Growing up in a small town in Southern New Jersey

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mrs. Marcantonio

When I was in first grade (at Downing school), after the first week of school, I and eight other children, was taken from Miss Welch's class and put into Mrs. Marcantonio's class. They put the eight best readers into Mrs. M's class. You see, Mrs. Marcantonio was the second grade teacher. And I guess they thought we first graders who could read well, could handle second grade work.

I've written about Mrs. M before. She's the teacher that sent me to the principal's office for mouthing off to her. Remember? I had colored a house and fence white, and she didn't think that was good coloring. And I pointed out (through the school window) that houses were white, and fences were white. She didn't like my lesson to her, so she sent me to see the principal.

Mrs. M had dyed red hair. In my opinion, that made her a "fallen" woman. Whatever that was. I mean who knew what a "fallen" woman was when they were six years old, especially back in those days. But I had been churched enough to know that a good, decent, Christian woman did NOT dye her hair. And because you could see her roots, and really, no one had that color red hair naturally, I knew, and it was common knowledge, that she dyed her hair.

That aside. Mrs. M was a good teacher. She had two bug-a-boos though. She loved giving us "sums". And not just two numbers added together. She would give us 20 or 30 numbers to add up, and then add up again. I learned how to add very well in her class. And to this day, I trust my own addition skills over a calculator. Even when I was using an adding machine, the precursor to the calculator in one of the jobs I held during college, I still trusted my own addition over the adding machine's addition. You see, an adding machine (calculator) is only as accurate as the numbers put into it, if you miss entering just one number correctly, the whole sum for that column of numbers is wrong.

Now, the reason Mrs. M came to my mind today was that I was reading a book in which the children were diagramming sentences. This was another favorite "busy-work" task that Mrs. M had us engage in. I didn't mind doing arithmetic (sums), but I did NOT like doing sentence diagramming. I just had the most difficult time with it.

I am a person who doesn't like to be wrong or make mistakes, and I was always making mistakes with my sentence diagrams. In the end, Mrs. M's insistence that we all learn to diagram sentences was "a good thing". At least, I suppose it was. I can't give an instance in which I have actually used the sentence diagramming skill I learned while in her class, but at least I learned something about sentence structure and word building into thought in her class.

The next year, I was put in with the third graders, although officially I was a second grader. Then when I was supposed to be in third grade, I was actually put in third grade. That was the year I was sent over to Bingham school because Downing was overcrowded.

This time they didn't move us based on reading skills or arithmetic skills or any other schooling abilities. This time they just moved us based on our addresses. Those of us who lived closest to Downing were sent over to Bingham. And it was not just my grade that suffered the split. Every class from third to seventh was split. This meant, of course, that I was taken away from my best friends.

Sometimes you have to wonder what adults are thinking when they make decisions (such as the splitting up of classes). Now days, though, I think they just draw names and shift around the children in classes in that manner. And it seems they do this every year. At least this is what I gather from talking to my grandchildren. Does that damage a child for life, I wonder? Probably not, but I was not happy to be shifted to another school away from my best friend. Of course, best friends do not have to depend on being in the same class to stay BFs, but in this case it was so.

Being moved to the other side of town for school didn't leave many options for finding new best friends, those after-school playmates, but fortunately a new girl moved into town that lived real close to Downing, and she and I became new best friends. That friendship survived until we graduated from high school and went down different paths to different colleges. And while we saw each other at Christmas and once in a while during the summer, we didn't continue the closeness we shared during our growing up years.


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