How We Make Memories:
My fourth grade teacher, Miss Pastor, at Hillside Elementary was a stern woman. Her reprimands were shaming, and her glare could turn a kid’s legs to Jell-o. I shook inside when she called my name in her slow, drawn-out, “I know what you’re doing” tone of voice. Since I was a chatty daydreamer, I gave her plenty of opportunity to call my name.
Miss Pastor isn’t my strongest memory from fourth grade, though.
Earlier that year, I had discovered a couple of pencils with oddly shaped tips in my grandmother Elsie’s kitchen drawer. When I asked her about them, she showed me how she sharpened them with a pair of scissors. How ingenious was my grandmother!? She didn’t have a sharpener, so she carved her pencils! I couldn’t wait to go home to sharpen all my pencils like hers.
Miss Pastor’s fourth grade classroom desks (metal bins with wooden tops) were arranged in twos. I was paired with Karen, a girl who was always on task. This propensity of hers was maddening, but I’m sure I annoyed her more than she annoyed me. She probably told me “shh” twenty times a day.
One day when she was absent, I couldn’t find my pencil so I borrowed one of Karen’s. I didn’t think she’d mind. The problem was it needed sharpening. Well, maybe it didn’t, but I wanted to sharpen it anyway. I knew just how to do it, too. The best part was I wouldn’t have to ask Miss Pastor for permission to use the pencil sharpener, which was at the front of the room near her desk, a place I’d rather avoid.
It took time to get the pencil to look the way I wanted, being inexperienced, and all I had were those dull, metal safety scissors. How did I escape Miss Pastor’s evil eyes? Where did the shavings go? As I furtively whittled Karen’s yellow American HB to half its size, I envisioned my resourceful and clever grandmother guiding me. With every cut, the pencil became more magical, almost supernatural, capable of helping me ace every spelling word and story problem.
Karen returned to school the next day. She was gobsmacked. She’d never seen anything like it. She held the pencil up and cried, “What did you do? This was my best pencil!”
What could I say other than I was sorry? She didn’t want to hear about my grandmother. She’d laugh if I told her I’d transformed her favorite pencil into something enchanted. Yeah, sure. Are you out of your mind? As far as she was concerned, I had mangled her pencil. Irreparably. Disgusted, she tossed it into the depths of her desk.
Why do I remember this incident more clearly than anything about Miss Pastor?
When I posted the above fourth grade class picture on my Facebook page, I was stunned by the number of comments about Miss Pastor. Former classmates remembered she always stuffed a tissue in her sleeve, she clapped her hands from front to back as she walked, and that her car “flew” across the school parking lot one awful day when she suffered a fatal heart attack. Even people who didn’t have her as a teacher remembered her. Then friends shared other teacher memories, the most vivid stories from those who attended the primary Catholic school in the same town. One friend said she had divots in her skull from a male teacher punching his class ring onto the top of her head every time she talked in class — she was X-rayed at age 22 after a concussion, and the doctor asked how she got the small, crater-like dents on her skull.
What we remember is funny…or not.
Fundamentally, the incidents that become long term memories represent a change in who we are. According to Brain Connection, “At the most basic level, we remember because the connections between our brains’ neurons change; each experience primes the brain for the next experience, so that the physical stuff we’re made of reflects our history like mountains reflect geologic eras.”
Or, for some people, like craters reflect talkative eras.
Anyway, the pencil fiasco taught me not everyone shared my unique vision of the world.
What are your most memorable classroom moments, and what do they represent?