Odds and Ends from Ermigal is a fabulous blog. A recently retired English as a Second Language teacher, Ermine Cunningham’s favorite years were teaching students from all over the world. (See them up there?)
One of the things that I love best about Erm’s blog is that she writes about everything and anything under the bed. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Well, that’s what it’s like at Ermine’s. One minute we are talking about salsa lessons and the next thing we know, she admits “Herman Cain Made a Pass At Me, Too.”
If you like a good surprise, you will love Ermigal.
• • •
Dear Miss Brown: Thanks for Reaming Me Out
As a greenhorn seventh grader trying to maneuver my way around the unfamiliar world of Junior High School, I was introduced to the new concept of “Slam Books” in Miss Brown‘s homeroom one morning: a spiral notebook with names of kids written at the top that was passed around surreptitiously for anonymous comments — positive or negative — a prehistoric version of internet bullying or sucking up, take your pick.
Eagerly, I became the first taker on a brand new Slam Book in Miss Brown’s homeroom and tried to be clever and cool with my entries. My summer growth spurt made me taller than most of the boys in my class, and I’d been spotted wearing an undershirt in the locker room after gym, as my mother pooh-poohed wearing a bra until I “needed one”. Stationed at my vantage point on the fringes of acceptance, I took a stab at being popular; carefully dressed and wearing a bra I’d purchased at K-Mart, I wanted to fit in.
On the page with “Ginny Bloss” written at the top, I had written, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
I passed the book along and went to my locker before the bell rang to switch classes.
I was on my knees digging in my locker when my teacher faced me, her large green eyes blazing. “Did you write this?” she demanded, pointing to the page with Ginny’s name.
I remember this classmate as small and quiet in class–definitely not one of the “popular” kids. I’d figured out that some kids were cheerleaders or student council material, definitely the ones whose group I wanted to be in. Ginny was not anywhere near being a part of this select bunch; she even paid attention in Mr. Foster’s science class while a group of us fooled around and passed notes.
“Yes,” I whispered. My stomach churned with a feeling of impending doom.
Miss Brown proceeded to go up one side of me and down the other. I distinctly remember when she asked me furiously:
“Who do you think you are?”
That feeling of shame and regret, along with those words, have stuck with me. To this day, that moment in the hall influences how I view other people; on that long ago morning, I learned — in a most basic way — that we are all equal and worthy of respect.
It didn’t hurt that my parents reinforced this trait in me also, but Miss Brown brought it home in a way a thirteen year old could learn from if she chose to do so. My life has been, I hope, a reflection of what I learned that day.
Thanks, Miss Brown.
Have you ever had a “public shame” moment?What did you do? How was it handled? What did you learn?
My guest blogger today is Kathy English, one of the very first people I met in the Blogosphere. Or, I guess I was directed to her. Her blog, The Mom Crusades,is filled with funny peeves and basically daily, snarky observations about parenting. Kathy has had a tough year. Last November, her then 9-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery, hospitalization, radiation, chemotherapy and endless doctor’s appointments, some semblance of normalcy has been restored. Kinda. I was surprised and appreciative when Kathy volunteered to write a teacher memory. She has such an open heart.
• • •
Mrs. Schmidt’s Wonderful World
In sixth grade, I attended a school with three middle school grades sharing the high school building. As a new kid, I quickly learned to avoid the seniors’ hallway, to avoid the principal as he was quick to paddle students for wrong-doings (yes, principals were equipped with wooden paddles back in the day, and they used them). It was the first year I would rotate classrooms, and I had to memorize where all my classes would be and in what order.
I wasn’t ready.
By sheer rotten luck, I was placed in the class of a teacher who’d had one of my sisters a few years earlier. He was one of those people you look at and wonder, “How the heck did THAT guy ever get to be a teacher?” A toothpick grew permanently out of the corner of his mouth, he was sarcastic, and he talked to us with the vocal inflection that automatically let us know he thought we were “duh-mb.”
By sheer blessed luck, a counselor entered my room on the second day of school and asked for volunteers to switch into a self-contained sixth grade classroom in order to even out class sizes. My hand shot up in the air so fast, I felt like I could have touched the ceiling. I had chosen to sit in the back of the room, hoping to avoid the attention of the teacher, but there I was, practically jumping up and down in my seat, Arnold Horseshack style. (Young’uns can google that reference. He’s from the old TV show Welcome Back, Kotter!)
