Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mrs. Schearer

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Daisy Shearer.  I had no idea until recently that she was a friend of my mother.  Otherwise I would have played upon that strategy. This was the worst period of my time in elementary school.

I have no idea why I did not get along well with Mrs. Schearer.  I don't recall her doing anything to me to cause ill feelings.  Perhaps it was just my attitude.  At any rate, I was in fourth grade and hated it.

Compounding this was the fact that we must not have had enough fourth grade students or perhaps enough fifth grade students because they decided the would be a combined class of the fourth and fifth grade.

The fifth graders had their desks turned away from the fourth graders.  They got to stare out the window and we got to stare at the blackboard.  By the way, this was back in the day when schools had actually black slate boards that were held in place by a wooden frame.

 Teachers used chalk, which occasionally screeched if it was held incorrectly, thus sending out a wicked noise that made one cringe.

Mrs. Schearer would teach the fourth grade reading, writing or mathematics and give us some busy work, then go to the other side and teach the fifth grade.  Maybe this lack of attention irked me.

The fourth grade was an introduction to multiplication of large figures and long division.  We also suffered through adding sums of great columns of numbers.

The homework was the worst.  We were sent home with a ton of homework and expected to come back in the morning with our work completed without errors.  I had no idea what was the quotient of 2,758 divided by 631, and I did not really care.

Today's children are allowed to cheat by using calculators.  We did not have calculators in 1962.  Dad had a large heavy adding machine that had a crank on it.  He would punch in figures, then pull the handle to add more figures then pull the crank handle again for the sum.  We had our fingers, which were put to great use.

We had to actually write out:

631)2758  =  631 x 4 = 2524  2758 - 2524 = 234)631 = .3708 = 4.3708 

We generally had about 30 to 50 of these number problems to figure out each night.  I whined. My parents yelled.  I got tired and stayed up to late doing math problems and then had to write a report on the first chapter of my history book.  I woke up cranky and the cycle repeated.

I don't recall consciously devising a scheme to vent my anger, but my plan of action was to write in really small print.  I had no idea about fonts or type size, but I if I knew then what I know now, I would say I used about a 8 point type with a Lydian Cursive font.  Kids don't have much ammunition to choose from when you are dealing with the teacher and I used what I had.

The complaints started coming home.  "You are going to have to ask Marc to write his words and numbers bigger. I can not read them."  A-ha; You've discovered my plan.

Somehow I tried to make nice with Mrs. Schearer by cleaning erasers and wiping down the blackboard.

But then I went home and drew evil caricatures of her, before starting my homework.

This could have been a much better year.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Miss Corman

As I recall, the third grade was uneventful.  Miss Madeline Corman was my teacher.  She seemed normal enough.  She wore womens clothing, including dresses and had no noticeable body hair.  She did not utilize humiliation or hair-pulling as a means of torture

She was the second teacher to allege that I was a day-dreamer.  Perhaps it would have helped if I was not seated by a window, which allowed a clear view of escape and the freedom to enjoy a nice sunny day.

During this year she introduced us to cursive writing, simple multiplication and division.

We improved our reading skill by thoroughly examining the life of a different family; Alice and Jerry.

Alice and Jerry were much like Dick and Jane, but less metropolitan.  Dick and Jane seemed to live in a subdivision in the Midwestern United States. Alice and Jerry lived out in the sticks.
Dick, Jane and Sally
And they didn't run or jump quite as much as Dick and Jane.  I don't recall if Alice and Jerry had a younger sibling or any pets. They had farm animals.   The scenery in their stories was much more woodsy and farm-like.  Their grammar and sentence was more sophisticated than that of Dick and Jane or even Sally.  I would like to say that it was fascinating to delve into the lives of these children, but in reality, they were rather dull.

This was the first time that I demonstrated my talent for music, which I did during Show and Tell one morning during class.  My parents bought me a toy melodica.  I was able to coax the tune Over The Rainbow out of it and played it for my class at show and tell.

I wonder if they have Show and Tell at today's elementary school classes? Show and Tell was sort of a cross between American Idol and Antiques Roadshow.

