Smart and Stupid
My elementary school education was a mixture or wonderfully supportive places and big institutional brick buildings without a soul. When I boarded the bus for fifth grade, I was hoping for a more grown up experience.
Where I wound up was Jared Eliot middle school, a sprawling complex of daunting hallways in what seemed like a modern school. THe most confusing part of first arriving there was that two elementary schools combined into one middle school, making you feel like a new kid when you rode the same bus.
My home room had many familiar faces, including my buddy Tom. Mr. Sokolic was a fairly cool guy with a big mustache and the manner of a coach as much as a teacher. I think I learned a few things from him, but I can’t remember anything specific. But that pretty well sums up the fifth grade.
Lunch and recess was the only time we got to see Chuck. Somehow they mixed him in with a lot more kids from the other elementary rather than ours. The lunchroom was a new experience, so loud and large. It just stressed the fact that we had gone from being the senior class at Pearson to being the little kids in this place.
One of the first things I learned was that my school was better known as Jar’d Idiot school. I heard that slang from my mother! She felt she confirmed it when she met my English teacher who kept trying to have me put into a lower group when I kept testing at the top of my class.
I must admit to antagonizing the lady. Thankfully, I have forgotten her name, but I remember being bored to death in her class. I did a lot of things in that class, but learning from her was a minor factor. I drew pictures, played paper and pencil games with other students, and even let the little redhead who sat next to me scratch the backs of my hands bloody. All in the name of boredom.
In that school there were four levels that they divided students into. Each level grouped of kids who could move at the same speed in the learning process. I was in the top group in all of my subjects, so I was with the same group of kids most of the time and never integrated with the other new faces very much. It maintained a feeling of being multiple schools in one building.
My favorite teacher was Mr Halloran, who I had for math. The class was challenging, and he had a unique punishment for kids who got out of line. Talking in class? You owe him a multiplication table from 1 to 10. Don’t pass in your homework on time? Another times table, plus you still owe the homework. Disturbing the class? Or out of your seat when he came into the room? That might demand a multiplication table from 0x0 all the way to 12×12!
I learned my multiplication tables so well in fifth grade that I have been a math wizard the rest of my life. My kids think I’m a human calculator. I even wound up going into the computer field because of my great math skills, I guess. The extra work method of punishment is both effective and educational.
I despised to that school. The bus ride was a bully fest, the playground was more like a stockyard, and the student body was surly, which was a reflection of the attitude of the staff. No doubt there were great teachers in the school, like my math teacher and my art teacher, but there was very little respect shown in any interactions I saw.
They called my mother in for meetings several times. She was never afraid to put the blame on me when I deserved it. But after a few meetings with the English teacher, and a look at my test scores, she stopped blaming me for my poor relationship with that teacher.
By the end of my one year at Eliot, they burned me out on school. I had always held a good opinion of school before that, even when I didn’t like the building or a certain teacher. My mother and father put their heads together and started looking for alternatives. I visited a military school in NY with my dad, but he didn’t like the feel. Then my mother found The Country School (TCS) in Madison.
There was no money for a private school, but with scholarships and sacrifice, my parents made a way to get me out of Eliot for sixth grade. The English teacher at Jar’d Idiot had told my mother that I couldn’t keep up with fifth grade work, but when I started sixth grade at TCS, they handed me a 7th grade English book. That was the year I started excelling in reading and writing.