The counselor selected a handful of us, and we grabbed our books and headed down the hall to the wonderful world of Mrs. Schmidt, sixth grade teacher. Mrs. Schmidt was tall and slender, with wild red curly hair, and a commanding presence. She was ready for business from day one, and guided all of us with a firm hand, a sense of humor, and sternness when necessary.
While other kids might have thought it strange that we didn’t change classes or have different teachers, we were in our own little world with Mrs. Schmidt: caught in a happy cocoon of elementary school-like security and sixth grade learning.
During the last week of sixth grade, the school was prepared to hand out various awards at a school-wide assembly. The ever-perceptive Mrs. Schmidt knew that there would be many of us who – literally – didn’t make the grade and would not receive any of those awards. In my scrapbook, I still have four, faded-purple dittoed awards – outlined in crayon and glued onto construction paper, all made by hand and personally signed by Mrs. Schmidt. What are they for? “Scientific Achievement” and “Social Studies Skills”; another stated I was the “Royal Highness of Reading” and declared that I possessed the “Imagination to Travel anywhere and everywhere in the Kingdom of Infinity.” I also earned the award for “Clever Wit.”
Each of the 30 or so students in the class was given at least as many personal awards from Mrs. Schmidt, each read aloud joyfully before being presented, as if it were the first time our teacher had ever given such awards to anyone.
Mrs. Schmidt had a knack for making everyone feel special, for recognizing the individuality in each student and finding a way to nurture it. She was certainly a tough act to follow.
Every time end-of-the-year school award ceremonies roll around, I remember Mrs. Schmidt and how she found something personal about each of her students – to let them know they were recognized and appreciated.
Did you ever win any goofy awards at school? What did you win?
Recently, Tech Support has become much more private. About everything. Where my 12-year old son used to willingly spill all the beans at once, now he doles them out in microscopic handfuls. And even then, I get a little morsel only after extensive prodding and threats of punishment. Picture a skinny 7th grader with freckles and a pre-recorded robot voice. Because basically, that’s what I’ve got goin’ on these days.
This is how most our after-school conversations sound:
Me: How was school? Tell me something cool that happened today.
TS: I do not like to talk about my academic life.
Me: Well, your father and I think it is important that we know what you do during the day.
Me: Tech Support, it’s not like I’m asking you to reveal our nation’s secrets. If you don’t tell me something about your day, there will be a consequence.
TS: Will this consequence involve my iPod Touch?
Me: It might.
TS: I had a very good day.
Me: That’s a little vague. Can you be more specific?
TS: I do not like to talk about my personal life.
Me: Can you tell me who sat with you during lunch?
TS: I do not remember.
Me: How is that possible?
Me: Okay, what about that girl from last year. Do you still see her?
TS: I do not like to talk about my social life.
Me: If you don’t give me something, there will be a consequence.
TS: Will this consequence involve my iPod Touch?
Me: It might.
TS: She still likes me. I know because she still emails me once in a while and talks to me in the hall. But she doesn’t like like me.
Me: How are you doing in your classes?
TS: I don’t like to talk about my grades.
Me: Are you kidding?
TS: If I don’t answer you, will I lose my iPod Touch?
Me: You are heading in that direction.
TS: Then I am doing very well. Very well, indeed. I have A pluses in all my classes. I have found a way to stop the United States dependency on foreign oil. I did this in science with my lab partner. I have written many long essays in English. My gym teacher loves me.
Me: Are you messing with me?
Me: Dude, you are exhausting.
TS: *smiling* Will that be all?
Me: May I ask one more question?
TS: If I do not answer, will I lose my iPod Touch?
TS: Very well. When I get up to read from the Torah, I plan to bust out into a rap. Or sing like Operaman. It will be excellent. Everyone will love it. They will think I am awesome and tell me I should be a rock-star when I grow up.
Me: If you do that . . .
TS: . . . will it involve my iPod Touch?
Me: No. *not smiling* It will involve this . . .