A kid would demonstrate a talent or more often bring in one of their treasures.

I recall any number of times taking to school my father's sabers and bayonet knives which he brought back from World War II for Show and Tell.

In this modern age a child doing this  would be suspended from school indefinitely and sent away for a psychological evaluation.  No one seemed to get excited back in 1960 about bringing weapons, such as a pen knife to school.

Each midday we were sent to the school's gymnasium for calesthenics and games. This was the year we learned to play Dodgeball.

For the uninitiated dodgeball is a game that teaches you to stay the heck out of the way.  It is played by choosing the biggest and meanest bully in the class.  His job is to throw a basketball at the other children.

He must throw this ball with the same speed and impact a major league baseball player utilizes in pitching to a major league batter.

The job of the other children is to line up at the opposite side of the gym, not unlike people in a firing squad. The ball is then hurled at them.

Their goal is to avoid being struck by this fast moving object. Those hit are eliminated from the game and are allowed to go to the school nurse and ice down their hematomas.  The game ends when all of the children have been injured.

There are variations of this game such as Smear the Queer or Cream the Creep in which one child is targeted as a mark due to that child's reputation.  The game taught us not just about bullies and their effect upon society but was a way to teach us about the danger of fast moving objects.

I recall Miss Corman as a nice lady with a kind disposition.  If she was angry, she didn't take it out on us. She left the music instruction up to Mrs. Reif, so we did not learn any show tunes this year.

She did complain, because my cursive handwriting was atrocious, which it still is, so I print when I write.  I tried my best, but just couldn't make all the curlicues of the letters or make them attach to each other.

I figured out by myself that when multiplying by 9, you just needed to know 1 x 9 up through 5 x 9. For 6 x 9 up to 9 x 9 all you had to do was reverse the numbers to arrive at the answer.

I think this was the first year for homework, which I rebelled against.  I spent seven hours a day at school and was a kid.  I wanted to go home, play and watch TV.  My objections went unnoticed.

As I recall some boy did infiltrate the girls toilet room this year.  Miss Corman took all of us down the hall on a tour of the girls room and the boys room, hoping this would eliminate our curiosity.  It was a brief but interesting field trip.

This was the year that I learned about being shaken down.  Lunch at the school cafeteria was 35 cents. One boy seemed to be lacking a nickel every day and would ask me for money.  Since I was a nice kid and trying to be a friend, I gave him a nickel.

So I only had 30 cents and ran up a debt at the cafeteria.  My Mother was told by our lunch lady about my shortfall and I had some explaining to do.  The kid that was taking advantage of my good nature was giving a stern talking to.  Today he is a dentist and overcharges people.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Miss German

1959 was the year of the Space Race and it was the year for me to spend in Miss German's second grade class.

Miss German was another one of Samuel Woodfill School's gender ambiguous teachers. There was no question that she was a middle-aged woman.  All thirty of us second graders were aware of that.
However, she wore dresses and skirts, and sported a man's Timex wrist watch. The one distinguishing feature about Miss Germa was the fact that she never shaved her legs.  All of us children marveled at the way her stockings flattened down the dense crop of grayish black leg hair.

At Christmas we would give our teachers some small gift each year. Usually a trinket that Mom bought.  Some one should have given Miss German a safety razor and a can of Barbasol. She needed to use it on her arms as well.

Miss German also wore a whistle all the time.  I think all of the teachers owned a whistle.  It was more effective than screaming at us little criminals.

There are a couple of things regarding Miss Germans class that have stayed with me, lo these many years.

First of all, I was tardy nearly every day.  I've never been a daytime person.  Getting up at seven in the morning to a cold bedroom was no treat. I put my clothes on while sitting on the floor in front of the heat vent.

Subsequently I was ridiculed by Miss German nearly every morning for being late or as she declared; tardy.  In fact a few years later, when I was in the fourth grade, I was pulled out of class by Miss German and made to stand in front of that years second grade class.  My sister was late to school and blamed me.

