What I Learned In School ~ Part Two





Originally published May 15, 1986, in the Irvine World News.



Teaching must be a calling. I suppose many enter the profession with the idealistic desire to calm the little savage beasts, to salvage a few more candidates for an enlightened democracy, to do something that matters, something that counts.


Mrs. Voss was that kind of teacher.

She was an unusual lady. Every morning she stuffed her magnanimous frame into a dented, off-white golf cart and drove to the little stucco school where she taught fourth grade. She taught us object lessons.

It was cold as we sat at our twenty wooden lift-top desks, faced with the choice of a large black blackboard in front, and a wall of windows on the left, through which I watched the enviable freedom of little birds and wandering leaves. I was a malcontent.

As the blackboard steadily filled with sentences split into undecipherable parts, I filled and embellished my paper with a drawing of Mrs. Voss. It was a symbolic drawing. And, seeing as how my drawing skills were poor and her body shape was prone to satire, the drawing came out a bit unflattering, to say the least.

As the morning wore on, Mrs. Voss eventually noticed my unusual dedication to paperwork, and walked directly to my desk, perhaps to kindle this new spark of concentrated study. Seeing the drawing, she silently held out her hand. Not knowing nearly enough about the First Amendment to refuse, I gave it to her. "Russ, please see me after class," she said softly.

It was like a living death, waiting for the end of class. The picture was bad enough, but I had added some remarks I thought some of my more unrefined classmates would think clever.

Mrs. Voss showed no anger and continued her sentences and their diagrams as if nothing at all had happened. I was in hell. She worked that way. After my classmates bolted out the door, on their way to the freedom of recess and the challenge of foursquare, I stood before her large and bruised wooden desk in front of the blackboard.

She still had no look of anger, she actually gave me a sweet smile as she began to speak. Sinning would have been so much easier against a tyrant, but against a saint—I stood squashed by my tiny shame.

“Please read what you have written on your drawing," she said.

The shame of that moment has erased my memory of the captions I wrote, but I remember the ugly sound of their heartless intentions, how odd and foreign they sounded on my lips.

"Now you know what it means to eat your words," she said, smiling, letting me go.

Yes, now I know. She taught me. I learned.

And today, I cannot see a man push in front of a woman to get through a doorway, without hearing Mrs. Voss' intoned command, "Women and children first!"

It was not just an empty phrase, to be learned by rote. It was, she told us with dramatic calm, what the noble gentlemen aboard the Titanic said as that hallmark of gracious cruising edged lower into the sea.

"Women and children first," the heroic gentlemen said, knowing that when all else is lost, kindness is still possible, and necessary.

"Women and children first," Mrs. Voss said as we practiced filing in and out of the door.

I was one of her least rewarding students I suppose, and yet, somehow the best of what she was able to give found a place within me, lying in wait.

I suppose good teaching is like that. It finds its mark, long before the student is ready to use it, to fully understand it. Then, years later, the words, the voices, the lessons of old teachers are called into being by life's events, lessons saved like extra fuses to be plugged in someday when the lights go out.

So kind teachers of all ages who despair of their wayward students as I once was, do not dismay. Your best lessons are not lost, just waiting, percolating—they live!




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

What I Learned In School ~ Part One

















I  went to first grade in a little red schoolhouse, which was actually called The Little Red Schoolhouse. It was small. It was red. It was a school. What else are you gonna call it?

It was a private school. The public schools just wouldn’t do for my mother, who always demanded a certain level of exclusivity about things.

I was indeed an excluded kid. I did not play with the neighborhood children—definitely public school types—for I lived in a moderately wealthy home, next door to my grandparents’ even wealthier, immoderate home, surrounded by their acres of orange trees.

The neighborhood rat pack lived in more moderate homes on a modest street bordering the orange grove. Every day they saw each other come and go. If one kid came outside to play basketball on his driveway, all the other kids knew he was there. The ice cream truck drove down the street once a day during summer and the driver knew most of the kids by name. He had no idea who I was.

I had my own private orange tree forest to play in and large gardens to wander through, long driveways to ride my bicycle on. Even my older sister was not interested in playing with me. She was, after all, a girl and wanted to do girl stuff, but she also knew I was a misfit, not easy to be with.

When I began first grade, the other children were like wild animals to me. I viewed them with curiosity and trepidation. My unfamiliarity with the rules of first grade decorum branded me as outcast. I had no idea how to make friends.

One day at recess, I lifted up a little girl’s dress. I can’t remember why. I was probably just teasing her, the only way I knew how to interact with other kids. O yes, loneliness makes the best comedians. The little girl told a teacher who took me to an empty classroom for a little conversation about girls.

After trying to make me understand I had done something wrong, the teacher gave me an example:

When people watch ice skaters on television and the girls’ skirts fly up in the air, people don’t look at the girls’ underwear because they know it’s not nice.

Lesson learned.

Yet before too many years passed by, I would be looking at girls in magazines who wore no underwear at all. These were magazines my friends got from older brothers or sometimes found tucked away in the bottom of their fathers’ dresser drawers.

Less than ten years after I graduated from first grade I would be having eye-bulging sex with my busty blonde-haired girlfriend on the backseat of my hot rod. It was actually her idea.

So much for ice skaters.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved