Friday, April 1, 2011

My Education

I remember school was always a battle for me. In first grade, my teacher luckily realized my potential and let me go to the 5th grade classroom for reading material, and I still remember to this day her saying “oh baloney” whenever I would say, “I can’t”. That infuriated me at the time but I’m glad she pushed me. However, I was still stuck in a classroom that wasn’t “at my level” and so I got bored and was often sent into the hallway for disrupting.

Third grade rolls around and I loved my teacher, Mrs. C. So why did I hate school? I remember feigning illness one day, spelling test day because I’d ace the tests without even studying. Therefore I figured I’d stay home as what was the point of going to school? Meanwhile, the school was considering me for skipping 4th grade because I had stellar grades and test scores. After my first “illness” I found staying at home was much more productive. I watched the news and debated current events with my dad, wrote my own conclusions to books I’d read,went for nature hikes and them written poetry inspired from my journey. Wednesdays became a habit, followed by Tuesdays and…you get the point. All in all, I missed 63 days of school. Any more than 10 and you’re supposed to attend an attendance meeting, more than 30 and you’re retained. But see my mom was a teacher in the district so I think they didn’t want to “rock the boat” and let my 63 absences slide by…that is until my mom went in to inquire about my skipping ahead and explained that she should know, with absences like these, I as to be retained in 3rd. Quite an argument ensued, and continued at home because she had no clue I’d been absent that much because my dad and I had not just been lying to the school but her as well. I ended up progressing to 4th grade because my mom let the district know that with straight A’s and top 95th percentile test scores, from a child who barely attended, I had better not be retained.

Fourth grade was no better. I started the year with a teacher I loved but she only taught for a few weeks because her husband died. We were left with roving substitutes, a new one every day for months. Finally we landed a permanent teacher but she was off her rocker. I was out ill with bronchitis and returned and she literally yelled at me in front of the class for at least 5 minutes on how I had 14 missing assignment and would not pass. I came home in tears and my mom put me on independent study. Just like in 3rd grade, these days home were marvelous! I’d finish my week’s work on Monday and then go have my own kind of fun. I read the entire Audubon encyclopedia. I created a “wild edibles” pamphlet. I used a dremmel tool to carve petroglyphs into the rocks in our yard. I wrote a poem that won a district award, beating out high school students. But my mom was worried my socialization was suffering (I was painfully shy) and enrolled me back in school for 5th grade. Oh, and that 4th grade teacher was a vengeful lady. 15 years later, I was subbing in a classroom and hers was next door and while I still thought of her as a “mean teacher” I thought, let bygones be bygones, I’m an adult now, I should go say hello. She remembered me but not like the next teacher I’m about to mention. She instead said “Aah…I remember you, yes. You were a good writer but they wanted to retain you because your printing was so atrocious, no one could read it. Then you went on independent study so they were unable to retain you. Yes. I remember you for your bad printing, and hope it has improved”. Oh my, I was livid, as you can imagine.

5th was better, but I really don’t remember much of it at all. I remember my teacher, Mrs. B, was a great person and that’s all I recall. But she is still a great person, as I run into her at the grocery store every few years and she always says “I remember you, of course! Are you still reading and writing like mad?” I hope some day I can be a Mrs. Britain for my students as it is very meaningful when as an adult, your 5th grade teacher still remembers you!

6th grade was downhill again. My teacher played favorites and I was anything but. She did not like that I corrected her when she pronounced “Australopithecus” incorrectly, or that I told her to just give me the Harriet the Spy end of book quiz and project before we read it since I’d read it five times already. She despised me and made it show by giving me terrible grades. She wasn’t going to fail me, probably because my mom worked in the district, but I did pass that year with straight C- grades (D’s were considered failure).

Middle school on is kind of a blur due to many teachers, hormones, lack of sleep. Many years later, I had to do student teaching in my home district and the wife of my middle school science teacher Mr P, was supposed to have me as her student teacher but I was switched to another teacher. Well Mrs. P was livid that I'd been placed elsewhere, even though she was critical of me- she said "I remember you...well my husband does. You had illegible writing". This was TEN YEARS later! (And you may sense a trend here with my illegible penmanship. It has improved. I was "behind" in hand-eye coordination and thus penmanship because of vision in one eye that is so bad it is unmeasurable.)

I do remember coming home my freshman year crying almost every day. I hated high school and how I felt like just a number, how it was even more boring that middle school and how I just wanted to quit. I also begged my mom to lie about my age and claim I was 16 so I could go to her continuation school because maybe things were better there. I suffered through my freshman year and luckily found drama as a hobby to keep me grounded. The drama club still, excuse my French, pissed me off- the popular kids got the roles and the less popular kids like me became extras or set designers. Regardless, it was a place to be creative so that is the only thing that kept me from dropping out. Well that and my art and photography classes. I delved into those courses like mad, taking beginning and advanced art and photo twice each.

Still disenfranchised by school, I decided my junior year to take an AP English course. I had been hesitant because I never liked the “AP clique” of students and preferred the “white trash” kids as at least they were “real”. I did enroll and liked the level the class was at and how I was challenged. However, it was the only AP class I took even though I’m sure I could have taken many more. I did not like the snobbery of the AP kids and also just didn’t like the class. Wait, you might say, you just said you liked the class, so let me explain. I had hated school since 1st grade and so by 11th, I really hated it, Even though the drama club kept me in school, I still dreaded school, dreaded the monotony and the in-personalization of it all. Here I had a slough of AP courses which could offer what I wanted, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Sure I read some good books in AP English and found the discussions provoking but such a learned atmosphere did not appeal to me.I think that it was because I’d become so despondent in regards to school that even a good thing seemed bad. Kind of like when a child is told they’re dumb enough times that they believe it, I had found school so very trite so many times that I believed it.

I recall being pressured to go to college and that it would be "different". I received college pamphlets from all over but only looked near home. Even though I hated my home town, where I'd lived my entire life, taking the risk of going to college, which I certainly would hate, seemed a safer bet close to home. I applied to two universities and accepted both offers and ended up deciding I'd take a leap of faith and go to the private University. I have to say that it turned my life around. Sure, I went to parties and goofed off but I was also finally in an academic atmosphere where I actually wanted to learn. Little quiet me actually spoke up in class. I'd join random intellectual 2am conversations in the hallway. I took "pointless" classes like Classical Guitar, War and Myth in German Literature, Dream Theory, Non Western Music and Culture, Yoga, Scene Production, and my very own class all to myself- Ethnography, Indian Immigrants. I finally had command of my learning so instead of being stuck in some boring Algebra I class, I could pursue my random interests. And with a small class size of generally under 20, I got to know my peers and professors which made the experience more...I don't know, just, better. I felt finally recognized for my talents, whatever they may be. I was somewhere where being smart and weird was cool.

I recall as a child out right refusing to become a teacher when I grew up. I hated school so how could I ever work there? But I do recall often saying to myself, “If I were a teacher I wouldn’t….(or) I would…..instead”. I just felt I knew what schools and teachers should do and yet I never saw them do it. I had no clue there was a pecking order of hierarchy, red tape, and the like holding them back, but that is still no excuse.

In college I had to perform community service and found a position at a Native American pre-school. I was not so eager to work there since it resembled school, but knew community service was “good for me” and necessary to graduate. After my first day, I was hooked. I loved trying to explain the ways of the world to toddlers, and just ate up their “aha” moments and wonderment. Maybe education was for me after all...

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