My guest blogger today is Mark Kaplowitz. I started cyber-crushing on MarKap the minute he came onto the blogging scene. Many of his earliest pieces were nostalgic pieces that made me long for the days of metal lunchboxes (like he wrote about HERE) and action figures (like he wrote about HERE). His writing is punchy and hilarious. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been discovered and published already. I would totally buy his books. (You hear that publishers? He’s already sold one copy!) You can find Mark’s blog HERE and follow him on Twitter at @MarkKaplowitz. Thanks for sharing your teacher memory, Mark. I now understand your fear of crayons.
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My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola
Ms. Deagle seemed normal on the first day of first grade, as she stood at the front of the room and announced that she rewarded good work with scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers. I thanked my lucky stars that I had not been assigned to the ancient Mrs. Krabcik, who, it was rumored, bit the erasers off students’ pencils to make errors impossible to hide.
There had been no stickers in Kindergarten, and I was excited that, at last, my brilliance would be properly remunerated. As Ms. Deagle handed out a purple-inked mimeograph, called a “ditto,” I prepared to impress my new teacher with my wizardry at addition or spelling.
The ditto, however, contained neither sums nor words to be completed, but an uncolored picture of children sitting in a classroom. “I thought we would start first grade with a little coloring assignment,” Ms. Deagle said, standing with her hands locked behind her back. “I make two assumptions about all of your coloring work. One, that all of the pictures will be outlined in black. And two, that none of the colors will smudge. Please check your work before you hand it to me, to make sure my assumptions hold true.”
I outlined the ditto in black and colored it in, making the wisest selections I could from my shiny new 64-pack of Crayola crayons, with perfect points and untorn wrappers. The ditto took close to an hour to complete, and blackened the heel of my coloring hand. I was tired but ready to proceed to more intellectually challenging material.
But the second assignment was another coloring ditto, as was the one after that. My first day of first grade was devoted entirely to coloring, and the last assignment of the day — a beach scene that made me long for the summer vacation just ended — had so many items that I had to take the ditto home with me. On the morning of the second day, we lined up before Ms. Deagle’s desk to have our work reviewed and, if acceptable, obtain a sticker for it. My stomach churned as my turn approached.
“Not bad, Mark,” Ms. Deagle said, scanning my work like a museum curator. “But I can see where you let the black outlining bleed into the ocean here. Please be more careful in the future.” I said I would, and thanked her for the sticker she pressed onto the top left corner of the ditto. As I scratched the sticker and inhaled the aroma of pepperoni pizza, I rejoiced that I had survived the coloring trial.
But the arithmetic that I’d been counting on did not come that day, either. Instead, we were given more coloring to do: an 11×17 mural of school buses lined up in front of a school, ready to cart happy children away to happy homes. I wished that I could join them. I used more care when coloring adjacent to black outline, but still the crayon bled, making my buses look muddy.
As the weeks and months passed, the coloring assignments did not abate. Coloring appeared to be the only skill that Ms. Deagle deemed worth teaching. Once in a while we would get a math or reading assignment—a treat to be saved for last and savored—but it was a momentary and inconsequential digression from our art.
Imagine being six years old and coloring until 10 o’clock every night. A century earlier and I could have been standing before a lathe. True, I was not going to lose a hand coloring. But sometimes it sure felt like it. And not all students were as skilled as I.
Emmy, one of my classmates, was quiet and had no friends that I could see. She was also slow in her work and had trouble following directions. She colored in defiance of the lines, saved her black crayon for tests that required a No. 2 pencil, and was so behind in her assignments that Ms. Deagle would lock her in the classroom during recess.
When that punishment did not work, Ms. Deagle locked Emmy in the closet. As we filed out the door for lunch, each of us peered through the closet window at a scared and timid Emmy looking out. I don’t know if Emmy’s work improved after that, but mine certainly did.
By the spring, my parents had compared notes with the notes of my classmates’ parents, and decided it was time for a meeting with the principal about dear Ms. Deagle. I remember hearing about the meeting, and that the principal had promised to do something. I also remember how nothing changed. But I survived Ms. Deagle’s first grade and moved on to second grade where, in only a few short weeks, I relearned the alphabet. Emmy was left back — with another teacher, I hope.
I picture Ms. Deagle today, retired and watching cable news programs in her den. In one segment, parents sit with their child and a lawyer, and say they are suing their child’s school because “chaining students to their desks is an unacceptable practice in the 21st Century.” And Ms. Deagle shakes her head, scratches and sniffs a nearby sticker, and calls her sister to complain about how educational standards have slipped.
What was the most lame assignment you ever had to do in school? Or what was your least favorite color in the 64-box of crayons.
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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.
If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!