My husband wasn’t allowed to sharpen pencils in first grade.
It may sound fantastical and overblown, but I can assure you, it’s true. My husband’s first grade teacher did not allow her students to sharpen pencils. Ever.
For whatever reason (and I’m sure she had some reason in mind, regardless of logic or sense), Ms. My-Husband’s-First-Grade-Teacher was so opposed to the act of pencil-sharpening that should one of her pupils suffer a tip-break during class, they would be forced to “pick” around the edges until sufficient graphite became available to struggle through the rest of the task at hand. This applied to all tasks, regardless of importance: casual drawings, worksheets, standardized testing and so on. The task of sharpening was relegated only to a highly trained specialist task force of parent volunteers.
The inability to obtain a proper writing utensil caused my husband, who was a mere six years old at the time, such stress that he lost sleep over it.
One afternoon, somewhere mid-first-grade, he found himself alone in the classroom with his mother and teacher, who were immersed in conversation. Seeing an opportunity to solve his dilemma for the foreseeable future, my husband grabbed a large handful of pencils, hid them behind his back, and attempted to escape the room by gradually walking sideways toward the door. I’m told his intention was to take the pencils home, sharpen them, then sneak them back into his desk the next morning.
Unfortunately, Ms. My-Husband’s-First-Grade-Teacher noticed his odd behavior and called him out before he could abscond with the contraband yellow #2’s. As my then-child husband attempted to stammer and explain himself, Ms. Teacher laughed and dismissed him, smiling and insisting he could sharpen pencils anytime he needed.
The tale of the anti-sharpening educator is somewhat of a legend in my family. My children are especially fond of it, as if the idea of this now giant man, who is mature and responsible to a fault, as a child with childlike fears and concerns is unfathomable to them. And who can blame them? The idea of my now less-than-giant self as a child is every bit as absurd, and I lived through it.
As I prepare to travel to my 20th high school reunion next weekend, and my kids’ own school year draws nearer by the minute, I find my mind revisiting the pencil story often. The pencil story then leads me to my own memories of odd school experiences and bizarre teacher regulation, some of which are comical… others not so much.
So in light of the upcoming school year, and my reunion, and the fact that my mom recently sent me a bunch of hilarious school pictures that I really, really need to share, I tasked myself with a special blog assignment of sharing one memory (or more) per grade. Because this is my blog and I can.
Sorry, friends. I’m missing a few photos. Please feel free to insert your own awkward images as necessary.
As I recall, my parents were slightly offended when I entered my First Official Classroom on my First Official Day of School and jumped right in without so much as throwing a quick bye! in their direction. Apparently I’ve always prioritized efficiency over emotion, even when I was five. I had a lot of learning to get to and no time for ceremonial affection. Sorry, mom and dad.
I also recall sitting in a reading circle one morning as the girl next to me slowly sounded out the word “s-s-s-a-a-i-i-d” and thinking “It says said. Said. Said. Said!!!!” to myself and feeling like I was going to die if she didn’t just spit the word out and let me read, which I was sure I could do faster and more efficiently than anyone else.
Why yes, I’ve always been this kind. And patient.
Unlike my husband’s first grade teacher, mine actually did allow for the periodic sharpening of pencils. In fact, she was quite thoughtful and kind. I doubt I will ever forget the morning I got to school to find her crying quietly at her desk over the Challenger explosion, which had taken place as I rode the bus.
She also arranged for a blind woman to come in and read to us in braille and answer all the questions we could ask about being blind. I know that sounds totally offensive, but I swear it wasn’t. It was fascinating and informative. And it taught me a valuable lesson about not being afraid of people who were different.
I’d say my second grade teacher was a decent enough human. She read us a lot of Roald Dahl books which was great (though I did recently learn that he was apparently an anti-semite and kind of a crappy person overall, which does not make me feel so great about loving his short stories as much as I do).
What I remember most about this year is feeling horribly ashamed after being loudly hushed in front of the classroom when I tried to correct my teacher’s error. She was wrong. I’m still a little annoyed.
Did I mention that she was wrong and I was right? Because that’s totally true.
My teacher had an awesome mustache. That’s pretty much the only thing I remember about it. Just the stache.
