Kindergarten is my first recollection of school and with good reason. I had Mrs. Trout. She spanked me on the very first day of school. Me! We sat at tables. Someone was at the front of the room. I spun around in my seat so I could see. Mrs. Trout told me to turn around, so I did. The next thing I know, she tells me I’m not paying attention and drags me out into the hall and spanks me. This was a rural school in Marion, Ohio and we only had kindergarten in the morning so Mary Mantey’s mom picked us up in her dark blue station wagon before lunch. Three girls (Mary, Jenny Pitts and I) climb into the back seat, and Mrs. Mantey turns around and says, “So, did anybody get whacked today?” We all just sat there, heads down, not saying a word. I never told my parents, but they said they found out at a conference. That explained to them why I stopped wanting to go to school. For math, we had to take a piece of chalk and go up to the board and write over the top of a number that was already up there. Mrs. Trout did not like the way my dad taught me to make my 4s and my 8s. I also remember that we had to take turns counting. Mary went all the way to 100! I went to 80 something and then I sat down. I could have gone further, but didn’t feel compelled to. I wasn’t into pleasing my teacher.
One memory from first grade is Jenny Pitts had a snowball in her desk that she was saving for recess. That didn’t end well. Also, I fell from the top of the slide onto the cinders below and had to get stitches. Jenny was involved in the incident too. Mary went to the Catholic school with her three older brothers. I don’t remember who my teacher was and I don’t remember a single academic event. I do remember that I brought a giant bull frog to school for show and tell. It got loose on the bus. Jenny’s brothers were really scared for me because they were always in trouble with that bus driver. He just smiled as I lifted my frog from under the gas pedal. His name was Fuzzie and he liked me because he knew my dad.
We moved to Delphos, Ohio around Halloween of second grade. My first day was unremarkable. I do remember that Kent Brewer and I had the same birthday. We got to play his game, but not mine. I also remember that this is when I began to hate reading. We had SRAs, whatever that stood for. There were colors that indicated the different levels. I was always significantly behind all of my friends in color. They were purple and teal. I was tan and brown. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hoverman and everybody absolutely loved her, except me. She was tiny, well dressed and grey headed and she preferred boys to girls. That’s all I got. Oh, and the art teacher grabbed the paintbrush out of my hand and put bars over the animal I had drawn. I had the bars behind the animal. She made them go in front. That’s not what I wanted. I was in the cage, not looking from outside!
Third grade I had Miss McClure. She was young and I liked her. I fell on the playground that year the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I know the day because I had on green socks the next day when my dad took me to get a silver cap on my front tooth. I don’t member who my reading teacher was, but I do remember that I had to miss recess sometimes to be in a reading circle with a couple other boys. That made me mad and didn’t make me read any better.
Mrs. Shade was my 4th grade teacher. She was sweet and took on the look of every character in every book she ever read to us. I don’t remember any other teacher ever reading to the class. We made valentine boxes and I stepped in dog poop on my way to school and I passed a kid’s lunch box up the isle one day, just because. I had never sat in the back of a classroom before and I just couldn’t resist. Somebody else got blamed for it. I still feel bad.
We went to the middle school for fifth grade because there wasn’t room at the elementary school. A new high school had just opened so the middle school got moved into the old high school. It was the best building ever. It had three floors and a secret hallway that served as a fallout shelter and went over to the gym/auditorium. I don’t remember my main teacher’s name, but I remember I liked her. I wrote a lot of poetry. I wasn’t good at spelling though and we just had spelling bees constantly. I was always out early so I just sat there. I didn’t care about stupid spelling anyway. I had a different teacher for math. It was cool to switch classes. I was good at math, except when we had to match shirts to skirts and determine how many different outfits could be made. I totally disagreed with the teacher because, you see, two of the outfits she claimed were possible didn’t match. Other than that, I liked math. I got in trouble during study hall and got detention. Mr. Policki was the 8th grade math teacher and he was in charge of detention. I had a terrible cough and he yelled at me and said, “What’s the matter with you Baumgardner? Do you have whooping cough?”
In sixth grade I had a lady with only one hand for my reading teacher. I liked her. We did projects about what we read and I made a ukulele with my dad’s help. I got to play it for the class and I still have it. I had Mr. Morris for math and he was my first male teacher. Seems like he always had the book in his hand though as if he had no idea what he was about to do. I think he was new.
