Tag Archives: teachers

Under the Influence

I was sitting with my son the other day trying to put myself in his shoes as a junior in high school. Reaching back into the past felt like long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. But the memory fog cleared a bit and the first memory that came to mind was my sophomore year when I had my favorite teacher in high school. You know the one — just by their very nature they made you a better person and gave you a 1,000 gifts that take the rest of your life to fully appreciate.

Then my memory jumped to senior year. I had my favorite teacher again, and I have warm, fuzzy memories of me finally coming into my own at school and getting involved in the senior year activities and getting to know lots of other people outside of my usual circle.

Then for a brief merciful moment I thought, maybe nothing significant happened during junior year. But then the full force of memory came flooding back — I clearly must have suppressed it as a coping mechanism.

Miss Satta.

I can assure you that all my high school friends who are reading this right now are shuddering — whether they had her not. She was legendary, and not in a good way. She influenced me in an entirely different way than my favorite teacher. More in the way that makes you twitch. So here’s a salute to all the really bad teachers out there. You do teach us stuff; here are 7 of them from Miss Satta.

  1. 4 dresses do not a work wardrobe make. Sure she rotated them, but we weren’t fooled. She wore the same dresses week after week, and we were bored enough that we made a guessing game of which one she would wear the next day.
  2. To distract your audience from the fact that you don’t know much about the main topic, go into great detail about stupid stuff.  We read only one book the entire year, The Scarlet Letter, but boy did we cover basic grammar points ad nauseam. And in every example sentence she used the name “Roscoe” because she said she had learned that when you use a real student name they don’t like. Hey Einstein, they also don’t like it when you don’t teach them jack, but apparently she never learned that lesson. She also had no problem calling us by other, not-so-nice names, so she wasn’t even consistent in her weird thinking. See lesson #5.
  3. Don’t judge a fellow student by how annoying you find them. We learned to admire a classmate — let’s call her “Roscoe” — who was kind of annoying and didn’t get jokes and said weird things that didn’t make a lot of sense. But one day she became our hero. In addition to owning only 4 dresses, Miss Satta also had body odor. Those of us who sat close to the front, including Roscoe, dreaded it when Miss Satta moved away from the blackboard and toward the desks, and we learned to hold our breath until she moved back away. But one day, Roscoe bold as brass came in and put one of those fragrant stickups under her desk. She didn’t even try to hide what she was doing. She pulled the thing out of her backpack, peeled off the sticker, and put it under her desk. We looked back and forth between her and Miss Satta, her and Miss Satta like a tennis match. But no dramatic scene ensued. Miss Satta often didn’t acknowledge us anyway, but still, but we learned that day how to use it to our advantage and not to judge our classmates.
  4. You can learn empathy for classmates you previously judged. Miss Satta sometimes turned her beady, dark eyes on the hapless study hall kid in our class. For reasons that make no sense in a non-education adult world, they would sometimes put kids who had a scheduled study hall in the back of actual classes. Mr. Gorneau was the unlucky bastard stuck in our class. We actually never learned his first name as Miss Satta only referred to him as Mr. Gorneau. I will admit that as honors we typically looked down on kids like him — he was clearly a D-track student, smelled like cigarettes and pot, and spent most of the class with his head down. But as a fellow Miss Satta victim, we understood he was one of us, and we felt bad for him. I mean we had to be there, but this poor kid had a right to put his head down and sleep if he wanted to. But Miss Satta was forever riding Mr. Gorneau, telling him to wake up and calling him out on various other made-up infractions. She only let up on him when she would call us names, which leads me to number five.
  5. If you learn the fine art of insulting people without actually calling them a bad name, you will go far in life. Even back in those Wild West educational times a teacher could probably get in trouble for calling a student a swear word, especially if somebody complained about it loudly enough. But they couldn’t get in trouble for calling you vaguely insulting things that aren’t bad words. To relieve our extreme boredom in her class, we often talked amongst ourselves, guessing which dress she’d wear or discussing whose turn it was to ask about our tragically lost papers on the character of Pearl from The Scarlet Letter. Did I mention we read just one book in that class? Of course, she didn’t like our chatter, but actually teaching us something so we wouldn’t talk never seemed to occur to her. Instead she called us weird names, like I was “the instigator” and she called another classmate a tick. She had other nicknames for us, and maybe her sole purpose was to have us puzzle over why the hell she was calling us those names, so we wouldn’ notice that she wasn’t teaching us a damn thing.
  6. Ask for what you need but don’t be invested in the answer. So Miss  Satta never did return the papers we wrote about Pearl, the little girl in The Scarlet Letter, henceforth forever known as “The Pearl papers.” When she didn’t hand them back immediately, we were simply puzzled. Then weeks passed and we got mad. We were nerds, we cared about our grades, and we’d spent a lot of time writing the bloody things. As the weeks turned into months, we decided to ask her every week about them just to see what she would say. She was impervious to our scheming. She always had a vague excuse and had no shame at all about it. She also knew the one thing we had yet to learn: in the classroom she had all the power. When we did write other papers her grading was so arbitrary it made us sometimes wish for the fate of the Pearl papers. She’d hand us back a paper that had a C- on it and no other marks. We were students who did not get C’s, ever, so of course we’d hold our breath and approach her desk where she lorded over us. We’d ask politely if she could explain why she’d given us the grade. She’d take the paper and run her beady, dark little eyes up and down it. then she’d take her pen scratch out the C-, put a B+ and then hand it back. For nerds like us who were trying to improve ourselves, or at least figure out what we needed to do to get an A, this was almost worse than not getting the paper back at all. Finally we had enough. We screwed up our courage to tell someone in authority about the great educational injustice and fraud we were enduring. We gathered the regraded papers and the story of the phantom Pearl papers, as well as a number of other facts to support our argument. After sympathetically listening to the litany of Miss Satta’s crimes and misdemeanors, the teacher we told sat us down and then shot us down with one sentence. “She’s got tenure, so short of her running through the halls naked, there’s nothing you can do to get her fired.” Which taught us about #7.
  7. Revenge is sweet, like scarlet frosting. So we learned if your mature, responsible, well-argued stand doesn’t work and only teaches you that she who holds the power, controls the situation, you can go to Plan B. This teaches you that they who are teenagers with friends and access to a vehicle can exact their own revenge. So we toilet papered the tree in her front yard and then took red frosting and drew a big “A” on her mailbox. Points for literary wit, and penalty for making it kind of obvious who the perpetrators were. It felt really good, though, and we could make a case for ourselves — who expects good kids like us to do such things?

