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That's Good Enough!

I’ve Been Thinking… … back to when I was a kid. Life was simple. I remember the first time my mom walked me into the Kindergarten class at Lincoln School. Tightly gripping her hand, we walked into a classroom bustling with activity. The teacher smiled at me and asked if I knew any of the other children in the room. I looked around and saw many of my friends that I played with everyday, but the wheels were spinning inside my nearly five-year-old brain. “No,” I said, certain that my mother wouldn’t leave me with a bunch of strangers. I guess I didn’t think it through because she did leave me there. I would spend the first nine years of my education in this same school.

In second grade, my teacher was Miss Fitzgerald. She was a large, silver-haired woman who wore orthopedic shoes with her nylons rolled down to just below the knees. Her drab, thin dress usually covered the tops of her nylons but sometimes she would bend down and that’s when the top of the rolled down nylons would be visible. Miss Fitzgerald seemed very old to me. I believe she was in her 60’s at time she was teaching me, but women born in the early 1900s just seemed older.

The thing I remember most about Miss Fitzgerald was her leather rattan. Wielding that rattan was how Miss Fitzgerald disciplined her students. Talking during class could easily bring the wrath of that rattan down upon us. I don’t specifically remember her hitting anyone with it, but I do remember her whacking it on the desk of anyone who was talking. There were several kids in my class who presented quite a challenge. Miss Fitzgerald used to lock students in the utility closet if the rattan didn’t do the trick.

More than once, we seven-year-olds would continue with our learning while a little boy was crying in the closet. (It was never one of the girls locked in the closet. It was always a boy, and one specifically, whom I won’t name. I heard years later that as an adult he spent time in prison).

Many years removed from grammar school, I realize that Miss Fitzgerald’s “method” of disciplining children was more than slightly off-center. I once had someone ask me whether I ever went home and told my parents what was going on in that classroom. I didn’t because I knew that Miss Fitzgerald never used the rattan or the closet without cause. From a child’s perspective, that made sense. And honestly, I was afraid of her. Perhaps a slight fear of an adult is not a bad thing.

By third grade, I was so relieved to be out of Miss Fitzgerald’s class, that I didn’t realize that Mrs. Hoyle, my next teacher, presented new challenges. While she didn’t have a rattan, Mrs. Hoyle’s weapon of choice was a good, old-fashioned wooden ruler. I felt more comfortable with Mrs. Hoyle because she was married and seemed more like other adults I knew in my life. So one day in her class, I talked when I shouldn’t have talked. The next thing I knew, she had rapped that ruler across my knuckles. I was mortified! And it hurt!

Again, much later, someone asked me if I ever told my parents that I had been whacked across the knuckles by a teacher with a ruler. Absolutely not! I was the one in the wrong. I had been talking when I wasn’t supposed to be talking. In my mind, telling my parents would only bring their anger down upon me as well. No, what happened in those grammar school classrooms needed to stay in those grammar school classrooms.

Physically disciplining children in the classroom is wrong. But instilled within me by my parents was a sense of respect for, and a slight fear of, adults. A little more of that certainly wouldn’t hurt. And that’s what I’ve been thinking today. That, and whatever happened to that leather rattan?

Have a similar story to tell? I’d love to hear it.


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