Mrs. Poole

When I was ten years old, my family moved to New Zealand. I’ve mentioned this before; I even told you about the holiday I invented with my friends while I lived there. What I probably didn’t go into detail about was the culture shock a 10 year old can experience. If you would like your child to have the wisdom that world travel can bring, perspective on other cultures, a honed ability to fly under the social radar, and other life skills, by all means, move them across the planet for a while.

But don’t think it will be easy on them.

My first school and teacher were of a transient nature, while we stayed in a hotel-suite thing and waited for our rental house to become available. It left little impression on me, other than the threat of lice and a particularly large Maori girl who shared my name (and felt she had first claim to it). My second school, the one I would attend for the next two years, was different.

For one thing, there was a uniform. Obviously, this was new to me. Did you wear the uniform as required or flaunt regulations to appear cool? Did you buy it itchy and new or hope to score one second-hand, and hope nobody noticed?

It didn’t matter after your first few months, as it turns out. By that point I was too awash in my own misery to care what any of my peers thought. My teacher was a powdered and crusty specimen, likely near (or even past) retirement, and she was part of the Old Guard. She Guarded proper English grammar, and copperplate handwriting, and against what I’m sure she saw as the downfall of civilization: viz a viz the influx of Americans. (Nothing would convince her that I wasn’t technically American.) She considered me part of the problem; I was uncouth, probably inbred, educated in an inferior system, and therefore the solution was to scorn, humiliate, and degrade me until I knew my place.

I was entirely used to being a good student and a teacher’s pet. To have a teacher actually criticize me, to not even like me, was shattering. It didn’t matter how well I thought I did something (even something I thought was stupid and pointless, like endless oval O’s to practice for the copperplate cursive writing I didn’t possess), she had nothing for me but a sharp word and a C average.

After a while I made good friends that were my allies against this tyrant, and they kept my spirits up by helping me make fun of her wobbly underarms and her habit of yelling so enthusiastically that she spit on herself. Together, somehow we made it through that whole first year. Our second year teacher was a relief; a younger hippie who loved children and made us all sit in a circle each day to talk about our feelings. But do you know what? I don’t remember her name. I can remember the exact shade and shake of my first-year teacher’s underarm flab, but not my lovely second-year teacher’s name. (I have the vague sense that it involved a flower.)

What teacher made an impression on you?