Guest Writers

My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola: Guest Post by Mark Kaplowitz

Mark Kaplowitz

My guest blogger today is Mark Kaplowitz. I started cyber-crushing on MarKap the minute he came onto the blogging scene. Many of his earliest pieces were nostalgic pieces that made me long for the days of metal lunchboxes (like he wrote about HERE) and action figures (like he wrote about HERE). His writing is punchy and hilarious. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been discovered and published already. I would totally buy his books. (You hear that publishers? He’s already sold one copy!) You can find Mark’s blog HERE and follow him on Twitter at @MarkKaplowitz. Thanks for sharing your teacher memory, Mark. I now understand  your fear of crayons.

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My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola

Ms. Deagle seemed normal on the first day of first grade, as she stood at the front of the room and announced that she rewarded good work with scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers.  I thanked my lucky stars that I had not been assigned to the ancient Mrs. Krabcik, who, it was rumored, bit the erasers off students’ pencils to make errors impossible to hide.

There had been no stickers in Kindergarten, and I was excited that, at last, my brilliance would be properly remunerated. As Ms. Deagle handed out a purple-inked mimeograph, called a “ditto,” I prepared to impress my new teacher with my wizardry at addition or spelling.

The ditto, however, contained neither sums nor words to be completed, but an uncolored picture of children sitting in a classroom. “I thought we would start first grade with a little coloring assignment,” Ms. Deagle said, standing with her hands locked behind her back.  “I make two assumptions about all of your coloring work. One, that all of the pictures will be outlined in black. And two, that none of the colors will smudge.  Please check your work before you hand it to me, to make sure my assumptions hold true.”

Not the pack Mark used.

I outlined the ditto in black and colored it in, making the wisest selections I could from my shiny new 64-pack of Crayola crayons, with perfect points and untorn wrappers. The ditto took close to an hour to complete, and blackened the heel of my coloring hand.  I was tired but ready to proceed to more intellectually challenging material.

But the second assignment was another coloring ditto, as was the one after that. My first day of first grade was devoted entirely to coloring, and the last assignment of the day — a beach scene that made me long for the summer vacation just ended — had so many items that I had to take the ditto home with me. On the morning of the second day, we lined up before Ms. Deagle’s desk to have our work reviewed and, if acceptable, obtain a sticker for it. My stomach churned as my turn approached.

“Not bad, Mark,” Ms. Deagle said, scanning my work like a museum curator. “But I can see where you let the black outlining bleed into the ocean here. Please be more careful in the future.” I said I would, and thanked her for the sticker she pressed onto the top left corner of the ditto. As I scratched the sticker and inhaled the aroma of pepperoni pizza, I rejoiced that I had survived the coloring trial.

But the arithmetic that I’d been counting on did not come that day, either. Instead, we were given more coloring to do: an 11×17 mural of school buses lined up in front of a school, ready to cart happy children away to happy homes. I wished that I could join them. I used more care when coloring adjacent to black outline, but still the crayon bled, making my buses look muddy.

As the weeks and months passed, the coloring assignments did not abate. Coloring appeared to be the only skill that Ms. Deagle deemed worth teaching.  Once in a while we would get a math or reading assignment—a treat to be saved for last and savored—but it was a momentary and inconsequential digression from our art.

Imagine being six years old and coloring until 10 o’clock every night. A century earlier and I could have been standing before a lathe. True, I was not going to lose a hand coloring. But sometimes it sure felt like it. And not all students were as skilled as I.

Emmy, one of my classmates, was quiet and had no friends that I could see.  She was also slow in her work and had trouble following directions. She colored in defiance of the lines, saved her black crayon for tests that required a No. 2 pencil, and was so behind in her assignments that Ms. Deagle would lock her in the classroom during recess.

When that punishment did not work, Ms. Deagle locked Emmy in the closet. As we filed out the door for lunch, each of us peered through the closet window at a scared and timid Emmy looking out.  I don’t know if Emmy’s work improved after that, but mine certainly did.

By the spring, my parents had compared notes with the notes of my classmates’ parents, and decided it was time for a meeting with the principal about dear Ms. Deagle.  I remember hearing about the meeting, and that the principal had promised to do something. I also remember how nothing changed. But I survived Ms. Deagle’s first grade and moved on to second grade where, in only a few short weeks, I relearned the alphabet. Emmy was left back — with another teacher, I hope.

I picture Ms. Deagle today, retired and watching cable news programs in her den. In one segment, parents sit with their child and a lawyer, and say they are suing their child’s school because “chaining students to their desks is an unacceptable practice in the 21st Century.” And Ms. Deagle shakes her head, scratches and sniffs a nearby sticker, and calls her sister to complain about how educational standards have slipped.

What was the most lame assignment you ever had to do in school? Or what was your least favorite color in the 64-box of crayons.

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

41 thoughts on “My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola: Guest Post by Mark Kaplowitz

    1. I think that’s the new name for it. I mean, there’s so many different kinds of mustard: Guilden’s brown, the French’s bright yellow, that Grey Poupon, sir. But baby diarrhea…wait, does that really only come in yellow?

