About teaching, instead of Major General Robert Ross
February 2, 2013
I've said I was never a perfect person, and that's as true today as it was then. Seventh graders entered the school year shorter people than they were at the end of it, and it's as if I forgot that every fall, looking for them at a certain level which they had yet to achieve. One of them would come bailing around a corner, head down, run into my middle and knock the breath out of me, and before I knew it, I had delivered a kick to the shins that would cripple any ordinary person. It was the time of pointey toed shoes, and it had to hurt. I felt no remorse, not a bit. Buddy suffered a fit of temper from me when he chewed gum all through an assembly program --- after, I had some paper in the palm of my hand, and I asked him --- no, I told him -- to put that gum there. When he pushed the paper aside and instead put the gum into the flesh of my hand, I instantly ground the gum into his hair, making sure it was in there tight. The next day, he had a patch of hair cut out of his head. You would think my temper would have gotten me fired, but it didn't. It was as if students saw me fly off the handle and felt sorry for me, refusing to report me to God or man.
On one occasion, when a student took leave of his senses and threw an eraser that hit the front blackboard as I was turning away from it, I marched back to him, telling him to put his head down because he was going to get it -- and I delivered a barrage of blows to his back, each blow accompanied by some sound advice to "stop calling people names" and "stop being such a lousy person." And so on. I think I went back to him a second time, too, because pounding on him felt so good the first time. On one occasion, Buddy was so troublesome I made him go sit in the unused bathroom we had attached to our classroom. I forgot all about him until the end of the day, and he might have spent the night there had not Shrimp stopped by the classroom on his way out, saying to me, "You forgot Buddy in the terlit (toilet)." Six words again. There was plenty of ammunition to fire me, if anybody had wanted to -- but it never happened.
Well, Buddy would have tried anybody's patience. We read some of Aesop's fables, and now I asked the students to write a fable of their own, a story in which the animals talked, ending with a moral that was meant to teach a lesson. They stood and read their fables, everyone, including Buddy. When Buddy got up, he began a story in which three animals, a rabbit, a turtle, and a buzzard got together and bought a farm. Then they decided they needed fertilizer, since the crops weren't doing so well. The rabbit was sent off to purchase some. When he got back, the rabbit was astonished to see a mansion on the hill and a butler came to the door when he knocked. Oil had been discovered on their property. He asked about his friends, and the butler said, "Mr. BuzzARD is out in the YARD, and Mr. TurTILL is up on the HILL." By now my suspicions were aroused about this story, and I was wondering what rhymed with "rabbit," but it was too late. "Well, you go tell them Mr. RabBIT is here with the SHIT." There came the punch line. The class found it uproariously funny. When I accused Buddy of using somebody's joke, of not writing a story of his own, he 'fessed up. It was something his dad told him, he said, and his dad said if I didn't laugh it meant I was not a normal person. The moral of that story was, I think, that there was someone at home just like Buddy -- probably dangerous and not to be trusted.
I never saw four letter cuss words misspelled, by the way. For awhile I treasured a note from a parent who had been notified that his son had an unpleasant smell aout him and that the student needed to have more frequent baths. It read something like this: "Iffn tchurs lit he go baffrm, him wond SHIT he panz." Every year, all year long, I fought shit, fuck, nigger, and I guess you get that picture, too. On to the next chapter.