I had interesting teachers almost from the beginning. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Johnson was a tall, over six feet, elegant, kind woman. Imagine how tall she looked to a five year old! She was a true teacher always encouraging us to think and learn. My first grade teacher Mrs. M, can only kindly be described as a bit of a flake. I remember getting into a rather heated argument with her when I was 6 when she tried to tell us that 1+0=0. I was fairly sure she was wrong, and having been raised to that point ( and beyond) to stand up for what I thought was right I was not about to back down. The disagreement was finally solved when my sister, who is 11 years older than I am and was a senior at the high school, which was joined to the elementary school by a long hallway, came to bring me a sweater. Mrs. M consulted her and my sister broke the tie by saying 1+0 was indeed 1, that perhaps Mrs. M was thinking about 1 times 0.The traditional first grade teacher was Mrs. Young, a sweet, kindly and generally rational person, but being part of the baby boom we had driven the school to add another teacher.
One of the second grade teachers Mrs. N, died while I was in first grade and we were all paraded across the street en mass to see her corpse lying in state at Johnson Brothers Funeral Home. My mother was not happy, believing six year olds should not be exposed to dead bodies which they might find scary. I actually had very little problem with the corpse, I found the entire experience rather exciting. The only problem was years later when they had stopped being funeral directors we were invited to a social event at the house and the food for the evening was laid out on a table in the alcove between the two sconces exactly where Mrs. N had been laid out between them twenty-five years earlier. It kind of took one’s appetite away. Ms. N was a single lady who “shared a house” with another single lady. Although that was certainly not that odd in those years, many years later I was told on good authority that they were actually a couple. At the time we did not talk about such things, the primary comment being made rather obliquely that someone in a same sex relationship was “odd” or “funny”.
But, I digress.My second grade teacher was Ms. C, a very light skinned, very elegant woman who dressed spectacularly. She had my father tailor quite a few of her clothes or alter them, I actually think she had a bit of a crush on my father, because even though she dressed well nobody needed a tailor as often as she seemed to. She got married late in life to a man who she basically supported for the rest of his life. It was widely thought in the East End that she bought herself a husband since he did not bring much to the marriage but his company and presumably his husbandly services.
My third grade teacher, Ms. H, was what a Hollywood producer would have chosen for a teacher back in the old days. Short, stout, wearing shirtwaist dresses and sensible shoes, stern and unyielding in her rules and expectations. She was the first teacher I saw paddle anyone and she seemed to enjoy it mightily. All of us were afraid of her. When Jimmy Watkins punched me, he was actually swinging at another classmate and I got in the way trying to stop the fight–I was an obnoxiously self-righteous individual even as a child, I thought Mrs. H might kill him. She was so mad she actually turned colors. Of course, she, like all of my teachers, loved me to death, although her way of showing it was not very warm and cozy. She was a maiden lady without kids herself and maybe the mothering instinct was not strong in her. She snatched Jimmy up, took him out in the hall, having snagged her paddle with the strategically drilled holes first and beat the stuffing out of him. All we heard was , ” How dare you hit your classmate”, whack, “If you ever do that again!”, whack. The threats and whacking went on for what seemed to be an interminable amount of time. Because I was a champion cryer, I made the most of it and cried for about half an hour, even though I do not think that much damage had actually been done. I was then taken downstairs to the cafeteria and given some chocolate milk to make me all better.
My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bayless, a sweet and competent teacher ( all of my teachers at the black school were excellent, except Mrs. M, and she meant well), who died recently. The highlight of my fourth grade year was when one of my classmates, I do not remember who, and since it was a combined fourth and fifth grade class there were lots of suspects, brought in a praying mantis cocoon for our version of show and tell. Over the weekend the cocoon hatched and our classroom was overrun with tiny praying mantises! I clearly remember opening my desk, we had the kind that the top lifted up, and seeing the tiny bugs staring back at me. Since they were one of the few bugs I was not afraid of I was not alarmed but there was general panic and we had to evacuate the room for a couple of days.
