From Out of the Garbage...

August 30, 2021

     As I walked into the English Department’s Lounge today with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich inside my lunchbox, I chuckled to myself reminiscing how “far” I’ve come in my teaching career. I mean, I remember back in the late 90’s I literally snuck out of an “Introduction to Education” class at NAU just to get away from the sticky-sweet, ‘let’s all come together now,’ treatment from the leaders of the class. At the time, it was infecting fellow teacher-candidates in droves. I had a difficult time stomaching the entire “Teach the children well” hippy-hoo-ha to begin with, but this particular class episode drove me to exit out the back, get on my bike and pedal as fast as I could away from that stuff.


     I wonder… is this what Teaching is? This is who will be approaching tough kids who are one step short of being homeless? How about kids who are making daily choices about whether to keep up with Dad’s and Uncle’s drug-dealing business, or go to school and learn how to read? Maybe so? Perhaps there just isn’t a place for someone like me to actually be an educator?


     I was disillusioned in my first few years of Teacher Education. I didn’t really know if I would ever fit into the role, according to what I was seeing and experiencing.


     When I paused and thought about if there was a past event that led me into teaching, I was reminded this morning of my 2nd grade year in the tiny town of Ajo, Arizona. I had to endure the meanest teacher I’d ever had - Mrs. Shaw. She was close to seventy years old at the time, had a slender but crooked figure, with chin-length auburn hair and thick, black-rimmed glasses. I remember being in a small classroom of about twenty other students. Typical kid… I had a crush on fellow 2nd grader, Kathy Messer, who sat in the adjacent row. At one point in the lesson, Mrs. Shaw had her back turned to the kids as she wrote several Rules of Grammar on the board in chalk.


     With Mrs. Shaw scribbling away, I saw an opportunity to interact with Kathy. Should I have pulled her hair? Maybe I should have tapped her shoulder and asked to borrow her eraser? In those days of the late 70’s, desks were constructed as one single piece, with the chair affixed to the desk. It was more like a cockpit.


     Well, I impulsively began to lean my desk/chair over to her side of the row, tipping the entire seated-contraption so that the two legs on the left side were lifted off the ground. I don’t know what my logic was to it, probably none, but I leaned so far over to attempt to speak to Kathy that my entire desk toppled over on its side with me still in it. It was an embarrassing and slightly shocking event. I didn’t really have time to check if I was hurt or not, because before I knew it, I had Mrs. Shaw leaning over me. She picked me up by my ear, which was an old norm back in those days, And I was roughly escorted to the other side of the classroom towards the corner of the room with the trash can. Was she putting me outside? I didn’t know, but I could tell my classmates were gasping as I got closer and closer to the corner.


     “Get in,” she demanded.


     I resisted. “Get in or we’re going to the office!”


     Out of desperation, I complied. I climbed into a waist-high metal garbage can and stood facing the corner. I was absolutely petrified of Mrs. Shaw and the additional threat of the principal’s discipline. I didn’t want swats, which were also quite prevalent in that era. And I didn’t want my parents to be called.


     “Nose in the corner!” She pushed the back of my head so that my face pointed at the right angle. As I stood there, she finally approved of my positioning, and went back to teaching. It was a long, humiliating span of time that I stayed like that. I remember tears down my cheek dropping to the bottom of the trash can… plunk, plunk.


     Eventually, lunch time came around, and Mrs. Shaw released the other students while I remained in the corner. She said something to me about how now maybe I’ll learn my lesson, and stuff like that, but honestly, my memory eliminates the details of the conclusion of this event, all these years later.


     The crux of this episode was the indelible damage that occurred. Sure, but what stayed with me was this feeling of wanting to oppose this kind of teaching. And for years after that, I got increasingly frustrated with these old ways of schooling. My teenage years were full of defiance and opposition towards these methods, yet I didn’t then have a productive way of dealing with what I sensed was wrong in education. That is, until years later in my college life, when I had an Education Professor pull me aside and whisper, “You know Danny, you’re doing the world a disservice if you choose not to become a teacher.”


     That changed me.


     So, here I am, teaching high school English again. I’ve taught since 2001 and this will be my 15th year of full-time teaching. I may have just come back into the field, but I’ll never lose those feelings of injustice and wrongdoing by my teachers of the past. Of course, I had great teachers too, and I’ll blog about that as well. However, this episode was crucial to my development and I figured I’d share it. I still feel that tinge of angst whenever I’m encountered by teachers who ruin students’ perceptions of education. So, in some ways, I believe that’s why I’m here, actively teaching. Hopefully, I can be aware enough during the regular school-week to help where I can. Here’s to a dozen more years or whatever of teaching in the frontlines.



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TAGS: teaching, education, cautionary tales, English Teacher, public school  

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