Also there was a special day where we were allowed to do nothing but read in our pajamas, which was awfully amazing for a reader like me. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins cover to cover in a sleeping bag next to a kid in a Metallica shirt and I was kind of afraid of him. Because of the shirt.
This was the year of the Becoming a Woman video. It was also the year I re-explained the finer points to all of the girls on the playground because I had two older sister and I knew the most about it. I was a legend that day.
If there was an award for the worst teacher ever, my fifth grade teacher would’ve won it. I mean, he was The. Worst. Teacher. Ever. Really. The rudest, most horrible teacher in the history of all time. I am not exaggerating.
Most days in this class were spent on “vocabulary” worksheets. This is a nice way of saying the guy handed us 15 pages of random words that had nothing to do with anything we were learning and forced us to spend hours looking them up in the dictionary and writing down the definitions. Once I watched him throw them in the trash after we turned them in. Really.
Also I was super jealous of my friend’s alternating colored scrunch socks because I mostly just had normal socks.
Oh, and just in case you need a little more info on the worst teacher ever: One time he casually informed me that I wasn’t very smart. But it’s cool. It’s not like I’m the person to hold onto something like that or anything.
I absolutely remember thinking I looked really cute the day this picture was taken. And I swear, I got tons of compliments on my hair that year. I swear.
Seriously, I swear.
There was also the matter of my English teacher who lived with her mom and wore polyester shirts that had easily been in her closet since the early 60’s and was ever so easily offended. One morning she even made me call home and have someone bring me a change of clothes once because I “forgot my pants.”
I was wearing shorts.
And again, not kidding about that haircut. Tons of compliments… tons.
Helpful tip: For reasons I cannot explain, English teachers do not appreciate book reports on Stephen King’s Misery that include hand-drawn stick figure renditions of Annie Wilkes running over the town sheriff with a riding mower. So, maybe don’t do that, should you have a need to turn in your own book report in the near future.
And my band teacher was psychotic. He once mangled a metal music stand in front of the class just before hurling it across the room.
Again, yeah. Really.
↑↑Bought this awesome dress at Fashion Bug.↑↑
In eighth grade my homeroom teacher told me in secret that she wouldn’t mark me as tardy in the mornings anymore because it wasn’t my fault. True. We were in the middle of moving and temporarily living with family far out of the area while waiting for a house to be built. It was hard for anyone to get anywhere in the last few weeks of the year. I’m oddly appreciative of the gesture to this day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Even when you’re 14.
This was the year my English teacher humiliated me in front of the entire classroom because I was a high school freshman who didn’t know how to do an outline. I was at a new school and far, far behind my peers. As you might have guessed from the above comments, I didn’t go to first rate schools early on.
But hey, I met a couple of great friends that year and I’m still friends with them today. And they still choose to be my friends, despite the fact that I had that haircut and choker when we met.
So, uh. This was the year I cut my hair super short and dyed it black to look like the lead singer of The Cranberries.
Because the 90’s.
This was the year I was yelled at by my history teacher for using profanity in class. Except that I didn’t actually use any profanity. It was someone behind me.
Months after the profanity lecture, a friend of mine was kind enough to hold a “Not Guilty” sign up through the door of that same class to announce the fate of O.J. Simpson.
By the time my final year of school rolled around I had amassed so many credits that I was basically biding my time until graduation. I took an extra study hall so I could show up an hour late. And I took crafts class so I could learn to use a pottery wheel and make stained glass and generally, just hang around. My friend made a ceramic penguin wearing a blindfold in that class. I didn’t really understand the logic behind it, but I do hope she still has it. Because, you know, there just aren’t many ceramic penguins in blindfolds around these days.
Oh, and here is one of my senior pictures ↓↓ It was the 90’s, you guys. Denim shirts were cool.
A few years later a college professor had me stay after class to encourage me to speak more during discussion. He went on to tell me I was smart, in fact, one of the smartest people he’d ever met. And I had no idea until that moment. I remember thinking that made a lot of sense. It certainly explained why I was so eager to take over my kindergarten reading so many years earlier.
PS- I’ll be at the reunion this weekend, eagerly awaiting an apology from the person who was really using profanity that day in history class.
And should I expect the blindfolded penguin to make an appearance?