  1. HIlarious!! My son failed kindergarten art last year! When we went to open house, his scarecrow was unrecognizable as such. He had simply scribbled on every piece, cut everything out, and glued it in one big pile. He had even thrown out the arms. The teacher said when she asked him what happened to the arms, he looked at her and said, “They are in the trash.” (in such a tone as to mean, lady, you are an idiot). We were thankful that we could barely recognize his turkey at Thanksgiving. We saw progress!!! 🙂

    After reading your piece, I am very thankful that his teacher saw beyond his art deficiencies and taught him the alphabet 🙂

    1. The alphabet? That’s some radical ideas they’re teaching in education departments these days. I guess if you can’t be Picasso, may as well know how to read. That’s the way I look at it. I couldn’t draw a straight line if my life depended on it. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Ditto above. Perhaps your teacher was wiser then it seems. That activity has to be very stimulating to the brain and lead to positive thinking ability guided by color. Just a theory. Our favorite coloring activities were: 1. press hard and make color patterns in stripes and blocks and then cover the whole thing with black crayon. Then sketch with a paper clip. The colors came through and seemed so magical. 2. Color on sheet of course sandpaper. Fab texture. Now that I am 62 I don’t have crayons anymore. I have progressed to colored pencil and ink.

    1. And anyone who visits your site can see it’s paid off, Carl. Although I guess technically you’ve progressed to colored pencil, ink and electrons.

      I’m glad that you see Ms. Deagle as wise and stimulating. I guess she would appear that way to someone with artistic talent. That’s what I love about storytelling – you can write something, thinking it will come out one way, and then people see it differently. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mark, you are one of my favourite bloggers – this piece is, in true Mark form, hilarious. But it also made me squirm – what is UP with the colouring, already?

    My Grade One teacher used to have us play with her hair as she sat behind her desk, lecturing. Sometimes we used our hands, other times twirling magic markers through her curly mop. Once or twice, in true defiant-boy fashion the Keates twins took the lids off the magic markers before drawing them through her hair, which made us giggle.

    The teacher remained oblivious, but I used wonder if she ever sniffed the air sometimes and thought, “Now, why do I smell black licorice?”

    1. Thank you, Liz. I’m glad I was able to meet expectations, this time. And the colouring made me squirmy too. Of course, when you’re seven years old you don’t think anything’s wrong. You think, “I hope I get a sticker today, and not locked in the closet.”

      I wish there had been someone in my class brave like the Keates twins, who would have some fun with the teacher. We were just scared out of our wits.

      1. “I hope I get a sticker today and not locked in the closet.”

        It’s so hard to type coherent sentences whilst snort-laughing. Too funny, Mark. Disturbing and sad, but…funny.


  4. Wow! What a piece of work. I always loved the smell of dittos and new crayons, but that definitely could have killed it for me.

    The lamest assignment I ever had was actually from a crazy French teacher in college. She wanted us to organize our notebooks and turn them in. I sat the night before for a couple of hours going through her sample notebook in the classroom, making mine mirror hers exactly. I turned mine in and got it back with, “That is very creative, but not effective. You must do this over.” I dropped the class. I had wasted enough time with that woman.

    Love the post, Mark. 🙂

    1. Thank you Piper. I’ve never been able to look at crayons the same way since. And I’ve never understood the teachers who make students perform tedious assignments with little to no ostensible educational value. They make it harder for the vast majority of teachers who are not like that at all.

  5. What’s the difference between green-blue, and blue-green anyway?

    I was a deprived child. I never had a box of 64. 8, yes. 16, yup. 32? Maybe. 64? Not on your life. I’m pretty sure my brother did, however. He always got cooler toys than I did.

    1. One is more blue, and the other is more green. How aquamarine and turquoise work into this scheme is beyond my pay grade.

      I’m sorry you never got the 64. I hope it didn’t come between you and your brother. Course, the 64-pack is not even that impressive anymore. I’ve seen pictures of the 512, which comes with wheels, a retractable handle, and a service contract.

  6. I’m glad Mark can laugh now. His mom and I were fit to be tied at the time. Other than making up a pseudonym, Mark hasn’t exaggerated one bit. The principal’s hands shook as we confronted him. Fortunately, Mark taught himself to read before he started first grade. Other students were not so lucky.

    1. Hi Mr. Kaplowitz:

      I’m sorry about being all flirty and joking that I was in love with Mark. Just thought you should know I am happily married.

      I just love Mark’s writing.

      His writing.

      I’m sure his wife is fabulous. 😉

  7. Always hated art, becuase I couldn’t draw or color well, and lefties drag their fingers across whatever they’ve just finished writing or drawing. Ugh.

    Lamest assignment: In college Spanish I was required to attend several tape labs to hear pronunciation. Despite the fact I could speak the language better than my prof, I was graded down for not attending the labs.

