Thursday, August 11, 2011

Third Grade...

I was just reading an article about writing and being a writer. It talked about making a sweetheart in your mind to counteract the critic. The sweetheart is sweet and simple. When the critic says you are dumb and your writing stinks, your sweetheart just says, keep trying. At the end of the article there were several prompts given to promote writing. The first one said, "tell me everything you remember about the third grade". This made me smirk to myself because I remember EVERYTHING about third grade. Here are the highlights:

Before I entered the third grade I knew who I wanted my teacher to be. She was young and pretty with pouffy curly hair and red nails. Her name was Mrs. C--. I also knew exactly who I didn't want and that was Mrs. Smith. My sister had her and they didn't get along and I didn't want to get caught up in that mess. So I waited and begged my mom to put in a word with the principle and waited some more. Then I got a letter with a picture of all the third grade teachers and I got Mrs. Wyatt and the first thing I noticed was that she had a lot of frown lines. Some one had just taught me about frown lines on the brow and so I was sure this lady must be terrible to have frown lines (I didn't know anything about natural age lines). It gave me nightmares.
So I went into third grade with much trepidation.
In third grade I was growing out my hair and bangs and so it was always in a half pony-tail sticking straight up in the air (pebbles style). I also had a mouth appliance that expanded my top teeth and connected down to a retainer that completely encased all my lower teeth. The connector was metal and got stuck if you opened your mouth too wide... and it squeaked.
We were a class of misfits.
The boy next to me walked on his tip toes and couldn't tie his shoes. The girl a few desks over had an absurd amount of weird animals living in her house and her head was always in a fantasy world that involved lots of cats. I am very allergic to cats.
There was also a girl twice as tall as any one in the class and she bullied every one and was really mean. One day her mom came to class and made her recite the "brownie pledge" and bought the whole class bluebell ice cream in the little containers with wooden scooper things as an apology.
Another boy kept a mini air force base under his chair and worked on it at every possible free moment.
This was my class. (I actually even remember most of their names)
I remember knowing it was a little strange at the time and the room was a little dim but there was one shining light in the room and it was Mrs. Wyatt. It turns out those frown lines were completely misleading. She had a way of connecting to her students and loving them despite their strangeness or intelligence. She never gave demerits or marks of any kind but if you misbehaved you got ZAPPED! She would be talking and all the sudden say ZAP and point to the offender. It worked.
She brought in an extra teacher's desk and set it at the front/middle of the room and each student got to sit in the desk for a week at a time and be the star student of the week. I loved organizing all those drawers in that desk during my week.
She also had us write a biography and I did Princes Diana and came all dressed up and presented my biography to the class.
Midway through the year a handicapped (mentally and physically) girl was put in our class and I was assigned to be her guide and helper. I loved this girl. I gave her my school supplies and even brought her a backpack from home. It was my favorite pack but I had still gotten a new one for a new year. So I colored in any faded spots with marker and brought it to her. I cried when her sister stole it and tore it up. One day she was gone and I have never forgotten her. I worried about her a lot... especially b/c she had such a mean big sister. I still wonder what happened to her.
During the second half of my third grade year the unimaginable happened... we lost our principle (who was a family friend of sorts and had been principle for my older sister and me). If that wasn't enough... he wanted to take my precious teacher with him. I had a special bond with my teacher and loved to stay after school and talk to her and help out around the class. I thought she was amazing. Well, so did my principle. She was to be the new librarian at the new middle school they had just built that he would be principle at. She decided to take the job and thus we got a new teacher with only a little bit left in the school year. I was devastated.
Mrs. Reynolds.
I recognize now that she was probably a nice person and that I probably wouldn't have liked any teacher that took Mrs. W's place... but then... I felt the injustice of it all so acutely.