Miss German looked at me and declared, "See this boy?  He is always tardy.  He has made his sister late to school.  Do not grow up to be like him!"

As I recall if anyone came to school with a new pair of shoes, you were immediately singled out for her ritual. You were made to stand in a circle of children, while they looked at you and sang:

"Oh see his (or her) new shoes, his shiny new shoes.  They're made of soft leather for all kinds of weather, oh see his new shoes, his shiny new shoes."  How humiliating!

Miss German not only taught us spelling, math and reading, but also taught us most of the songs from the musical Oklahoma.

"Ducks and geese and pigs got to scurry, when I take you out in the surrey."   "There's a bright golden haze on the meadow. There's a bright golden haze on the meadow.  The corn is as high as an elephant's eye and it looks like it's climbing way up to the sky...Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day."  

We learned the song from the Rodgers and Hammerstien musical, Carousel, "When you walk through a storm hold you head up high and don't be afraid of the dark."  I've avoided walking through storms ever since.

I learned these 51 years ago and they are still stuck in my head!

That little blond girl from Kindergarten was in my class, but alas had lost interest in me. However she looked hot in her new bright blue cat-eye glasses.

She was in the Blue-bird reading group, which was the best. I was in the Red-bird group for readers that made it to the second Dick and Jane reader.

The Yellow-bird group was for the pathetic losers that were stuck on the first grade Dick and Jane book with no hope of advancement. I longed to be in the Bluebird group.  I think I finally made it.

Miss German was a hair-puller.  If you were a boy and did something she didn't like, such as being tardy, she pulled you to her desk by grabbing you by the hair.  I wised up and got a butch haircut, which I believe is called a buzz cut now.  The barber left a little growth of hair on the front of your head, so you could apply butch-wax to make it stand straight up.

My Dad owned a grocery store and I was under the mistaken impression my family was rich.  We weren't, but we were not poor.  One day he brought home about fifty cases of Coca-cola.

This was back when Coke came in those little six and a half ounce bottles.  He got a good deal and brought them home for storage.

I volunteered him to bring enough of them to class for my 7th birthday.  He also brought potato chips and some toy streamers.  The whole class had a great time, as they were all wound-up with a sugar buzz and had a time twirling the streamers, much like those little Chinese girls do in the Olympics.

I gave my very first musical performance in her class. I had received a Melodica for my birthday and played Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I still play this song on guitar.

Miss German was one of a kind.  About a dozen or so years ago I learned that she was in a nearby nursing home.

And whenever the residents got too noisy, she would stand up from her wheel-chair and shout, "Now class, I want you all to be quiet...right now!"  She would have blown her whistle is she still had it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miss Doyle

Miss Doyle was my first grade teacher.  This was during an era when the elementary school teacher requirements stated that the median age was 65.  Miss Doyle had left 65 behind at least ten years prior.  She could have been home collecting Social Security, but decided to arrive every morning at eight am to teach us little scamps.

Aside from being elderly, she was frail, but she was an excellent and gentle teacher.  These were the days when old ladies dressed modestly and the uniform of the day consisted of a flower-patterned dress, opaque stockings and unique orthopedic shoes.

All the old women wore these shoes. They came in one color; black.  The looked like men's oxford shoes that tied up the front, but had a two inch heel in the back. The front of the shoe was wide to accommodate arthritis, corns and bunions.

Miss Doyle was an expert at teaching us to spell.  We had mastered the alphabet in Miss Moat's kindergarten course and were now ready to tackle putting those letters together.  We did this through the aid of those marvelous children, Dick, Jane and Sally accompianied by their dog, Spot and their little cat, Puff.

We spent hours each day reading about Dick running. See Dick Run. Run Dick run. I believe he must have been a marathon runner.  Jane did a fair share of jumping.  See Jane jump. Jump Jane jump. Sally did a fair share of looking. Look Sally look. We also saw Spot. And of course we saw Puff. See Spot. See Puff. See Spot and Puff.  They sure were a swell family, what with the running, jumping and looking.  I am sure they all enjoyed great health.