We were merely motivated kids who just wanted their goddamn Pearl papers back. In the end she was maddeningly consistent in her dismissal of us — the toilet papering/frosted “A” incident never even came up, not even rumor or innuendo. It was an educational stalemate. But we sure did learn a lot.

Don’t Blame My Teacher — I’m a Reckless Crochet Rebel

My beloved memere, my French Canadian grandmother, made afghans for all comers, and I was mesmerized by the smooth, quick motion of her hook making loop upon loop over and over until I had a lovely, warm yarn blanket at the end of my bed. I still have one of hers there. She taught me crochet when I was in middle school. I made a groovy granny square clutch purse in red, white, and blue. OK, it was a clutch purse because the shoulder strap I crocheted was too bulky and weird-looking, and I was too impatient to redo it. So, presto! A clutch! I made a bunch of other things with my slow and not-so-smooth loops. I can’t really recall the details about them, but I would guess many of them were misshapen and offered up as “practice.”

I grew up, got busy, and whatever skills I had acquired lay dormant until I took an adult education crochet class in my late 20s. I was lucky enough to be taught by the now fabulous owner of the 10 Hours or Less  knitting and crochet website. At the time he was a then fabulous teacher who taught in addition to his day job.  He was an excellent teacher, clear, funny, and calm. The calm was especially important because some of the things we’d bring in that we’d worked on between classes were seriously scary. Super tight stitches, looped within an inch of their life, drunkenly ragged edges of what was supposed to be a straight afghan, a sweater the size of a football player that was meant for a baby. This was fiber road kill. But he was unruffled. He’d calmly examine the patient, methodically track where things had started to go wrong, and tell us how to make it right. I crocheted an afghan made up of squares. After I mangled the first few, I got them fixed, mastered the squares, and  I did pretty well. I remember doing it while the winter Olympics were on, and to this day when I look at that afghan, it feels like the Olympics are woven into.

