Kindergarten, 1967. Mrs. Simon was my first teacher. Back then, the baby classes had pianos so the teachers could play in accompaniment to Ring Around the Rosies and the Mexican Hat Dance. I was four years old and the only black kid in the class but most of us didn’t know the full extent of race yet. Well, I didn’t know. Later I found out what it was to be black and I was happy about it. It was the sixties. James Brown sang, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”My parents were pretty happy about being black too, even though my mother is light. We had a lot of white friends. My dad was an artist. There aren’t many black people doing that kind of work. The people I met at my dad’s studio and the ones we visited were interesting and cool people that he smoked refer with.
I liked my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Simon. I remember her like yesterday – short, slightly jowly with cropped blonde hair. She was kind and played a mean Mexican Hat Dance. I also learned this song in her class:
Once there was an apple tree,
standing still as still can be.
Me me me me me me me.
Do you like my song?
The classroom was bright with all of our artwork hanging up, and with pictures of the alphabet and numbers. We took naps and had milk and cookies. During the breaks, Mrs. Simon would go in the hall and talk to Mrs. Rebison, the teacher of the other kindergarten class. I wish we had breaks like that as adults at work, only thing you wouldn’t drink milk, it would be vodka, gin, or you could pop Ativan. We could drink and drug until we passed out for our ‘naps’. Or we could have sex breaks to relieve work tension. We’d email our requests for sex partners to personnel a week in advance. I know who I’d choose… Oh, but this isn’t a perfect world.
And who better to illustrate that than my 2nd grade teacher, poor, weird Mrs. Flynn. Who let that crazy bitch into the school!? Yes, the bitch was a mental case. If you touched her, she’d yell, “Don’t touch me! Don’t ever touch me!” She was a dumpy woman with a big square head, red hair, and very pale skin. She kept always on her desk a tin of Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies, which she never offered to us kids. I loved Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies, and would eye them covetously, fantasizing about a day when she would change her non-sharing ways. She ate them anytime she wanted, right in front of us – the buttery pretzel shaped ones, with chunky sugar granules on them. Her piggish face reminds me of the Nazi female prison commander from the movie “Seven Beauties”.
One day she told us that we weren’t going to practice spelling, or numbers or any of that shit. Instead she commanded us to run around in circles in the classroom – that’s right, just run around. Some of the boys took to it immediately and ran around like maniacs, banging into tables, chairs, and into each other, falling down all over the place. By the end they were all red-faced, sweaty, and ripped up. And Mrs. Flynn from behind her desk screamed, “Don’t stop, run, run – keep running, yeah!” She then went back to reading the paper and eating butter cookies. A few girls ran with abandon as well, their little skirts hiked up in friction around their tights, but I remember the circle of us who just sat there, scared — Martin, Michelle and maybe a couple of others. A couple of those kids were crying because they knew that this was not normal and that Mrs. Flynn had lost her marbles, and that she was an adult and what were we supposed to do now. I didn’t cry but sat there staring, freaked. What a crazy scene!
I think about those stupid kids today, the ones who just ran around enjoying it. Are these the ones who grew up to take advantage of the moment, to live life to the fullest? The bungee jumpers, parachuters, and Polar Bear Club members? Or maybe they’re in prison. I think I heard that Mrs. Flynn found out that she had a brain tumor. I think she had just found out and had a nervous breakdown the day she told us to run around. But still I mean come on! Why take it out on little kids? But the poor thing probably had a weird time of it with life in general, what with her aversion to being touched and to sharing her Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies.
There was Miss Gruenwald in the 3rd grade. I imagine her being one of the first to change from Miss to Ms. She was the quintessential early-seventies, modern woman. The feel I get is that she was around twenty-four years old. She had long, brown, nineteen seventies hair parted down the middle. She wore mini skirts and spoke the same foreign language with the teacher across the hall while they smoked cigarettes. I think it was an Eastern European language. The other teacher wasn’t as attractive as she was but she had the same kind of hair and dressed similarly.
After elementary school I had Miss Dick in junior high. What a place to have a name like that? Miss Dick was my cooking teacher. The class had stove and sink units and smelled absolutely lovely, like something was always baking. I looked forward to this class. Miss Dick made us examine our plates for cracks. Cracks caught bacteria, Miss Dick had told us, and we should throw any plates with them away. I always remember that when I look at a cracked plate today but I still eat on it. A few of the kids would yell her name out emphatically, trying to start shit, but it didn’t work because she was a cupcake of a woman. She had good manners and a sweet way with children. Plus, she was pretty and explained how to make oatmeal cookies in a very nice voice. I felt sorry for her with that name. Being a junior high school teacher with that name could be a hazard. These classes harbor fledgling sophomoric humorists. She should have changed her name to Miss Richard.
There was Miss Di Pierro with the bad breath, and Miss Carboni who stood real straight with her arms stiff at her sides while she sniffed up through her nose for a long time before teaching Greek mythology. Miss Carboni wore pants mostly. And Mr. Levy had Tourette’s Syndrome, but the children didn’t know what it was back then.
There are a couple of others that I could add to the list of ones who stick out more to me. But these are the main ones. I can’t say any of them gave me anything that I carry with me now except for some fond and kooky memories.
Who are some of your favorite teachers? What strange classroom memories do you have?