During my seventh grade year, I began hating school. Before then, I still pretty much enjoyed going, though some of my original eagerness had cooled off in the fourth grade in the wake of an incident that I’ve previously blogged about (see Why I Don’t Like Math).
Here’s what happened to snuff my desire to get up every morning and look forward to spending most of the day enclosed in a brick building learning one subject or another.
I was eleven years old at the beginning of my seventh-grade year, and excited about going to junior high school (it wasn’t called “middle” school back in the fifties; we had three divisions of school: elementary was grades one to six; junior high was grade seven to nine, and of course, there was high school which was from grade ten to twelve). I was looking forward to learning to go to different classrooms for each subject (wasn’t any of that in elementary school) even though on the first day of school I wasn’t feeling well.
On the second day of school, I, unfortunately, learned why I hadn’t been feeling well: my appendix ruptured. I was in the hospital for two weeks and was put on bed rest for four weeks after that. I should’ve been able to get back in school before Halloween of that year, however, I didn’t get back until after Christmas because that was the year the city buses went on strike.
Such a strike nowadays wouldn’t affect getting to school because kids now ride big yellow school buses, but at that time, short of walking or unless you had a car, the city bus was the only way to get from my house to my assigned school which was clean across town from where I lived. We didn’t have a car, and my mom wouldn’t allow me to walk so I was stuck at home until the strike was over.
Now you may think that being unable to get there was the reason why my enthusiasm for going to school waned. After all, while I was out ill, I wasn’t sent a tutor (I wasn’t aware until years later that one should’ve been sent), and even if I’d had one, the tutor wouldn’t have remained while I was out due to the strike, so I would’ve been lagging far behind after being out for half the school year. You’d be wrong. My mom was my tutor for that period of time, so I was up to date on the school-work.
Bear with me, I’m getting to the cause of my disaffection with school.
I showed up on the first day after the New Year, relieved to be back. I was all brushed and polished and ready to go, my mom had even allowed me to put on a smattering of lipstick. My homeroom teacher (who shall remain nameless), a man whom I’d only met briefly at the beginning of the school year, welcomed me back. I noticed he kept glancing at me, but I thought nothing of it.
He asked me to remain when the bell rang for my first class and I thought it was to go over my schedule with me. However, instead, to my consternation, he began to lecture me because I was wearing that barely discernable amount of lipstick. Turned out seventh-graders weren’t allowed to wear it, a fact I hadn’t known because I was out sick. He told me that the punishment for breaking this rule was paddling (corporal punishment in schools was still very much in effect in nineteen fifty-nine).
Because I’d been unaware of this rule, I thought I was simply being warned not to do it again. I explained that since I now knew, I’d be sure and not wear lipstick to school again. Wrong. The bastard pulled out a paddle and bent me over a desk and proceeded to give me five whacks across my behind which were apparently how many you got for wearing lipstick to school.
I was stunned. I was also embarrassed because there were two other students – boys – watching, and waiting to get their whacks for whatever school rule they’d fractured.
I was not a violent kid, but at that moment, I wished with all my might that his head would explode. Needless to say, I did not have a good rest of the year at that school. I was humiliated because all the kids knew I’d been paddled, and some of them teased me which didn’t help anything. I became quiet and stand-offish. I didn’t tell my mom because I was too ashamed to do so, and there was no message sent home (no auto-calls then, and even had there been, we were too poor to have telephone service at that time), so I suspect she never knew.
Years later, looking back, I knew I should’ve told her but at the time, I was afraid she’d give me grief for having gotten paddled. Yeah. Stupid, I know, but those were different times.
Now, as I said in my post about hating math, I respect teachers and recognize that they have a hard job (my sister is a retired teacher) but, some people are not suited to be teachers. My seventh grade homeroom teacher certainly wasn’t, and I lost all respect for him.
What this incident had the effect of doing was to make me wary of all teachers, and to absolutely ruin school for me. After that, I hated going, and though I had to go to homeroom, I refused to have anything to do with that teacher, even refusing to answer roll call, which of course, caused even more trouble for me. Eventually, I began skipping school and did not finish the seventh grade. I got into a heap of trouble that year.
It’s a long story that I won’t go into right now, but after I repeated seventh at a different school, I tested out of eighth grade and was, instead, placed in ninth. I suppose I should’ve been happy, but I wasn’t.
I’d gotten over the physical pain of being unfairly beaten – and in front of other students at that – but I’d not gotten over the psychological damage. In high school, I dropped out in tenth grade. I went back the next year and even made good grades when I felt like it, but I dropped out altogether in twelfth. It was a long time before I finally understood exactly why I didn’t like school, and by then it was much too late though I later got my GED, and even some college (after I was an adult, and married with children).
I’m a great-grandmother now, and have long since gotten over it, but I sometimes wonder how my life might’ve been different if I’d had a seventh-grade teacher worthy of the title.