After the class, the teacher and I became friends and knowing he could get me out of pretty much any crochet trouble, I went to town. He thought the washing machine cover I made for my sister was part ingenious and part crazy. She lived in a small place and the washing machine was in the living area. When I asked my family if I could make them something, she said, washing machine cover. There were no other takers, and who am I to judge? I used the same squares as I had used for my afghan, but made them a color to match her house. The squares were easy to assemble in pretty much any cubic form. With that success, I started dream bigger, perhaps dangerously so. At the time there weren’t very many sweater crochet patterns, and I wasn’t about to learn how to knit. I’m a one-hook kind of woman. My teacher had previously been a freelance pattern designer, and helped me design and make a sweater. He rescued me any number of times through that one. I especially remember the collar opening was big enough for two heads and there was a lump in one shoulder that made my then husband look like Quasimodo. I called in my teacher. His quick hands unworked the unruly collar in a key place, he flattened the lump, and then stitched it all back to near perfection. He called it “Hiding the dead bodies.” I love that.

The problem was my impatience. I’d see that the piece had started to go wrong, but I didn’t want to stop to undo it. Insanely I’d tell myself that it would even out in the end. Right, like the Quasimodo shoulder. I should have become more cautious and methodical, but with every fix, it only emboldened me to try harder patterns. My teacher could bail me out. I remember making a children’s cardigan sweater that had one front piece edge that was nearly perfect and the other … well, it gave even my teacher pause. Let’s just say, that yarn accident was only remedied with scissors, sewing tape, and vow of silence.

Life got busy, and I stopped crocheting, and my teacher moved away to start his fiber empire. This past winter I got the urge to crochet again, all the prior crochet mishaps now a dim memory. And what easier way to start than to visit my friend’s website? I needed slippers so I found a pattern, called Rolling Ridges. I even found some extra yarn and serendipitously, the winter Olympics were on again! I started in eagerly, my fiber bravado in full swing as the athletes flew off the ski jumps and zigzagged along the half-pipe. However, this was not to be a repeat of the squares afghan. I had trouble right off the bat getting the gauge right. Everyone’s stitches are slightly different sizes, so a pattern will tell you that so many stitches should be so many inches. Then you find the right size hook to match. I tend to be a loose stitcher, so I had to keep trying smaller and smaller hooks. I finally got the gauge right, but the hook was so small, crocheting was nearly impossible. Did I call my friend for help, which he surely would have given? Oh, no. I decided I had been apprenticed long enough, and it was time for me to go it alone. I would go up a hook size and compensate along the way—I mean how much could it matter? Overconfident mistake number one. As I looked more closely at the pattern, I realized there is a lot of counting. A LOT. Between my impatience and my dislike of numbers in general, this did not bode well. Add on that I was trying to watch the Olympics, and we have another fiber tragedy waiting to happen. To be completely transparent, there may have been a glass of wine involved. I’m just saying before you judge me, there were a lot of variables in play, none of which were related to my friend’s pattern. This was a user error.

I will give myself some credit; unlike my previous tactic to crochet on as if I were England in WWII, I did pull apart the slipper sole at least seven times before I got it right. And by “right” I mean it wasn’t hideously large—just mildly so. I jumped into making the top part of the slipper without taking into account how the size of the sole was now off the grid. The rest of the pattern was no longer a close friend to the sole, but merely a stranger. Add in the counting of all those stitches that were supposed to line up with the sole, and you could perhaps even say a hostile stranger. Overconfident mistake number two. Midway through, I started to have flashbacks of the child’s cardigan sweater, but I was now in a fiber fever and couldn’t stand the thought of giving up, or god forbid, starting over. I just wanted to finish the damn things. I did finish them. Exactly how is between me, the slippers, and pair of sewing scissors that you will never, ever find.

The 10 Hours or Less photo of the slippers is up top. That’s how they should look—all snug and cozy on your feet. And they could be that if you follow the pattern. However, if you happen to be a reckless crochet rebel like me, who’s been allowed to flout the rules for too long, your project is bound to look like this below. It’s more a swimming pool for the feet. But you know what? I wear them and just shuffle on the floor. As long as I don’t lift my feet off the ground, they actually work pretty well. Thanks to my excellent teacher, I’m not completely hopeless. And I am hiding one dead body—there’s a mini Quasimodo bump in the back.