By Bill Derby
I can still remember plain as day the moment I walked into her classroom. The wall was covered with pull-down maps just like old window shades. There were four world globes, one in each corner of the room. It was Miss King’s North Side Elementary sixth-grade geography class, circa 1958.
Miss King was notorious, strict and a large type woman who towered over her little students. Her reputation as a no-nonsense disciplinarian spanned generations. To say the least, she was feared far and wide.
She dealt corporal punishment at the drop of a hat and carried a ruler while walking around her classroom.
If you happened to be a sensitive child you were out of luck. It was survival of the fittest. If you suffered from low self-esteem, which most of us did anyway, Miss King further lowered your self-worth. She did this by placing you by your average grade, seating the smartest kids in the first row seat in front of the class and continuing down the rows.
The last two rows near the back of the class were always full of the boys except for a few brainiacs with high self-esteem parked near the front.
Sitting in the rear of the class, surrounded by boys with very low self-esteem, did not foster learning. It had the opposite effect. Miss King’s underachiever 12-year-old students kept themselves busy creating weird sounds and unique smells, shooting wet paper wads, various fake coughing spasms and other abnormalities. It also offered group study and sharing of information during tests which in the long run kept us all near the rear.
Pity the poor soul who got caught ogling another’s test paper. One such child was picked up by Miss King two feet off the ground and was shaken backwards and forwards with his little legs flapping in the air. That incident is stl talked about to this very day. Miss King also had the ability to make a student burst into tears. That happened to me once missing four out of seven of the continents lowering my self-worth even further. I really thought England was a continent.
Geography class taught us about other countries, the people, climate and other interesting facts. However, our not-so-smart group, focused on the battle of wits. It was us against Miss King. The woman had a couple of bad habits. One was the after-lunch belch. We could tell when it was coming as she always put her hand to her mouth holding in the noise as her cheeks filled with the expelled gas. Another habit that we learned to mimic was her ability to reach down her cotton dress and adjust some foundation garment, usually both sides. Hey, we were curious.
Our favorite means of communication was to drop a ruler, pencil or book, bend down and converse under the desk. However, that only worked one time during a test. She caught on to us and stayed in the back of the room watching us.
Once during a freak incident one of our group made a good grade and was moved up the row. That usually didn’t last long, however, and the person was soon back where they belonged. Most of the girls enjoyed front row seats since they studied.
Miss King drove a 1953 light blue Chevy. When she entered the car it listed to the left, worn out shocks under a weighty load. We once got even during a Halloween incident whereby we tied about eight or nine empty cans underneath her car. After the last bell rang we hurried out to the parking lot hiding behind a tree waiting for the moment she drove off. Sure enough she got into the listing Chevy and pulled out with the cans banging down the road. She never did say anything to us about it. The instigators of this incident still live here and know who they are but out of courtesy and possible embarrassment, their last names have been left out. Carl, Chuck and Tony should ask forgiveness today.
The next class after geography was math taught by Miss Mimi Rose where all the boys were handsome, strong and smart. We sat on the front row learning and enjoying our new level of self-esteem. She loved us all.
Somehow I learned there are seven continents in the world.