My favorite part of the day occurred when the vocal music teacher arrived.  This occurred twice a week. Mrs. Reif was our music teacher and was a lady of Italian descent.

She was tall and tan and young and lovely...  I didn't have words at the time, but I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.  We progressed from the popular childhood tunes that Miss Moats had sung, to new works such as The Red Bird, Safety First and Row your boat.

Not Mrs. Reif,
but a reasonable facsimile
One of the best days of my six year old life occurred when Mrs. Reif came over to me and said, "Marc has such a wonderful voice. He sings on key. Listen to him class. Now Marc, I want you to sing right into my mouth."  Oh my sweet Lord!  Singing into Mrs. Reif's  mouth with those pouty red lips. For two minutes I was in Heaven.

I cannot recall many other antics that occurred on Miss Doyle's watch, except this boy had gone into the girls bathroom during our potty break. He was the same exhibitionist from Miss Moats class.

This boy was a little different than the rest of us and did not follow instructions very well.  He was not only punished, but he was never seen again.  This put fear into the rest of us boys. A rumor went around that he was taken to the scary boiler room and used for fuel. We would never, ever sneak into the girls restroom.

I think what actually happened was this child had some psychological issues and was sent to a special school for help.  But since everything was hush-hush in those days we were not told what happened to Dennis.

The rest of the year was uneventful.

I still think back and wonder what Dick, Jane and Sally are doing.  ...probably running, looking and jumping.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Miss Moats

In early September of 1957 I was introduced to Betty Jean Moats.  I had reached that marvelous apex of five years of age and I cannot describe the joy I felt now that I was able to go to school.  So Mom marched me up the street to the big ol' redbrick building that housed Samuel Woodfill School.  

On the distal right rear corner of this edifice there was a brown metal door which was the entrance to the kindergarten where Miss Betty Jean Moats was in command  I joined the throng of about 40 or so students who were already there in their places with bright shiny faces.  In those days I suffered from terminal tardiness, so my first day was no different  I was also an alleged daydreamer.

Miss Moats or Moatsie as some of the Moms called her was in her early thirties although she looked really old to a lad of five.  She was of average height and weight, but what distinguished her in the eyes of us kids was her hair.

Those were the days of the greasers who wore black leather jackets, tight jeans and boots. Their desired coif was what was called a Pompadour with a DA.  DA being the abbreviation for ducks ass.  

This condition is achieved by slathering Brylcream or Wildroot on ones hair and combing the top hair toward the back of ones head, then combing the sides in an upward fashion.  By doing this, the effect achieved on the back of the head is that the center hair is plastered down the head, while the sides overlap the downward slope.  The result resembled the rear end of a duck.

Miss Moats wore her hair in this manner and probably used Brylcreme or Wildroot.  For all I know she may have got her hair cut at Smitty's, who was the town barber.

Aside from the unusual hair-do, Miss Moats choice of transportation was also odd.  Perhaps it had something to do with lack of funds or perhaps it was just her choice?

She did not own an automobile. Instead she arrived to school each morning on a Cushman motor scooter.  

To a five year old, this was fascinating.  We all wanted a motor scooter like hers or at least a jitney, which is the name we gave homemade vehicles made from wooden planks, wooden orange crates and roller skate wheels.  However the motor scooter was preferable.

Miss Moats never wore a dress.  In fact years later when I saw her around town it was never in a dress.  She wore pants and a blouse.  It is sort of a misnomer to call it a blouse for it was more of a shirt.

Strapped around her neck was her ever-present whistle on a homemade lanyard.  The whistle signaled it was time for recess to end or more often, "you boys are misbehavin', cut it out!"

Kindergarten lasted from 8:30 in the morning until 12:30 in the afternoon.  Around 11:30 we were escorted to the cafeteria for a delicious mid-day snack of a half pint of milk and the black cookie.  Black cookies are those cheap round things with patterned edges used to make ice cream sandwiches.  We each got one sans the ice cream to go with the milk.  It cost Mom a quarter every week.

After this we were lead through the frightening furnace boiler room to a metal door that had a small window, which had wire mesh inside, This led us to the kindergarten class. 

