote on the blackboard. Hee hee. I was not alone in watching this play out... most of the kids were very aware and I was not the only kid this teacher tormented.
Teacher grabbed her clipboard with the week's spelling list and swished over to her usual place at Richard's desk. In those days, teachers wore dresses, nylons and girdles or panty hose. This teacher was obese. Very obese. She looked very similarly to Miss Piggy. No offense to the Muppets!
As if taunting us... she hovered close to the desk for a few words... all eyes on her. I spelled carefully, not wanting to ruin the show by blowing it ahead of the big event. Then she did it... hiked up one cheek and came down on the desk top.
The desk top flipped, she fell backwards... legs going out and up so that we all got a good view of her girdle and garters as she slammed down hard on her back. The room roared with laughter and just as quickly the laughter turned silent as the red faced and very angry teacher pointed at me and threw me out of her room.
My mother was called. She called my father. I sat in misery outside the girl's dean's office in the waiting area for my father to arrive. He did. He was not happy. He was a busy man, but never too busy to drop everything for something like this. It was fortunate for me that the dean was on a phone call with another parent and I had time to tell my dad what happened myself. He nodded his head and did not speak one word to me. This frightened me greatly.
The girls dean began her speech on what had happened and my father listened quietly until she had finished. The information she had given him was wrong, he explained... I had not loosened the bolts. I felt both relief and guilt that Richard was outed. He had done it for me. But my dad rose to that fact as well and detailed for the dean what I had been experiencing in the class... with his belief that neither I or Richard should be punished. He then demanded that I be taken out of that class and placed in a different class with a decent teacher who did not take such pleasure in humiliating her students... or he would be filing formal complaint with the school board.
He then amazed me further by taking me out to lunch and letting me hang out at the office with him for the rest of the day. He did not punish me or even talk more about it. When I returned to school the next day my transfer was waiting. When I got to my new class... there was Richard who actually thanked me because my father had called his father and explained what had happened. His parents agreed that he too should be transferred.
As it happened, I left public school the following year shortly into the school year. That time, I came home from school and announced that I was never returning to public school again. My father did not even ask me what happened. He found a private school that would take me and put me in it. He never got another call to come to a school to hear what trouble I had managed to get into. We were both happier.
Irony rules in my life... so where did I end up working... in a public school, as most of you know. But I can honestly say this... there are good people and bad people in education, as there is in the rest of life. I think my father was tired of the complaints. I did get far more complaints than any of the other kids in my family. Way more. But I will say this for my parents... they punished me fairly when I deserved it and they backed me up like wolverines when I was right. They allowed me to be who I was. That's what its all about. I tried to do the same for my own children.
It was hard. I walked into my first parent teacher meeting feeling like I was the student... small and at the teacher's mercy. It was even harder when my children attended the school where I worked and I had to go up against co-workers that I had to see every day. But I stood behind my kids and they knew that I would. It was a promise I had given them. I think it made a huge difference on how they felt about themselves and what rights they had. I hope so anyway.