Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So, Back To My First Grade Teacher

Mrs. Poland couldn't help that she was a bitch.

For years and years (possibly centuries), Mrs. Poland specialized in teaching first graders who needed extra help and attention - students who hasn't quite learned how to read or who struggled with early math skills. In one of the great misguided social experiments conducted by schools in the late 70s/early 80s, the powers that be thought it would be beneficial to take Mrs. Poland out of her comfort zone for the 1981/82 school year and saddle her with a group of gifted and talented students. Boy was that a mistake.

I was part of this smarty posse. The other characters were: Sarah, Dana, Brian, and Chris. All of us tested well above our grade level in reading and math and were generally an extremely precocious bunch.

Sarah was my first best friend and a gifted dancer with a flair for the arts. Dana was a practical, yet fun, playmate. Brian was ADHD when it was called "hyperactive" (maybe it had something to do with the fact that his breakfast typically consisted of Pop Tarts and Pepsi). Chris was my nemesis. I was the bookworm of the crowd, reading at a 6th grade level. Every day during reading circle, I was sent to the Principal's office to teach myself how to type. Boy is that coming in handy now.

Mrs. Poland had no idea what to do with us. She ridiculed us for knowing all of the answers and chastised us for speaking up to help others who didn't. We were confident, spirited and, yes, sometimes a bit sassy. One time Chris and I got in to a huge fight about whether or not we'd be alive in the year 2000. I argued that of course we would - we'd only be 25-years-old. Chris argued that we could die before then. Mrs. Poland took his side. (I think a first-grade teacher taking the side of death over optimism that a 6-year-old will live to age 25 is a pretty bitchy thing in and of itself.)

In retrospect, Mrs. Poland may have been one of the nicest people in the school. She may have just been trying to look out for the others in class who didn't know it all but her way of doing it made us feel like pariahs. No one had given her the skills to deal with a bunch of Type A brainiacs, and it didn't do any of us - or Mrs. Poland - any favors.

If I remember correctly, the order of the first grade universe was restored the following year, and the five of us were blessedly placed with a second-grade teacher who knew how to keep us under control and challenged in a positive way.

I wish I knew what happened to my friends from back then - I moved into a different school district before third grade. Through the miracle of magnet school education, Dana, Brian and I met back up in high school. Last I heard, Sarah spent a number of years working for a London theater company before moving to NYC. I haven't heard a word about Chris in over 25 years, but I hope he got to see the year 2000.


PsychMamma said...

I had a similar (bad) situation with a teacher in second grade. Isn't it funny how those memories really stick with you? At least for me, I don't remember a lot of the good/"normal" stuff, but I sure remember that year. You've inspired me to work on a post about it....

And, a first grade teacher essentially saying, "You're right. You could be dead in 25 years" to kiddos??? That's just wrong.

followthatdog said...

I think it is hard for teachers who are used to targeting low to wrap their heads around students to learn quickly, crave challenges and really enjoy knowing stuff. I had a similar experience in 1st grade, not to the same extreme, but mostly because my mom inserted herself into the situation to prevent the crushing of my tiny ego.

That whole siding with death thing freaks me out. Why in the world would a teacher do that?

Jedi Master Daryl said...

Wow! You are a great writer! I see you are still smart. I hope the kid wasn't predicting his own death! You sucked me in with that first sentence. Although...

I would not shy away from the tried and true, crappy, cliched line:

It was a dark and stormy night in the city by the bay.


Anna See said...

Great Post! I loved the writing, and it reminded me of my son's bad preschool experience. "You are too smart for your own good." Good times.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I agree - it would be nice if Chris was around for the millennium. Even nicer if you could have called him to say I told you so!