SCALZI'S Weekend Assignment #59:
Teachers Worth Remembering [for good or bad]
Weekend Assignment #59: We've all
had teachers who have made a difference in our lives. Tell us about one
of yours. It can be a teacher from any level of education, from
kindergarten to graduate school.
While I'm sure everybody else will
be writing about a wonderful teacher whose good counsel and kind words
they will treasure forever, my most memorable teacher was also the
worst teacher I ever had.
Her name was Miss Elizabeth
Meadows. She taught at Skokie Junior High School in Winnetka, Illinois.
Winnetka boasted a school system that had a national reputation for
innovation. One of their innovations was to get rid of grades until
high school. In Miss Meadows' class this would come back to haunt me.
My family had just moved from the
city and I had skipped half a grade at my old school, which was
considered one of the better public schools in the metro area. So
I was half way through sixth grade as the new school year was about to
start. My younger brother had skipped half a grade, too. i just assumed
they would skip me the other half a grade and I would start seventh
grade in the fall.
In a decision that would affect me
for the rest of my life, they skipped my brother a full grade, but not
me. I was told I was too old to be skipped. I was ten. How could
I be too old? Apparently they had a policy that if a student was past a
certain age, he or she wouldn't be skipped ahead, but held
back. Regardless of their skills.
I remember trying to talk to the
principal about why I wasn't being skipped to seventh grade. i was
distraught, He just ignored me and walked away. My mother wasn't going
to buck the system. Heck, we had moved to Winnetka in order to embrace
it in all its glory.
So I began the fall at the
beginning of sixth grade. It soon became very apparent that I was a
fish out of water. I could already write cursively but everyone else in
my class was still printing like second graders. I had already been
taught multiplication and long division. The class was still just
adding and subtracting double digits. I was finishing speed tests
almost as fast as they were handed out.
I won all the spelling bees. But no
one was happy for me. No one congratulated me. It wasn't like I was
smart. It was just very clear that I did not belong in that class. And
the teacher, who could see I didn't belong, didn't seem to care. Miss
Meadows knew she had a loose cannon on her hands and she resented me.
I loved to write. I had already
started writing and producing plays at my former school. So, I
wrote my first comedy, called The Japanese Tea Party, about Americans
who visit Japan and don't like the taste of the tea. Hey, comedy is
I remember turning it in and
thinking about how much fun it would be to produce it. But Miss Meadows
saw a chance to put me in my place. She called me up to her desk and
proceeded to ridicule my lack of knowledge about the Japanese tea
ceremony in front of the whole class.
She totally disparaged my efforts,
almost gleefully. She knew I was bored and should be in seventh grade.
But, instead of finding a way to interest me and keep me from
languishing, she was happy to find a way to put me down and let me know
I wasn't so smart after all.
I was devastated. I had always
received praise for my schoolwork. I'd had always earned good grades.
Now there was nothing for me. Not even grades. Instead there were
meetings with your parents and evaluations from theteacher about your
I was head and shoulders ahead of everyone in the class and my parents were told I wasn't working up to my capacity. No shit.
If we'd had grades there would have
been tangible proof that I was doing the work at a high level. Then, if
there were complaints about me not working to capacity, the burden
would have been on the teachers, not me.
It didn't help that I was being put
down at every opportunity by Miss Meadows. I stopped writing. I stopped
caring, and I started getting into trouble. Nothing big. Just stuff that
bored kids do.
With nothing to challenge me
academically, the school decided to occupy my time with electives.
But art and childcare were the only two offered to me for some
reason. Home Ec, Shop, and Printing, all the really fun ones,
were off limits. So I took an art elective. I was good at
drawing. I loved to draw from the time I was in fourth grade, spending
hours making portraits of horses, which were my passion.
Unfortunately, I was the only sixth
grader in a class full of eighth graders. And a a brand new kid at the
school besides. A fish out of water again. The teacher finally said he
didn't think I fit in. Ya think? So I had to settle for childcare.
I hated childcare. Watching little kids climb on the jungle gym
was like punishment. No thanks. I don't know whether I quit or stuck it
out. I do remember how slowly the minutes passed when I was standing
around as a glorified babysitter in the nursery school they had on
Miss Meadows, an unmarried, ancient
old battleaxe, continued putting me down every chance she got. Somehow
I was chosen to write a play that all the sixth grade classes
participated in, but Miss Meadows made a point of telling me that I
would only be allowed to write a certain part of it, even though the
whole concept was mine.
By the end of that year I had
become a lazy student, disengaged and bored with school. I did as
little as possible to get by, because I could. Seventh grade wasn't
much better. Even though I was in the accelerated class, I was still
ahead of everybody and very bored. It wasn't until eighth grade that I
finally felt challenged. By that time my study habits sucked, since I
had never had to study before. Quite frankly, I don't think they ever
Naturally when my nemesis died,
they named a new addition to the junior high after her. The Elizabeth
Meadows Wing. I didn't go to the dedication.
Extra Credit: Tell us your second
favorite subject in school. My second favorite subject in high
school was geometry. I was fascinated by it, thanks to Mr. Donald
Leverenz, a dynamic and interesting teacher who had me looking forward
to every class. His students never scored lower than a C on the
comprehensives we had to take at the end of the year. Other teachers
had students who didn't score above a C. He was such a goood teacher
that he ended up running the whole math department eventually.
[My favorite class was English no
matter who taught it. I loved to read and write and despite Miss
Meadows' tireless efforts, no one could stop me from enjoying that.]