My fifth grade teacher, named Mr. Mc was commonly referred to as Ferpo. Not sure where the nickname came from. He was a generally boring and unremarkable man whose only defining characteristic was that he would fly into intermittent snits for seemingly no reason. My fifth grade year was remarked by only two major events. Several of the females in the class began having their periods and I got in trouble for kissing a boy. I am sure there are things that males compete for in pre-teen and young teen years, but for females there are two definite benchmarks, getting your period and buying your first bra. All of the girls knew when a classmate got her period, either she would share, or if she was reserved it was frequently discovered at gym time or from seeing “feminine products” in her purse or locker. We also knew when our female classmates got their first bras. If they were not forthcoming with the information there were tale tell signs, straps, the outline of the fastening hooks poking out of the back, etc. It was great status to begin having your period and/or to need a bra.
The kissing incident was rather harmless. We were getting to the age when boys and girls began to find each other interesting. One day, before school, we were playing a game in the homeroom classroom before the teacher got there. Boys were chasing the girls and if they caught you they got to kiss you. Ferpo walked in just as Byron H laid a smooch on me, having caught me close to the black board. It was a chaste and brief kiss, but Ferpo flew into one of his rages, drug us both down to the principal’s office and insisted we be punished. Mr. P, the principal, was massively unimpressed, not surprisingly, he was rumored to have assignations in his office with various women during basketball games, which people said explained why he came out periodically to tell people to hold the noise down, although that does not seem logical to me, if he was having illicit sex across the hall from the gym surely cover noise would be desirable. Anyway, Mr. P sent us to the Teacher’s Lounge, a mythical place to await our punishment. He left us there for half a day. If we had been amorous we would have been in heaven with all of the couches in the lounge. As it turned out we got a good talking to and nothing else. Mr. Mc was not happy when we returned bowed but not broken.
My sixth grade year I had Ms. T., who I have written about before, she was the beautiful, intelligent, highly skilled teacher who introduced us to the world of science fairs, spelling bees and other methods of competition with each other and with the white kids from those other city schools. During my time with her she was seemingly above reproach, although not above envy, speculation and suspicion, she was just so darn gorgeous, who could trust she was also a good person? The boys in my class had decided ( this tells you something about gender roles of the time) that anyone that beautiful had to be a prostitute. I mean, she was single, drove a sports car, dressed well, had a cool apartment, what teacher that we had ever had looked like that and lived like that?
Having decided she was a prostitute, they decided they would try to figure out how much she charged, pool their money and buy the lucky winner of the lottery a roll in the hay with her. Imagining how much such an event was worth ( I am not even confident most of the 12 year olds knew what sex actually entailed) they hit upon the amount of $40.00. I have no idea how they arrived at that figure, but in 1960 $40 was a bunch of money, probably comparable to at least $300 now. Most of our fathers that did well made around a hundred dollars a week.
When the girls heard about we, nascent feminist all, took them to task for impugning Ms. T’s character. I am not sure whether it was shame at being called out for suggesting our talented and popular teacher was for sale, or their realization that it would take them more than a year to raise the $40, or if it dawned on them, a) they did not know if the price actually was $40 and could be more, b) they had no assurance she would complete the deal with one of her students and c) none of them probably knew how to have sex, for whatever reason Mission Get Laid was abandoned.
Ms. T, alas, was too pretty for her own good. Evidently her looks attracted lots of male attention, including the attentions of at least one woman’s husband. The woman in question, Mrs. H., decided that she would not retreat and leave the field of amour to Ms. T. The year after we got integrated into Central Jr. Hi as 9th graders, three years after leaving Ms. T’s classroom, Mrs. H charged up the sidewalk of East High–by then the sixth grade classes had been moved there since there were no longer high school students in the building, the last class having graduated in 1957–and confronted Ms. T.
Always the good teacher Ms. T. , ushered the irate woman out of the building and attempted to reason with her on the front lawn. Evidently Mrs T’s protestations of innocence fell on deaf ears and Mrs. H. jumped her, the ensuing chick fight was evidently epic. Those of us who had moved on lamented missing it. Our younger friends regaled us with tales of the throw down for years. As a matter of fact the entire incident became something of an East End legend. Ms. T resigned, Mrs. H withdrew from the field victorious and peace was restored once more.
In another blog I will tell you about my interesting white teachers, both those who taught me and those I taught with! 🙂