Saturday, September 12, 2009


In sixth grade, Linda's favorite teacher was the math teacher, Mrs. Laney, and her favorite class was math class. Mrs. Laney had the class do magic squares occasionally as a way to challenge the students to think of math as fun. The reward was a chocolate candy bar for the student who finished the magic square first and got it right. In the beginning, it took Linda a little while to figure out how to solve the magic squares, but once she got the hang of it, Linda finished the magic squares first every time. Eventually, Mrs. Laney had to ask Linda not to do the magic squares so that other students got a chance to win. Because Mrs. Laney was her favorite teacher and Linda recognized that she had won every day in a row for several weeks, she agreed that it would be fair to drop out of the game voluntarily. But Linda always regretted missing out on having that chocolate candy bar.

The junior high social studies teacher was married to the science teacher, and Linda was in both their classes in both the years she attended that school. Mr. Berringer, the social studies teacher, had a habit of giving the kids in the class new nicknames. Sometimes the nicknames were just making their names shorter, like calling Jameson "Jim" for short and Penelope "Penny." But other times it was a descriptive nickname, like calling the fastest runner on the school's track team "Flash" and the girl who liked to bake and bring decorated cupcakes to class to share "Betty," short for Betty Crocker, the name of the character found on boxes of cake and pancake mix, even though the student's name was Catherine.

The nicknames made the kids feel like they were part of the in-group. They took the nicknames in stride, because they felt accepted and liked by Mr. Berringer. He made social studies fun and personal, telling stories about the trips that he and Mrs. Berringer took to countries they were studying in their textbook and talking about their college days where they had met and married. The kids were fascinated to hear about their teachers' lives outside of school, because the teachers seemed so different from their own parents who worked in factories and other blue collar and service jobs.

Mrs. Berringer was very young for a teacher who was not a student teacher. She had graduated from college at age eighteen, an age when most students were graduating from high school. Mrs. Berringer was very informal in her teaching style, because she was not only younger than the other teachers who had been around for a long time, but friendlier and more comfortable with the slang words that the kids used all the time. She would often sit with the students when they watched a film about some scientific experiment and worked hands-on in helping them with their projects like building models of the molecules.

One day in class they were talking about race and the different skin tones that people have. Mrs. Berringer sat next to Linda and compared the color of her very tan Caucasian arm with Linda's tan Asian arm and said, "I don't know why they call your skin tone 'yellow' since my skin tone is almost darker than yours." Linda liked Mrs. Berringer for her honesty and informality. It was nice to have an adult, and especially a teacher, with whom she could talk openly about things. At home, talking with Mom was more about observing the boundaries that come from respecting authority. Mom did not think it was dignified to talk about certain topics with her children.

Mr. and Mrs. Berringer weren't the only married couple in Linda's junior high. Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek were the shop and home economics teachers. The boys took shop with Mr. Dubcek and learned how to use tools. They built things like wooden tool boxes and welded metal fruit bowls out of thin strips of dark flexible metal. The girls took home ec with Mrs. Dubcek and learned how to sew and cook. Sewing included making an apron and a gathered skirt as semester projects. Mrs. Dubcek encouraged each girl to bring ingredients from home to cook one meal during the semester to show how different ethnic groups ate. Linda's school had kids who were African American, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Polish, Irish and Lebanese. Eating what they cooked was the best part of home ec, especially when the projects were desserts like cakes, cookies and pies. Washing dishes and measuring ingredients were Linda's least favorite parts of home ec.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek were very tall and on the heavy side, and they seemed much older to the kids in their junior high classes. Linda and Marcy, her French horn playing friend with whom she walked to school most days, used to gossip about Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek and how fat they were. Marcy was braver than Linda about poking fun at the teachers. Linda was much shyer about doing that, because she knew that Nancy wouldn't approve if she found out. Because Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek were not hip and good looking the way that Mr. and Mrs. Berringer were, the junior high girls were unkind in their comments about the Dubceks. Imagine their surprise when it was announced during the second year that Linda and Marcy were at that junior high that Mrs. Dubcek was pregnant. That just gave the girls more material to gossip about. Pre-teens can be very unkind while they're learning how to grow up and become good citizens.

Later, Linda would become an outstanding citizen, which we will learn about when we tell stories from her high school years.

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