I was in trouble in 7th grade too. I remember having to stand at the chalkboard in study hall holding a penny to the board with my nose. Seems like the Reds were in the World Series that year. I had Mrs. Wager for social studies and we studied South America. I remember making a green bird out of dyed rice that I glued onto a board. I probably copied something right out of the encyclopedia and we called that a report. I may have had the one-handed lady for math that year.
My first authentic use for math came in 8th grade. Mr. Polocki had moved away, thankfully, though my sisters said he was a really good math teacher. I had a lady with long black wavy hair. She taught us how to balance a checkbook and how to actually write a check. That’s the only time I ever learned that and I use those skills regularly to this very day. She had power of attorney for her dad and so she had to do all of his bills and she just really thought we needed to know this too. That was a good call. We had Krotzer for history and he was a legend. Mr. Fleming taught science and he was fun and we got to build a bell that ran on a battery we made ourselves. I remember girls cheating in that class by memorizing answers. I thought that was crazy. It was so much easier to just learn the material rather than an ordered list of 20 ABCDs.
High school was much better. I quit getting in trouble so much, or at least, I stopped getting caught. I remember only one English class. I had the football coach and I was tired of getting not-so-great grades in English, so I wrote a story about a football from the perspective of the football. He loved it. I had finally succumbed to playing to the audience rather than being my own person. I was a sellout and I felt dirty. I took chemistry and civics a year early because I got out of Spanish 2 by doing poorly my first year. I was such a clever girl. I did not like Spanish 1. Math was the best though. I ended up having Mr. Wolfram for all four years of high school. We had algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2 and then trigonometry which was really pre-calculus, we just didn’t know it. I remember proportions and then mixed rate and mixture problems in algebra 1. That was fun when it finally clicked. Geometry was fun because it was like putting together a huge puzzle. By the time we got to trig, there were only 9 of us left in the class. Me, Kathy, Paul, Big Drew, Pacco, Trevor, Bruce, Sam and somebody else. I had a bookmark that I made that had trig identities on it. I used it all through college. Except for Pacco, I still see these people once in a while when I am in Delphos or on Facebook.
So, what finally made math fun and memorable? It was a challenge. I was pushed to think. Mr. Wolfram was full of energy. He loved what he was doing and it showed in how he did it. We did a lot of work at the board, getting feedback and helping each other. We loved helping each other understand. It was absolutely the best part of high school.
In college, I worked hard and made Bs and Cs. The only As I recall were in Managerial Accounting (the prof said I couldn’t get an A since I got a C in Financial Accounting so I had to prove him wrong) and Basic. The final was to write a program that had to do with rounding numbers. I wrote four lines of code and turned in my paper. The prof looked at it, and said, “Oh. I never thought about it like that. You can go.” I may have gotten an A in Money Credit and Banking just because somebody told me it couldn’t be done. I got As here and there in math, but mostly Bs and I was ok with that. I learned and I understood and that was all I wanted out of it.
In graduate school, I loved learning and being around other people who were enjoying school rather than enduring school as I had done twenty years earlier. Graduate school was the first time I ever recall a teacher actualy wanting me to succeed. It was like this big secret, that all of my teachers in the seventeen prior years kept, was uncovered. Teachers want students to succeed. They really do. Who knew? I seriously saw most teachers as an enemy that had to be defeated and that is how I got through. I finally got better at this reading and writing thing in graduate school–in my forties. I did ok in college, but reading was a real struggle that I did not enjoy.
Take-aways…adults need to take the time to see and hear a kid’s perspective. Now, as a teacher, I need to understand situations before I react. The actions of teachers matter, even after many years. The extreme actions of teachers are the most memorable. How do you want to be remembered? Is this different from how you will be remembered? Make an action plan to reconcile any differences. I know I have some fixing to do!
I was inspired to go through this exercise as I am reading Tracy Zager’s [@tracyzager] Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. Tracy takes me into so many classrooms and it stirs up many memories. Some of these memories are funny and some are painful, but they are all just part of what makes me, me.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I encourage all teachers to take some time to think back grade-by-grade and see what sort of memories you have. What sorts of experiences had lasting impact on you? Do you ever teach the way you were taught? Yikes!
Whew! That was long overdue.