My elementary school memories mostly consist of dense fog, but there’s nothing like a favorite teacher to penetrate the clouds and shine light on the past.
Enter Mrs. Brooks, my awesome yet fear-inducing first grade teacher. A tiny, sharply dressed woman of about 50, she frequently peered over her glasses to issue mean stare-downs and threats. Her powerhouse tendencies kept students and colleagues in line. My mom credits her for arguing my case against the stubborn principal, who initially refused to skip me up to her first grade class. Thanks to her efforts, I only spent two weeks in kindergarten.
She had an unrivaled passion for education and ran an unbelievably structured class. One day while reviewing a set of math problems for an upcoming test, her eyes narrowed as she zeroed in on her target of the moment: class troublemaker, Terrance. Oblivious to the impending doom, he feverishly chatted with his neighbor.
“Terrance if you don’t stop talking I will pulverize you!” she roared.
That got everyone’s undivided attention. Holding the gaze of a now-shivering Terrance, in one hand she wielded ”Brown Sugah” the long, masking tape-wrapped yard stick we would all come to fear. She waved it about, asking who knew the meaning of that awful sounding word. We gave her a collective blank stare, but we left class knowing the definition, the spelling and how to use it in a sentence.
I went home that day repeating both words over and over, allowing their significance to sink into my 5-year-old brain. Soon, I connected the dots: I’d better not procrastinate on my studying because if I got a bad grade, Mrs. Brooks would pulverize me. 1 +1 =2. Simple enough.
Fortunately, I can only recall two incidents in which I was actually pulverized by Mrs. Brooks and brought back to life all in one fell swoop. Once, she made me sit through recess until I figured out a word problem even though NO ONE ELSE knew the answer! I couldn’t stop focusing on merry-go-rounds and the fact that I missed my chance to swing and slide, but she showed no mercy. I nearly died from the humiliation alone.
My second near-death experience came when I suffered a temporary lapse in sanity and forgot to study for a test. As a result the “C” I received meant I had to walk the plank. I was to stand in front of the class as she delivered a few swift swats to my backside with the scary, larger than life “Brown Sugah.” One by one, I watched my fellow slacker classmates squirm and struggle their way through the three powerful licks and then unleash piercing wails that shook the portable walls. They barely survived the terrifying ordeal and she expected me, She Who Quickly Triumphed Over Kindergarten, to accept this same fate?!?! When my turn came, I glared at that ruler and considered my options. I could run out the door, but I had about six rows to cross, so that getaway plan was flawed. To me, she looked ancient so I figured I might be able to tire her out with a game of “Catch Me if You Can,” but ohhhh, when she caught me. Plan #2 nixed. Finally, I decided to do what any sane kid would do: dissolve into a fit of tears. She took one look at my dry, scrunched-up face and gently turned me around to face certain death. My “My Little Pony” collection, my Strawberry Shortcake bike and a few “Punky Brewster” episodes flashed before my eyes. Then I felt three quick licks and Arghhh!!!–BUT WAIT. That didn’t even hurt! After I finally started to breathe again, I took a careful glance over my shoulder. Her black eyes were, well, black, and steely too, but behind that I saw a hint of sympathy and gathered that she’d purposely taken it easy on me. From then on, I developed a deeper affection for her and made sure I studied regularly.
She may have terrified me (and all the other students), but she taught me to push myself beyond perceived limits.
She may have spanked me in front of the class, but she showed me that someone cared about my well-being.
She may have teased me for pronouncing the words “busy” and “machines” as “buzzy” and “mash-ins,” but she taught me that perfection wasn’t necessary as long as I tried my hardest.
Finally, it took me a while to get over that missed recess, but that taught me that I could be a leader and perhaps one day, I could take over her role as Queen of Pulverization. But that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been too busy procrastinating☺