Instead of the chapter "Jacob Whalen" ~~~~ entered on January 25, 2013
When I began teaching, my salary of $3,000 was just fine. That should tell you how old I am. When I got up to $5,000, I thought I was rich. The area was rural, peaceful and quiet, and teachers got hired and stayed till they retired or died. Families had collections of Indian arrowheads and artifacts that turned up when the fields were plowed. You get the picture.
I taught all five sections of seventh grade, English and history. The history was fun. The English part was not so fun. I had one slow section, and they were why English was not so fun.
Against one wall was a row of students I won't forget easily, no matter how many years pass. One student I think of as "Big Guy." He sat quietly in front, wearing his field workin' clothes. He was almost illiterate. Earlier, I had discovered that if the students read the word ate, it said "ate" to them; add an L and it said "late." Add a P and it didn't say "plate," it said "dish." Suddenly, farm didn't say "farm" to them; it said "ranch." It dawned on me this was flash card teaching in the lower grades of our supposedly phonetic language. But Big Guy was a step beyond that. I could strip a word down more and more, and sometimes he couldn't identify even one letter of the alphabet. Sometimes he could; sometimes he couldn't. Desperate, on one occasion, I tried to give him a hint about the letter i --- "You have two of them," I said. Then I realized how many things he had two of, and I pointed to my eyes.
Behind him sat a small kid I've named "Shrimp" in my mind's eye. He wore glasses thick as ice cubes that made his eyes look like an owl. When he took the glasses off, his eyes became cartoon dots. He was a stutterer, and he could be energetically mean.
And behind Shrimp sat Buddy. Later on, I heard Buddy fought in Vietnam, and it was the only time I felt sorry for the Cong. He was impishly intelligent and didn't give a damn about school or grades, but once in a while, he actually got interested in what was going on.
When we had spelling tests, I would review the simple words by asking for spellings out loud. We'd go around and around the room, and when I felt we were "warmed up" enough, then we'd take the test at last. On this test day, I gave Big Guy the word "shirt." He spelled it "s-h-i-t ," and everyone laughed. "You can tell that's wrong," I said. "I'll come back to you in a minute, and see if you can spell shirt then."
So around the class we went with other words. When I got back to him, he spelled it the same way again, and now the class laughed louder than before, to his embarrassment. "Same way as before," I said. "We'll try again next time around." Buddy whispered something to Shrimp, and Shrimp passed it on to Big Guy, so I figured now he knew there was an r in there.
Around words went again, and this time Big Guy spelled "s-r-h-i-t. " This was too much for Shrimp. He slammed his pencil down, glared at me, and said, "N-n-n -now you've d-done it! N-n-n-ow he can't e-even s-spell SHIT right no more!" And thus ended the spelling lesson for that day. I wonder if Big Guy remembers that spelling lesson as much as I do.
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