We all knew that metal door was a blast door that would save us when the boiler blew up. Thankfully we survived Kindergarten with no casualties.

Miss Moats taught us valuable skills such as finger-painting, counting up to ten, and how to paste papers together, wherein we also learned about the delicious taste of white paste.  We also learned history when she read us about Chicken Little and Bre'r Rabbit.

And I received my first music education from her.  

She accompanied herself on a big old green out-of-tune  upright piano as we sang The Farmer In the Dell, The Animal Fair, The Itsy, Bittsy Spider and a rather questionable popular song of the day known as This Old Man.

"This old man, he played one, he played knick-knack on my thumb."  

Any adult caught playing knick-knack on a child's thumb today would get at least 25 years in prison and would deserve it.

As I have said school only lasted until 12:30 in the afternoon. The afternoon class arrived at one, so Miss Moats had a half-hour break.  

Some of the mothers of the afternoon students arrived to find Miss Moats holding hands with Miss Corman; my third grade teacher.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions.  I recall a time a few years ago, when this sort of behavior was grounds for dismissal, but in 1957 it didn't seem to bother any of the moms and we kids were oblivious of it.

A few antics stand out in my mind from my time in Moatsie's kindergarten. 

Miss Moats taught me the proper way to pee.

Yep!  The first time I went to stand in front of the urinal I was flanked left and right by other boys. 

I dropped my trousers and underwear to the ground so my bare ass stood out. Of course the boys laughed at me.  

Miss Moats, who was in the boys room watching us, taught me what that slit in your underwear was for and why mens pants zipped in the front.  I shall ever be grateful.

I became aware that girls are much different than boys, especially when one girl named Jane latched onto me and began kissing my arm.  

It was very pleasant as I recall.  She was a cute little blond.  We never progressed beyond arm kissing.

I saw my very first guinea pig in Miss Moats class.  It was fascinating to touch that little rodent.

Once I was punished for being too loud during quiet time and was sent off to lay my head on the table with two other youngsters.  I sat on one side of the table and the boy and the girl sat on the other side.  

We were whispering about the extent of our punishment when
the boy looked over at the girl and said, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."  I bet they would have got in a lot more trouble if Miss Moats would have seen that.  

I made friends in her class and still keep in touch with some of them.

Woodfill School was home to large and dangerous play equipment which consisted of a ten foot tall metal slide, monkey bars made out of steel bars and a see-saw.  

One of my friends had hurt her thighs when her see-saw mate jumped off while she was at the top thus allowing her to pummel to the ground.  The bottom of the metal seat cut her and she was sent to the hospital for stitches.  The see-saw remained. Litigation had not evolved into what it is today.

The monkey bars were great and we little monkeys scampered all over them, usually hanging upside down. Although occasionally someone banged their head on a bar.

What really bothered me was the slide.  This was not because it was tall and not because one had to climb up a steep ladder to reach the top.   

What annoyed me was the top of the slide where you positioned yourself  had become worn away through years of use and now the aluminum had a brown butt-shaped mark.  I was convinced this was caused by the girls.  

The girls all wore dresses and their sweaty bottoms had somehow left marks. We boys wore trousers or jeans which prevented any bare bottom parts coming in contact with the slide. 

I especially blame Sharon (?) who was the guiltiest of all of the girls.  

Sharon often came to school wearing a dress but forgetting to put on her underwear.  In my five year old mind I surmised the guilt was upon Sharon.  It probably was.
Which blocks match?

Recently I was browsing the internet to see what sort of employment opportunities were available.  As I looked at the requirements, I stumbled upon an aptitude test this local corporation uses.  Part of this test consisted of four shapes and the object was to determine which shape did not match the other three.  I aced it.  

Miss Moats gave that same test in 1957.

Miss Moats was a very unique person.  God bless her. I guess the most valuable lesson she left me with was that being different is OK. 

As she became older, the school hired a helper for her.  

Sadly Miss Corman had passed away.  

Moatsie and her helper became life long friends and were seen out often at restaurants eating and probably holding hands under the table.