My one brush with cartooning

Friday, February 10, 2006

I drew a picture of my math teacher when I was in the eighth grade. In addition to exaggerated spectacles, crossed eyes and frizzy hair, my picture showed my math teacher had horns. The picture was fairly accurate, except for the horns.

You know. Like the devil.

Not that I've ever seen the devil. I can't personally verify that the devil has horns. But if I see a caricature of someone with horns, that's what I think. So do you.

As far as I know -- and eighth-graders possess such a wealth of wisdom -- my math teacher knew her math. She did not know how to teach.

In my generation, teacher ineptitude was no excuse for student misbehavior. If my math teacher couldn't maintain discipline during the hour she was in charge every day, that was our problem, not hers.

I have never participated in an open rebellion. I've never advocated the overthrow of my government. I have generally supported most elected officials because they had the guts to run for office. There is something to be said for winning.

And I have never openly confronted a teacher.

For several of my growing-up years, my mother was a teacher in one-room schools. As a matter of convenience, I went to school wherever she taught. To disobey my teacher under those circumstances would have been a double whammy. My teacher wouldn't even have had to wait until after school to inform at least one parent if I got out of line. You see my predicament.

By the time I got to eighth grade, I was going to school in town. Eighth-graders, just months away from high school, were being eased into the expectations and routines of higher learning. Eighth-graders didn't have the same teacher all day. Every class was taught by a different teacher. Mrs. White taught English, for example, but Mr. Stafford taught Missouri history. And so forth.

Except for band, taught by Mr. English in the band room behind the gym, all of our classes were in the same room. Teachers rotated. Students stayed put. But we all knew that both teachers and classrooms would change hourly when we got to high school.

High school. That's where you learn to be responsible young adults, where many of my classmates ended their educational careers, where some of them learned about the birds and the bees by doing, not just talking.

Eighth grade, on the other hand, was that last year of having just about every decision made for you by someone with a college degree. And a paddle -- which, by the way, was used as often as it was needed.

So the tyranny of my eighth-grade class when Mrs. -- good grief, I can't even remember her name -- came into the room to teach math is for me, all these years later, a study in mob mentality.

Yes, I said mob. That's what we turned into during math class. Paper wads were the least of our weapons. Mayhem was the order of the hour. Fights broke out. Mrs. What'shername was ignored, despite her pleas for order and attention.

Now that I'm an adult, I realize Mrs. What'shername was probably terrified. A few weeks into the school year, she broke down during class and had to be led away by Mr. White, the school superintendent. She did not return. Nervous breakdown, we heard.

Mr. White took over the math class for a while. The only person we feared more than Mr. White was God. And he knew it.

I did not draw any pictures of Mr. White, with or without horns.

Today I'm thankful Mrs. What'shername wasn't a Sunni Muslim.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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