And then I jump on him. I tackle my snarky little son who suddenly knows all the answers to everything. He is longer than I remember. And stronger. We are laughing as our fingers intertwine.
Tech Support and I notice at the same moment that our hands are the same size.
TS: That’s weird. When did that happen?
I think about his question. I remember his tiny fingers wrapped over the edge of his blanket, how he used to clumsily grab magic markers and paintbrushes. I think about the way he used to build with LEGOs and K’Nex and how he still loves to make magnetic creations with those super tiny Bucky Balls. I consider how gracefully he holds his sabre before each bout.
My son interrupts my thoughts.
TS: I think I know when it happened.
I tilt my head, lean in, and give all my attention to him.
TS: Probably while I was on my iPod Touch.
What physical and/or emotional changes do you remember people commenting on as you grew up? Or what did/do you notice changing about your child/ren? How did your parents punish you? Do you ever take away your kid’s iPod Touch?
Can you imagine if my kid does a Hebrew version of this on his Bar Mitzvah? Oy!
I’m kicking off Wednesday #TWITS: a fancy-schmancy acronym forTeachersWhoIThinkScored /TeachersWhoIThinkSucked. (It only took me eleventy bajillion hours to think up that one.) So here is my middle school memory about one very specific moment. Obviously, I have changed the teacher’s name.
• • •
In middle school, I had the meanest homeroom teacher. Unfortunately, she was also my English teacher, which meant I had double doses of her each day. Mrs. Dour ran a tight ship. She liked her rows straight. She liked her students quiet. She hated boys who leaned back in their chairs. She also hated girls who wore clogs. “Too noisy,” she complained. She called on people when their hands were down, and when she wrote words like “onomatopoeia” on the blackboard, she pressed so hard against the slate that the white chalk often crumbled into dust. Mrs. Dour wore her reddish-hair in a tight bun every day, but by 8th period, when I had her for English, most of her hair had fallen down, giving her a slightly deranged look.
I was pretty scared of her.
One June day, Mrs. Dour gave us all a 7-minute writing assignment during which time we were supposed to do something in our black and white composition notebooks.
I can’t remember what we were supposed to do because of what happened next.
Mrs. Dour turned her back to the class to write on the board. She was wearing a lightweight, white top and a long, gauzy, white skirt that day. I remember this because at that time I was preoccupied by what everyone wore. I noted in my superficial middle school manner that white did not flatter Mrs. Dour’s pasty complexion, and I planned to deconstruct her ensemble after class with my two friends during our bus ride home.
Right about then I noticed a small, reddish dot on the back of Mrs. Dour’s skirt.
Initially, I figured Mrs. Dour must have sat on one of her red felt-tipped markers. She was the only teacher who wrote in red felt-tip marker, and her fingers were often covered with red lines by the end of the day. While waiting for inspiration, I stared at the red mark on Mrs. Dour’s skirt – and I noticed the stain had grown larger. I looked around to see if I could catch anyone else’s eye, but everyone was madly engaged in our teacher’s in-class activity. As Mrs. Dour’s hand carefully crafted perfect cursive letters, I tracked the red as it spread across her bottom. What started out first as a dot, morphed into a quarter-sized circle and rapidly grew into an asymmetrical patch of red, the size of my adolescent fist.
I remembered how, midway through that year during gym class, we girls had been made to watch The Movie, a film created to explain what was starting to happen to our female parts. Our innards. I learned why some of us had boobies already and why some of us would have to wait. (In my case, years. Stupid hormones.) I remembered how we had grabbed each other’s hands as we huddled together in the gymnasium, trying to stifle our giggles. And before we left the locker room that day, each of us received a plastic “goodie-bag” filled with a cute little free sample of mouthwash, some deodorant, two sanitary napkins, and two tampons.
So I knew what was going on.
Meanwhile, I waited for someone else to notice. Or do something.
But as I watched the hand on the clock do that backwards-to-go-forwards click, I realized I was going to have to be The One.
I quietly pushed back my chair and, leaving my clogs behind so as not to make noise, I tiptoed across the room to join Mrs. Dour at the board.
She saw me out of the corner of her eye but kept writing, her back to the class.
How I wanted her to turn sideways and look at me, but she didn’t.
“Is there a problem?” Mrs. Dour snapped without so much as glancing my way.
If she had looked at me, I could have been more discreet. Instead, I fumbled for words. It hadn’t occurred to me to get the words right and then approach Mrs. Dour. My feet had just moved me to where I needed to go. I figured the words would follow.
“Yes,” I said.
Mrs. Dour spat, “Well, what is it?”
Heads popped up.
As inaudibly as I possibly could, I whispered: “There is blood all over the back of your skirt.”
Mrs. Dour, whom I had always assumed to be very old, was probably in her late forties. She was always so terse; she came off like The Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, which definitely added a decade of scowl lines to her deeply furrowed forehead.
So there I was, Dorothy Gale, stuck in the tornado that was Mrs. Dour.
“Come with me!” Mrs. Dour growled. She took my left arm firmly and escorted me from her desk to the door which she snatched open. Together, we marched directly across the hall to the student bathroom where Mrs. Dour disappeared behind a stall door.
I stood by a trio of sinks, waiting for directions. For divine intervention. For Mrs. Dour to tell me to go. Or stay. Or something.
I didn’t expect Mrs. Dour to cry.
But that is exactly what she did.
From behind the stall, I could hear her pulling the terrible, industrial squares of toilet paper and weeping.
For the first time, I stopped seeing my English teacher as Mean Ole Mrs. Dour, the persnickety disciplinarian with all those rigid rules: the woman who gave me detention at least once a week.
I saw her as a small, embarrassed, woman who didn’t know what to do.
I looked at myself in the mirror and found enough courage to ask Mrs. Dour if there was anything that I could do for her.
My voice echoed against the empty bathroom walls.
“Do you think many people… saw?” Mrs. Dour asked.
“I don’t think so,” I lied.
Truth be told, I suspected that nearly everyone had seen the mess on the back of Mrs. Dour’s skirt, and if they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, the people who had were likely telling everyone who hadn’t.
I was pretty sure that would be the end of Mrs. Dour. After suffering such public humiliation, I was positive she would resign that afternoon.
But Mrs. Dour was in homeroom the very next day. She was not any nicer. She continued to do her job just as she had before.
She continued to complain about the girls who wore clogs. She continued to issue me my weekly detention. Mrs. Dour was not a nice teacher. I cannot remember any books that I read or projects that I did that year. I remember only that single incident. But I learned something important from her nevertheless.
I learned that sometimes a person has to push through her fear no matter how scared she might be and just keep moving forward. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and face the thing that you fear: which in this case – as is often the case – is the fear of ridicule or the laughing masses. Because sometimes that’s all you can do.
I suppose Mrs. Dour did teach me one other lesson.
A teacher myself, I can tell you I have never, ever worn a white skirt.
And I never will.
When is the last time you were truly afraid? What got you to push past your fear?
Last month, a friend was talking about how she feels like she is losing control of so many things in her children’s lives. Her eldest son will be heading for high school in September, and she had just learned he had watched The Hangover and Wedding Crashers while at a friend’s house: two movies she didn’t think were appropriate for someone his age.
“But what can I do?” she asked, shrugging her shoulders. “He was at someone else’s house? I can’t control everything all the time, can I?”
Then she began to fret over how her younger son’s bus driver allowed his middle school-aged riders to listen to all kinds of music, much of which she considered to have inappropriate lyrics.
“Did your son’s bus driver let the kids listen to music?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, honestly. I mean, the topic had never come up. “Let’s ask him.”
We called Monkey over from where he was doing something Monkey-ish to ask him our mommy-questions.
“Were you allowed to listen to music on the bus this year?” I asked.
Monkey thought for about .3 seconds and then answered with absolute certainty.
And then something happened inside my brain: a little click: that proverbial light-bulb warming to slow glow.
“Dude,” I smiled, “You don’t know what happens on the bus…” I paused for effect.
Monkey looked confused.
“You’re a walker!” I laughed.
Monkey smacked his forehead with his hand and wandered away laughing.
Our house is located about 200 feet from the back of my son’s school. Each morning at 7:13 AM, Monkey put his dishes in the sink, opened the sliding glass doors, and slid out back where he disappeared behind a bunch of pine trees and evergreens. We both know this. It was his routine for 180 days.
