Thursday, March 25, 2010

Every Teacher Leaves An Impression, Some More Favorable Than Others

I’m going to list one name below, and I’d like to know your immediate reaction to reading it:

Mrs. Carper.

For my DJHS comrades, does seeing that name strike fear in you to this day as it does me? It’s been almost twenty years since I had this woman has my junior high science teacher yet still I’m as fearful of her now as I was then.

The 5th grade science fair is tonight in our town, and as I was walking by the gym this afternoon I noticed all the cardboard displays stationed around the gym. This scene immediately took me back to my own science fair days (experiment: Do plants grow better under artificial light?) and led me momentarily down the road of reminiscing, particularly about our junior high science teacher.

The veteran teacher, Mr. Webber, had just retired as I was entering 6th grade and in his place a new teacher took the reins in the junior high science department. I had heard stories about this new teacher; few of them were comforting. The fact that I was in junior high at this point should have toughened me up for more hardened teaching styles, but I was always a student who was most comfortable with teachers who were nurturing, comforting, and motherly. Mrs. Carper exuded none of these characteristics. Instead, haunting memories of her include:

  • Assigning the most intense and labor intensive study guides I experienced in my nineteen year career as a student.
  • Little compassion for pre-teens with a propensity for gagging at offensive smells during worm dissection week
  • Rigid expectations for how class work should be done (homework, papers, etc.) and little tolerance when those expectations were not met
  • Mouth breather (Deviated septum? Seasonal allergies? I can only speculate.)
  • Stricken with horrible morning sickness that seemed to last the entire length of her first pregnancy requiring constant snacking on saltines and jolly ranchers to avoid upchucking in the lab sink
  • Vicious verbal warnings or reprimands presented more like barks (even more intimidating than Mr. Flott’s mid-lecture outburst in which he warned one serial trouble maker that continued disobedience would result in a life’s path where the highlight would amount to no more than that of a burger flipper at the local McDonald’s)
  • A husband who sometimes subbed for her. My memories of him minimal, but I remember we referred to him as Popeye. I believe that had something to do with him wearing a too-tight blue and white striped shirt- think muscle shirt fifteen years before those were envouge - and less due to his possible fondness for canned spinach. And now that I think about it, I’m not sure we ever had confirmation that Mr. Carper The Sub was married to Mrs. Carper The Science Teacher. We just assumed as much.
All of these memories may be slightly exaggerated recollections of actual truths as the years have passed and memories have been altered, but one thing still remains certain:I was scared to death of that woman. I was astonished anytime one of my classmates chose to defy her. Why would anyone choose to willingly provoke the sleeping dragon?

Now that I’m older and (I like to think) wiser, I took a moment today to reflect on my time with Mrs. Carper from the eyes of an adult and fellow (quasi-) educator. As her student I feared her, but as someone who works with children daily I can now respect her methods. She set high standards for her students probably because she knew she could expect more from us than we were often willing to show on our own. Her strict adherence to classroom expectations and rules meant an organized, structured learning environment. Her perseverance in dealing with what I now recognize as nearly debilitating pregnancy-related symptoms was a measure of her strength and showcased the ability to find a balance between her professional and personal lives.

It’s amazing the perspective you gain when you grow up and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Someone should do an experiment about that.

7 comments:

Tina said...

One word, Mrs - AMEN!

After doing my student teaching in junior high band, I went right up to Mr. Munger after church one day and apologized for being such a bratty junior high kid. A day in another person's shoes certainly puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

you can call me al said...

I bet you learned A LOT more . . .

Anonymous said...

Your memory is truly uncanny! Great post. Lots of truth (& humor).
-abt

The General said...

Carper was cool, maybe she only intimidated the really smart girls. She obviously had you 3 pegged.

Anonymous said...

I remember the huge inhalers and doing "head shoulders knees and toes" in the middle of class when we were being unruly! I sort of remember liking her as a teacher...but then, my memory is, and never has been, as good as yours!! =) -jd

Anonymous said...

as an eighth grader i liked her big boobs

Jonathan said...

Awesome! You nailed the mouth-breathing and wretch-prevention methods :) I do remember thinking she was a bit intense. And, in my consummate dorkiness, I had plenty of opportunity to get to know her better on our trip to U of I for the State Science Fair. Wonder where she is now... What's scary is that her child is now college age.

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