Friday, May 13, 2005

Weekend Assignment #Ninety BaZillion

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 hard.

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 progress.

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 premises.

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 recovered.

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.]


swibirun said...

I think the group Pink Floyd also had Ms. Meadows and ended up writing a song about her, LOL:

"When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could
by pouring their derision upon anything we did
exposing any weakness however carefully hidden by the kids."

robbush6 said...

Tall girl, academically advanced, moves to new school to start sixth grade. Fish out of water. Bored to tears. Scorned by peers because it came "too easy." Playwright. Cotton dresses and knee socks.

Miss Meadows! Jooti stole my diary!

I wrote about aliens who lived happy, simple lives on planet Zorg. You wrote about Americans spitting out tea in Japan. All fish out of water. How does it end? That play?

I hate what she did to you, Miss Haversham, punnishing a bright, young girl for having the potential she herself never had. I hate it because I know it. And look at us now.

somenuttychic said...

Miss Meadows should have been barred from teaching.

screaminremo303 said...

Nobody likes a ringer, and teachers hate competition. Especially when it comes from a 12 year-old smartass. Maybe she was a Skokie Nazi. I hate Skokie Nazi's.

billierwilson said...

i had a teacher similar to yours. I was in advanced english and had been published already. she was my junior year teacher from hell. the grade that is so imprortant for colleges. she pulled me out of class, and in the hall, told me "i don't know how you got into my class, but you can be assured that i will get you out of here, you do not belong in here". she couldn't though, and i refused to write anymore, if she didn't like what i wrote, i didn't see any reason to write for her. this pissy attitude bled into other avenues of my school work and by the time that my mom saw my grades it was really bad. i then told her what happened (i didn't want to bother her before this, she was a single mom, raising twin girls. she worked a lot, didn't get any help from my father). she took off of work and raised such a fuss about this teacher that they asked her to step down as head of the english dept. she left the next year. haven't thought about her in years. it's funny where life takes you.
have a great day.

annkiesler said...

Lisa Bayer.  The art mistress from hell.  I'd decided that I wanted to take an examination in art.  She was shocked that I should consider myself worthy of such a certificate.  In the school foyer, in front of the national youth orchestra who were just arriving, she boomed in her masculine voice...."Can you draw a bicycle?"  She was a huge woman but I gathered all my courage and looked her in the eye.  "Can you?" I retorted cheekily.  Her left hook was pretty powerful.  Wham, straight across my face in front of 50 musicians.  I passed the examination but in truth, I still can't draw a bicycle :-)

mosie1944 said...

It's a funny thing:  I had two or three really bad teachers in high school, but I don't remember any of their names.  I recall very few of my high school teachers' names.  I think I was too busy daydreaming when I should have been listening to the instructors.  I was moved ahead a grade when we first moved to the city, and all it did was put me behind everyone else, and bring my natural inferiority complex to the surface.  I'd come from a one-room school, and I tested high... but I was NOT ready for the math they were doing in the city.  We moved again (we moved a lot), and I was put back into the proper grade; but I don't think I ever again learned at full capacity.