Not a slow learner in 1969I must be a slow learner. Despite getting decent grades in public school and earning some Latin-sounding award on my college diploma, I’ve spent almost 45 years in the educational system. I did manage to escape without peeing my pants even once, so there’s one thing to be proud of. To be honest, though, I did some really stupid things in my school days. 

To give us both a moment of laughter, feel free to send an email or comment on your own mistakes in school. I’m sure I’m not the only slow learner out there.

First Day of School

When my older brother Ken was in kindergarten, Mom and Dad thought it a good idea to send me to school with him for a day. I would go to school the following year, so dragging me along for his Show-and-Tell exhibit would benefit both of us.

After the bus pulled into Thompsontown Elementary School, Ken and a crowd of other students got off the bus. I did not. I expected him to give me some direction, like, “Get off the bus now.”

The bus driver started to pull away from the building, but I was too bashful to yell for him to stop.

My four-year-old little brain was only slightly panicked. I knew the bus made a stop at the high school ten miles away. My Aunt Mae attended that school. I could look her up, and she would take care of me for the rest of the day. Mae was a ninth grader. How she would manage a four-year-old tagging along to her classes was anybody’s guess.

Fortunately, the bus driver looked into his rearview mirror and saw me. He stopped long enough to put me off the bus and into the building, though I had no idea where to go once I stepped inside the doors.

My brother never noticed I was missing.

I don’t remember anything else about my first day of school.

Becoming Educated

Our tiny elementary school had two classrooms for each of the seven grade levels, a gym/cafeteria/auditorium, and a stage/kindergarten classroom/library. I have more books in my sunroom today than we had in my elementary school library. I couldn’t find many titles that interested me, so I kept borrowing the same two books, Rainbow Garden and Squanto, Friend of the White Man. Eventually, I discovered the Nancy Drew mystery series and sacrificed my school lunches to support a reading habit.

Since my education seemed incomplete, or maybe because we had studied a unit on inventors and scientists, I craved more learning than I got from the classroom. I talked my best friend Crystal into helping me explore the world and make our discoveries. I think she went along with my hair-brained scheme for a few minutes when I set out to find what was hidden under the thick rubber home plate mat on the scruffy baseball field.

No one played baseball during recess that day, so I dug with my hands until I dislodged three iron stakes. Surely, there was more to it than that. I kept digging, certain there must be a secret tunnel somewhere. The math teacher/gym teacher/baseball coach grumbled as he tried to force the iron rods back into place.

Only a Small Problem Child

I didn’t enjoy the baseball games, jump rope competitions, freeze tag, or volleyball tournaments during recess. For one thing, it was hard to be athletic wearing a dress, and girls wearing pants weren’t allowed until about sixth grade. Instead, I frequently hid in the girls’ bathroom and bounced my vast collection of neon-colored superballs in all directions, fishing them out of the toilet as needed. Eventually, I was caught and evicted from the bathroom. Then, it was back to Chinese jump rope and jacks on the macadam.

While I loved school, learning, and most of my teachers, I must have been a handful some days. (I don’t think I was any competition for my brother’s antics, though.)

We had a wonderfully creative fourth/fifth/sixth-grade teacher named Miss Fike. She allowed me to remain in her classroom until my bus arrived at the end of the day. I played jokes on my teacher by hiding her car keys in places where she would never find them, under globes, behind bookshelves, and around the student coatracks. I wonder if she ever had to walk home. Miss Fike taught me hundreds of fascinating and sometimes useless facts through her “potpourri” bulletin board. I taught her to hide the car keys where I couldn’t reach them, which wasn’t difficult. I was the shortest student in her class.

Things I Didn’t Learn

Public school failed to teach me physical fitness skills. I stood in terror, facing the rope ladder and parallel bars. The Presidential Fitness Test included pull-ups (I couldn’t even hang on to the bar!), the standing broad jump, and the softball throw. Of course, I threw like a girl. I think they came up with that phrase because of me.  And I always came in dead last on the timed 50-meter dash. However, making me run against the tallest, fastest boy in my grade was cruel.

Nothing is quite as educational for a child as the lessons other children on the bus teach about the mysterious world of sex. Though I later discovered much of this information was inaccurate, everything I knew about sex came from conversations on the school bus. I think the older kids enjoyed my shocked expressions as they explained everything to me.

By the end of sixth grade, I evaluated my life and realized I had failed to be the top student or become one of the popular kids. Working hard didn’t getting me the recognition I wanted, so I determined to be one of the bad kids. Besides, all the cute boys were trouble-makers, hands down.

High School

In those days, we had elementary school from kindergarten to grade six and high school for grades seven through twelve.

East Juniata High School had a no-gum chewing policy. Therefore, I carried a secret brown paper bag of sour apple chewing gum with me to school to rebel and help other students break the rules. I was their personal gum dispenser. That lasted until I got braces.

In order to advance my bad girl reputation, I invented swear words, though none ever appeared in Webster’s Dictionary or found their way into common use.

I became proficient at racing light flashes in eighth grade by holding my watch in the sunlight. We had light races on the ceiling during Algebra II. I also enjoyed shooting spitwads across the room until the teacher sent me and three other students to the principal’s office. The principal, a big, burly, scary man, glared and snarled and asked each of us in turn, “What grade are you getting in Algebra?” My unfortunate co-conspirators had to admit they had Ds and Fs in that subject. When it was my turn, I said, “I have an A.” I must have been a little too busy with my antics because I found ninth-grade geometry beyond my abilities.

Good Student

I did excel in one area. I was a good writer, at least according to my English teachers. In seventh grade, Mrs. Benner gave me an A for my first poem, a limerick. It went like this:

Mr. Brown hated his wife,

So he pulled out a big, silver knife.

It was shiny and bright,

And it gave him delight

To end poor old Mrs. Brown’s life.

I have no idea where that one came from, but I blame all those Nancy Drew books. Today, a poem like that would merit either jail time or a referral to social services.

Change of Career Plans

By tenth grade, I put my evil ways behind me and tried to be a serious student…(except for the day I found the girls’ locker room door locked, and thought I could pick the lock and change into my hideous, stretchy gym suit in private. Sorry about that, Mrs. Esterline.) After nearly failing ninth-grade geometry, my parents switched me to business courses, where I spent three years practicing typing, business math, shorthand, and half a year learning how to run the machine that punched holes in cardstock. I’m glad for the typing skills. I don’t remember the other subjects. I’m not only a slow learner, I’m forgetful.

I waited another fifteen years before attempting those abstract math courses again. Ironically, my first teaching position was in the seventh-grade math classroom. I told the superintendent that math was my worst subject. He offered me the job anyway. Sometimes, it’s easier to teach a topic you’ve struggled to understand than to teach skills that come naturally. I learned how to break the problems down and look at them in new ways. My students and I both needed that. Teaching students how to read and write is much more challenging for me.

I’m Still a Slow Learner

Considering how many dumb things I did in school, you would think I’d have more patience for my current batch of students, even when they ask which side of a one-sided worksheet to complete or which object on my desk is the stapler. But, as I said, I’m a slow learner. Maybe in another half century, I can make sense of it all. I shake my head a lot now and say, “What is wrong with this kid?” I’m pretty sure the teachers used to say that about me.

More about being a slow learner:

Not Much of a Schoolboy

The Broken Vase

2 thoughts on “Maybe I’m a Slow Learner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.