Mrs. Reynolds had black hair with a grey streak and only wore black, white and red and she raised her voice... a lot. She couldn't handle our misfit class and had a completely different style than what we were used to. The more she yelled and lost her patience the more out of control the class got. She made so many rules, we could barely breath. There were two offenses though that really stood out and drew a line in the sand between us. First, field day is supposed to be a fun day for every one... basically a holiday at school. She made us all stay together as a class and we could only leave to participate in our sport. And when my mom came to see me, she wouldn't even let my mom take me to get a snow cone (they had sno cones on campus FOR field day). I think my mom eventually convinced her but I couldn't believe it... we always got to go with our parents, no matter what they were doing if they came up to the school. Secondly, Mrs. W had promised on the first day of school that all the students who never got zapped and had all Es for the year would get a pizza party. When I asked Mrs. R about it at the end of the year she basically scoffed at me and said there was no way she was going to do that. I have always had a heart for "justice" and to my third grade mind this was an injustice to the highest degree.
I never said anything to any one about all of this... I knew my place. I knew I was to obey and respect my teachers and elders and so I made it through the year with good grades and all Es and never a bad word from the teacher.
But like a good western, high noon was fast approaching... the shoot out.
At the end of the year Mrs. R asked us to write a letter to the upcoming third graders (current 2nd graders). It would be a letter that they would read at their desk on the first day of school in order to give them some encouragement and motivation to do well in third grade. She emphasized being HONEST and giving them a REALISTIC perspective on the challenges of third grade. So I did... I obeyed. In my heart I remember having a completely clear conscience that I was doing the right thing... being honest.
I wrote... I wrote that Mrs. R was very mean and yelled a lot and that they should ask their mom to call the office and ask for a different teacher if at all possible. If that wasn't possible I suggested keeping your head down and just getting through. I don't remember anything else but basically it never occurred to my third grade brain that the teacher would read these before she gave them to the new students.
I went to brownies that night and when I got home my parents did not have smiles on their faces. There was a conversation that involved "you know what you did" and I really DIDNT KNOW! I had no clue what I was in trouble for. Then they told me how my teacher had called CRYING and was so hurt and completely confused about why I would write such terrible things. So then I bluntly explained that it was all true. My parents strongly "encouraged" me to write a new letter to turn in the next day. I remember sitting on the floor with my paper on the seat of a chair and just staring... not knowing how to be nice to my teacher and honest at the same time. That's when I learned to write fluff.
I turned it in the next day and apologized and was so thankful the year was almost over so I wouldn't have to sit and feel the guilt of having hurt her feelings. I truly felt terrible for hurting her, it had just never crossed my mind that she could be hurt b/c I thought she knew how mean she was. That day she sent me on an errand in the school and when I came back she was waiting outside the room to talk to me (wah wah). I remember her asking me what she had ever done to me to deserve those comments (I remember thinking that the letter wasn't even written to her). So I tried to nicely tell her how she yelled at us all the time and how Mrs. W NEVER yelled. I'm sure I said more but at the end I looked right at her and told her that the worst thing was that I had worked so hard for that pizza party and now she wasn't going to do it.
Oh the simplicity of a third grader.
I could never look at her in the face even when I graduated elementary school... I avoided her like the plague. I really really hope that one day she realized not to take everything a third grader says so personally and also not to yell so much. Like I said, I'm sure she was actually a really nice person.
And to this day I struggle with the balance between honest and loving and might tend to still make "honest" blunders from time to time.

post-script: Mrs. Wyatt later became my middle school and high school librarian and I loved her from afar the whole time and finally told her my senior year in high school how much she had meant to me back in third grade.


Emily said...

I LOVE that you are blogging again! I miss the updates! Stella is at such a fun age! I can't believe she and Nate will be 2 in October! Thanks for the updates~

cal+claire said...

Love this!

Funny story, I had Mrs. Smith also. I remember everything about EVERY grade (including Kindergarten) except 3rd grade. I've somehow blocked out my time with Mrs. Smith all together. That's saying something because I didn't make many enemies back then.
She was scary.

Jessica said...

Third grade was my ABSOLUTE favorite!! I had Miss Wipf (who was likely younger than we are now).

Thanks for sharing your sweet stories, Mrs. Lewis! Miss you.