Thursday, June 13, 2013
Theme Thursday: 8th Grade was "the worst of times"
A lot of people traumatize themselves over their high school years, but I was never one of them. Truth of the matter is I enjoyed high school far more that middle school. Grade school was very hard for me, not so much academically as socially. Although I enjoyed learning in school a lot, and loved the chance for access to a greater variety of books, the truth is I was often verbally bullied by other students, and this was in an era where "teasing" by classmates and others was regarded as a normal part of growing up, and popular wisdom amongst adults was to not intervene.
The saddest part of all this is that I was attending a Catholic grade school. I did learn a lot of religion and theology, but I also learned that it wasn't necessarily applicable in everyday life. I deduced this on the basis of how little attention was paid to my complaints to most of my teachers about the problems I was having.
When I reached the 8th grade I hit rock bottom. The previous 2 years I had teachers I had really enjoyed and who didn't put up with harassing at least in the classroom. Our 8th grade teacher was something different. She was in some ways a Prime of Miss Jean Brodie type, in the sense that she had definite opinions regarding the conduct of young men and especially young women. I learned early on that I was not her kind of young lady. When I complained of harassment by classmates I was told that when people are teased its usually because of flaws they needed to correct, and that if I were neater, cleaner and more lady like the harassment would stop. To that end she appointed several of my fellow students to "reform" me, which basically amounted to pointing out my flaws when ever possible, with suitable suggestions for correction. To this day I break out in a cold sweat when someone, especially a supervisor, wants to "talk". I know its going to be critical, and no doubt entirely my fault.
Oh and did I mention that this teacher was the person who introduced my parents to each other? And that one of the reasons she did was that she thought it was disgraceful that my mother at 21 was still single? (It was the 1950s.)
It goes without saying that once my classmates, especially the males, realized that harassment would be encouraged, responded accordingly. If I attempted to defend myself it was reported back to the teacher. Anything I said to her attempting to explain myself was re-arranged and reported to my parents. I was depicted as such a total social disaster that I eventually wound up being sent by my parents to a charm and decorum class at a local department store. (I actually enjoyed that by the way. The other students were friendly, no one there knew me, and the teachers generally concerned about us. I learned a lot, though I'm not sure anyone was impressed back at school. ) The year seemed to go on forever, but we finally reached the end of the year.
To give an example of the sort of thing this teacher did, she decided that all the girls would graduated in long dresses. (Maxi skirts were in back then.) I mention in passing that my father was laid off, and I wasn't sure about a new dress, but I already owned a long dress my aunt had made for me. She called my parents at home offering to buy me a graduation dress. I was mortified.
Shortly before I graduated, I confided many of my doubts to a priest at the church. He gave me some of the best advice of my life-to wipe the slate clean and start over at high school. Although some of my fellow classmates would be at the same school, they wouldn't be the only people I would be around it. He told me to find new activities and new friends around those who didn't know me or my past.
And he was right. High school was a dream come true. It was also a Catholic school, but here the theology was backed by a code of conduct. Although I was only solidly in the middle of the school, flirting with the merit role from time to time, and although totally defeated by algebra, I found things I was good at, teachers who liked me, and people who are my friends even now.
8th grade, on the other had, is a scar that is still healing.
This post is a part of Theme Thursday, a group of bloggers all writing each week on the same topic. To see what other bloggers felt were their best or worst years of school, click on the link below.