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My senses take me back to the class of 1990.

July 17, 2015

I’ve heard the term “density” used to explain why elderly people can remember everything about childhood, yet not whether they are lunch or not. Likewise, I sometimes can’t recall the name of a student I had in class last semester, but I can probably name everyone in my first senior class–and even remember the topics of many of their research papers.

I started my teaching career in a corner room in the high school building of Mars Hill Bible School, a room that my mother says was the biology class room when she was a student there. Sure enough there was a sink and cabinet in the corner. She said back then the science equipment included one microscope and a two-headed pig fetus in a jar. Thank goodness they were gone before I got there.

This was a no frills classroom for me too. I seem to remember concrete floors, though I suspect they were tile since I remember our third grade class taking a day to lay tips in our room in the building down the ramp from the high school building. When I think of that class room, I think of the smells. The location of the boys’ bathroom just catty-cornered across the hall probably contributed to the ambience. I suspect a blind man could find the boys’ bathroom in any school without help. Since we still had blackboards–not whiteboards or Smartboards–chalk dust hung in the air as well.

That particular year, I inherited the responsibility as senior sponsor for helping a volunteer who was directing the senior play Taming of the Shrew, scheduled by the teacher I replaced. My room served as green room, since the doors to backstage to the auditorium was nearby. When the “actors” weren’t on stage, they’d hangout in my room, in theory doing homework; in reality, playing cassette tapes in their boom boxes. The song I most associate with that time was Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” because my room turned into a makeshift dance floor.

That year, since we were putting in late hours with practice, then needing to be wide awake for class, I introduced these seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds to coffee. That sink and cabinet were perfect for setting up a coffee maker and hiding the students’ individual mugs they brought from home. With all the other things students could get into, Maxwell House seemed a benign alternative. Whoever arrived first made a fresh pot every morning, and as long as it didn’t interfere with class time, they could sip their coffee if I could. The coffee aroma also helped to mask more unpleasant smells wafting in from the hall.

A large storage closet in the room also offered a hideaway for students who loved playing card games–considered contraband in those days. The class room also had a full wall of tilt-out windows offering a clear view of the gymnasium, the hilltop track and the traffic entering campus from Cox Creek Parkway, the main road. The sunlight brightened the room, but to avoid distraction, I arranged the room with the rows of old wood and metal desks facing the other direction.

Twenty-five years later, I can name who sat where, who went together to prom, whose rough draft mysteriously disappeared from the stack of papers turned in. The exchange student from Indonesia wrote her research paper on Charles Dickens. Another student writing on the same author offered enough assistance to help her get through without violating academic integrity.

That group of students had a wicked sense of humor. They were yard rollers extraordinaire. The first month of teaching, my yard was rolled three times in one week. No wimpy job either. The finished product looked like something the artist Christo might have pulled off if he’d had my house instead of the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower as his subject. They probably jeopardized my career when I served as chaperone as they decorated the unfinished lower level of the school as the “Punkin Day” spook house. Somehow none of them could explain to my satisfaction or the administrations’ where they got their old tombstones–with names and dates. A gigantic concrete culvert that appeared looked strangely similar to the ones used in the construction of the new Kmart. I won’t even talk about the damage to lockers. Somehow, eventually, we made it through the year, reading good books, seeing–and performing–Shakespearean plays, learning to write good paragraphs that led to good essays.

That year some geologists were predicting earthquakes along the fault line in Mississippi. There were suggestions that we should have earthquake drills. One of the students joked that the principal Mr. Barfield, a portly man, could run in and stomp to simulate tremors. He just happened to be right outside the door, so–good sport that he was–he did just that.

These were also the same students who came and went for three periods, smiling at me oddly, but not telling me that I had arrived at school wearing one blue shoe and one purple one. When I asked why no one told me, they said, “We would have, but we wanted everyone else to enjoy it.”

I will say that we enjoyed ourselves that year, and I’ve kept up with many of them as they’ve become adults, functioning successfully in society. A few years ago, reading a book by Carol Jago, I read with interest the statement that teachers could consider what we hoped our students would still remember from our class ten years from now. At the time, Facebook wasn’t around, but I used to seek them out and first, telling them I hoped in my inexperience I “did no harm,” then asking what they remembered. The answers, quite good humored, made me smile–even laugh. I think I even caught a whiff of chalkdust.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 17, 2015 10:20 pm

    Oh, how I love this, Cuz! I’m afraid I don’t have the same kinds of experiences that you describe, but I have some really good memories. Since my first year was more than 50 years ago, many specifics have disappeared. Maybe I’ll try to resurrect those memories that I CAN remember from my first year at Pascagoula High School back in the dark ages. Thanks so much for sharing your memories in your always-delightful voice!!

  2. July 22, 2015 6:54 pm

    Sandy, attended part 1 of the Class of 75 reunion last Friday night (with Carmen). A lot of students remembered you and Mom, and specifically Emory Bell (’78) said to tell you “hello”

    • sandyyoung75 permalink
      July 22, 2015 10:14 pm

      I know you had a great time! I’ve been to several WHS reunions and always have such a good time. Thanks for the shout out from Emory, one of my favorites through the years!

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