Our simultaneous forgetting was a peculiar mother-and-son moment.
We used to do so much together. Everything. For years, he was like an extra appendage, wrapped around my leg or lying across my lap. Many times, I have answered a question that he had not yet even asked.
“Yes,” I would say.
“I didn’t even ask you anything yet?” Monkey would say.
“Yes, you can have dessert. Go ahead.” And then we would cozy up on separate ends of the couch with only our toes touching, eating small bowls filled with vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles.
Back then, he thought I was magic.
For a period there, I was sure I would remember everything, each detail. The curve of his pinky as it curled around his blue blanket while he napped.
But you don’t; you forget things.
And it’s okay, I guess.
I love that he is growing older, growing into the person he will one day become more fully.
But there are some things I miss: like those Vulcan mind-meld moments.
So I guess I’m mourning something, too.
What things have you forgotten lately that you know you should absolutely know?
Ever been stuck at a red light behind a school bus? Of course you have. You know that moment when the kids suddenly realize, Hey! We’re not moving! And there’s a car back there with a person in it! And then they all start frantically waving?
It’s definitely a decision moment.
There are non-wavers who live among us.
I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Recently I found myself stuck behind a school bus, facing The Rowdy Boys, and I had one of those flashback moments a la Wayne’s World when I remembered my time spent at the back of the bus. These days, most school buses (in these parts anyway) have two parallel rows and an aisle with an emergency safety exit in the back; in the 1970s-80s, on the buses at my district’s alma mater, the back seat of the bus was one long row that extended from one side of the bus to the other. (If there were ever an emergency, I think we were supposed to kick out the rear window with our feet and jump out.) Or something.
A “walker” from kindergarten until fifth grade, I wasn’t introduced to school bus culture until middle school. In sixth grade, I made sure to sit in the front of the bus — close to the driver, but by eighth grade, I was definitely back seat material. I was soooo cool, wearing my cool jeans that pressed against the aged, red cushion where generations of cool kids sat before me. I sat with the smokers and the naughty girls and the angry boys. I read graffiti scribbled on the walls, watched people carve their initials into the metal bus walls, felt the bus move and sway beneath me. We tried to figure out the lyrics to The Sugar Hill Gang‘s “Rappers Delight.” We exchanged dirty jokes. We made plans to hang-out out after school.
But the bus I trailed the other day was peopled with elementary school aged innocents who smiled and laughed and acted like goofballs, making faces and sticking out tongues. Separated by a little metal, glass, and asphalt, they probably felt like I did in eighth grade: Cool. Maybe a little bit naughty. Waving to a stranger in her car? What would their mommies say?
I made them work for it a little bit. They flapped their arms furiously, and I smiled. Eventually, just before the light turned green, I waved. Because I always wave back. And, of course, they loved it. I saw them whooping it up, high-fiving each other, as if they’d placed bets on whether or not I’d return their advances. (Maybe I am underestimating those elementary schoolers. Maybe they did place bets! Maybe that kid in the red Old Navy shirt won a lot of money because I actually waved.)
For kids, the bus is a buffer, a zone between the world of school and home, and the ride serves a dual purpose. It is a convenience (read: Mom doesn’t always have to be the chauffeur), but the bus-ride also provides time for kids to mentally shift gears from school — the land of increasing independence and increasing work and increasing expectations — and home, the land of dependence, where they are not the boss and there is homework to be done and sports to prepare for and instruments to practice and parents who still want to hear about every detail of the day, even if the kids themselves aren’t interested in sharing.
When you see kids on a bus, know they are between worlds. Time-traveling, if you will. And, if you are stuck behind a bus and the kids actually recognize your acknowledge in a positive manner, be glad. Just like adults, some of them have had fabulous days filled with glitter-glue and rainbows. But some of them have had lousy days. Dark days. Days where they have been mistreated and misunderstood. Maybe they have been bullied or made to feel small.
I say everyone should wave to kids on school buses; it’s such a little gesture, a little reaching out. It doesn’t cost anything, and it can bring so much joy. Oh, but here’s a quick tip; only do the waving thing if the kids initiate it first. Otherwise, you’re just a creepy dork in the car behind the bus.
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