By fifth grade I loved school, my friends, school supplies and the comely Miss Hayes who was my teacher. Young, slender, with dark hair and eyes, she made coming to school pure joy. Miss Hayes was prim and proper, but there was not a boy in my class who didn’t have a crush on her. She wore pencil thin skirts with sleeveless blouses, and her high energy contrasted with the “old” school teachers we had before.
What Miss Hayes loved more than anything was performance and projects and what she loved more than a project was social studies. On one assignment, I was given the country of Spain to present in three ways: oral, written, and visual.
BTW: My dad was critical of her much later --- he felt like she was a slacker in teaching math and focused on what she loved best. He felt like my last few years in elementary school were pivotal in my struggling with math in high school. He did not voice this criticism until I was out of college and a teacher myself.
For my project on Spain, I proudly made some kind of village or fort out of cardboard, dirt, and water and surrounded it with pine needles and pipe cleaner people with fabric scraps from my mom’s sewing basket. For some reason, our fifth grade class set up these “art” projects in the school auditorium, and I remember standing behind it as various adults, some of them parents I knew, paraded by to see our contributions. I knew a lot about Spain then, but in retrospect, I’m thinking my Spain looked more like Mexico.
That summer after fifth grade, my friend Lynn and I attended Miss Hayes’s wedding -- I don’t know if other students came as well, but she and I cracked up when the groomsman who escorted her to the “bride’s side” was so tall that Lynn had to tiptoe down the aisle and her arm hooked through his made her elbow look as if it were coming out of her ear. We snickered and snorted over that incident for years afterward.
In sixth grade, I became a student in Mrs. Brooks' fifth and sixth combination. Surprise, surprise -- Mrs. Brooks was Miss Hayes’s new name. I was thrilled, and once again, we did the projects.
The project I remember best was a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party, complete with sound effects, boxes of fake tea, and boys. The most thrilling aspect of that assignment is that in preparation for the project -- we had to meet at someone’s house to work out some of the finer details, and this involved hanging out with boys on a school night. Wow. Sixth grade -- -Mrs. Brooks, married, projects that went beyond playing in the dirt, and boys.
In making our presentation project authentic, we spent time with a tape recorder making splashing noises by throwing stuff in Mike B’s family full bath tub and cracking ourselves up with Indian war whoops. When we presented our project in front of the class, we were so good, the class applauded, and we then had to do the whole thing again in front of the PTA meeting which made me wanna barf I was so nervous.
In our classroom was also an old piano that Mrs. Brooks loved to play. She taught us songs and made up hand motions that went along with them. We were such a talented bunch that we took our show again to perform in front of an audience in the school auditorium. That song from the late 1940s, I can still hear the tune in my head and sing some of the words:
I'm looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain
Third is the roses that grow in the lane
No need explaining, the one remaining
Is somebody I adore
I'm looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before
For the performance, Mrs. Brooks turned out the lights and shone a black light on us as we all wore bleached out white gloves and did hand motions to the lyrics. What was that about? I have no idea, but that performance in front of that audience too made me wanna throw up.
In a time when women dominated the profession, note my adjustment to the fact that my seventh grade teacher was a male. His name was Mr. McLemore, and we treated him as the anomaly he was -- a man -- in a position of which we only knew women.
The principal at Perkerson and a terror of a woman, rail thin Mrs. Phillips ran the school with an iron fist. Rather be whipped than visit the confines of her office, students told stories about her that bordered on myth as she supposedly filed her witch like nails as she doled out after school punishments that ranged from scraping gum from the bottom of desks in every classroom to writing “I will not be a fool ” three thousand times on a blackboard.
Mr. McLemore was not scary at all. He was a first year teacher who didn’t quite know what to do with a classroom full of seventh graders who knew each other too well, and knew that Mr., McLemore was new to the profession. We knew that he didn’t have a drawer full of the ashes of former students.
We knew he was raw and ripe for the taking. He had none of the cachet of a veteran and all the quirks and bad choices of a rookie. We took advantage of him, and I am sure we made him miserable.
Mr. McLemore wore bow ties and vests and had the physical bearing of an athlete -- the only thing that made him seem not so were the thick horned rimmed glasses that he wore which only added to the drawing of caricatures of him more entertaining. Mr. McLemore had trouble with classroom management. Like trying to keep a bunch of corks underwater at the same time, Mr. McLemore brought out the bad behavior in all of us.
Perhaps his “green” showed too easily, or perhaps we were just randy juveniles sick of “baby” school and itching to get to high school, but we tested his patience, and I remember later talking to others of my classmates and knowing that we ran him out of the teaching profession.
We jumped on his back on the playground, talked too much in class, hid the chalk, told lies about school rules, and generally terrorized him. On one day when he was totally flustered by one of the many class clowns in my class, a boy named Mike R., who had braces on his legs, crippled by polio, and perhaps compensated for his disability by being hilarious, Mr. McLemore bet Mike a dollar that he couldn’t stay quiet for a whole day. McLemore, thinking that Mike would surely lose, seemed taken down a notch when Mike R. won the bet and held that victory over Mr..McLemore the rest of the year.
I have no idea why we were so mean, but I know that I wished that I could have apologized to him when I gained some maturity. Not surprising, our shenanigans impacted the academics of that year and much was lost in math especially when all of us were about to face Algebra 1 the following year in high school. Amazing how we reaped what we sowed., so Biblical, so right.
I adored Mr. McLemore. I had a huge crush on him, but under the peer pressure, I know that my suppressed sense of humor became outward, and the next year, I would use those same skills on an eighth grade teacher named Mr. Elder.
But as I like to note -- that too is for another blog.
BTW: Going through Perkerson, a school who averaged about 40 children per grade level, I had four classmates whose first name was Mike.
Mike R. would die young, a victim of a drug overdose in the mid 1970s. He was, by far, one of the funniest people I have ever known.