    1. I too am a leftie! And I remember having that dark smear on the heel of my left hand all through school. With art I could sometimes work from right to left to minimize the smearing. But with writing, I was stuck with English, and English is not a semitic language. So all of my stories had smears on them. Another reason to be thankful for living in the age of computers.

  8. I would have done well with Mrs. Deagle. I could have colored all day. It’s math that ruined me. Math, I say.

    Lamest assignment: If there were lame assignments, I don’t remember them. But then I was probably too busy looking at the cute boy who sat next to me or working on my impression of the teacher.

    Yes, I was positively scholarly in my younger years.

  9. And you would have colored all day. And all night. And you would have had very little math to do. You would’ve been the resident scholar in the class.

    You really don’t remember lame assignments? I always thought it was lame to have to write an essay about class field trips. Having to write about a trip the next day in class always seemed to ruin the trip for me.

    Then again, isn’t that basically what blogging is? Writing stories about field trips? Hmmm…maybe not so lame after all.

    1. I don’t remember having to write about field trips. That would suck.

      Remember, I’m older than you.

      We did cooler assignments back in the 1970s.

      Thanks for being here today.

      I know you had that “thing” to do today. 😉

  10. I loved those scratch and sniff stickers. My first four grades were spent in a non traditional academic setting. All individually based. I’ll have to tell some of those stories someday. Great tale told here Mark.

    1. Thanks Clay. I can’t imagine school without also imagining a classroom with 20 or 30 other students, all competing for the best scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers. I think your stories about a different kind of classroom would be pretty interesting.

  11. I actually enjoyed the rare times of coloring. I greatly preferred it to drawing because well.. I can’t draw. Or paint.

    An entire day, day after day, of coloring is ridiculous. Once a day? I could probably allow that.

    You have to wonder what the teaching credentials were back then. Not that I’m happy with how schools are now – they seem to suck the fun out of being a kid – but I cannot imagine your parents were the first to complain about the coloring.

    1. The funny thing is all the other teachers I had in elementary school were really good. There was a balance between reading, writing, and gluing pieces of construction paper to other pieces of construction paper. I don’t know what credentials were required – I’m sure one required credential was a great deal of patience. It was really just that one year. And I don’t think it was until my parents compared notes with the other parents that the pieces all came together. Course, maybe I’m making a big deal out of it because I was, and am, and always will be a terrible artist.

  12. As an art teacher, I despise coloring assignments. I hold coloring book sheets over my students’ heads all year with the promise that if they are very good they may be afforded a short respite from my tyrannical regime of cutting, gluing, sculpting, painting, sketching, measuring, molding, assembling, weaving, stitching, glazing, arranging, researching, folding and such. But just for the last five minutes of class.

      1. Well I think you made the right choice. English rules. I wasn’t that crazy about it in high school, but maybe I would have had you been my teacher.

        Then again I had really good English teachers in high school who were all very knowledgeable and passionate about the works and authors we read. I think I just wasn’t ready for Wuthering Heights and The Pearl and A Separate Peace and The Scarlet Letter.

  13. Great post, Mark. And I can feel the frustration leaking from your “I can read already” first-grade brain.

    You also had me with your use of remunerated (an under-utilized word, for sure!).

    I was fortunate to have, for the most part, excellent teachers (although there was that one guy in high school who showed episodes of “The Cosby Show” every day).

    Still, we’re having an issue with our son’s 8th grade honors English teacher right now. I haven’t done anything about it yet, but I can feel my hands getting shaky about it.

    Reading about your parents being your advocates has made me consider taking some kind of action. So far, I’ve refrained since I am an English teacher myself and feel capable of helping him fill in the gaps in this school year.

    However, I know most of his peers don’t have English teacher mothers. So the woman who sits at her desk on her phone checking Facebook all period then claims she’s “too busy” to grade written work is not doing anyone any favors.

    p.s. This is not merely rumor. She told us at Back to School Night that the kids would have no homework because she didn’t have time to grade it. And she constantly announces to the class (while they are filling out mindless worksheets) “My husband just posted the funniest thing on Facebook.”

    How she’s still teaching, I do not know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she is having them color today. I hope she at least offers them the 64-pack.

    1. Julie:

      Is she married to my son’s 7th grade Social Studies teacher?

      He’s too busy to post grades until mid-semester. (He proudly reported this to parents at Open House, too.)

      But I learned a lot about how he met his wife, how they went to high school together, but she wasn’t into him until after they graduated high school.

      Yadda yadda yawnsville.

      Maybe he doesn’t put grades in because there are no grades until halfway.

      Or maybe they are coloring. 😉

  14. Oh man, Mark! Something about this story reminded me of Hansel and Gretel about to get shoved into the oven. Who knew coloring could be so creepy?! My example of a wacky/weird/lame lesson will always be: my 4th grade teacher, who made us learn to square dance (in New Jersey…)!

  15. I thought Facebook was supposed to make us a more open society. It seems that a teacher’s Facebook page could be a pedagogical tool, if used correctly.

    Thanks, Julie, for noticing my use of an SAT word – those prep classes paid off! Glad you enjoyed the post.

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