Santiago and his chicken
She was concerned. I couldn’t count, she told them. Not even to ten. I was falling behind the other students, and perhaps I lacked the aptitude for kindergarten. I was the youngest student in my kindergarten class, after all, and maybe I just wasn’t ready.
My parents informed my teacher that I could count just fine. In fact, I could count all the way to one hundred. This confused everyone.
Why did I flat out refuse to count for my teacher, at the risk of looking like I was incapable?
I didn’t like her.
In my young mind, why in the world would I jump through hoops for someone I didn’t even LIKE? Who the Hell did they think I was anyways? Some kind of teacher-monkey trick pony?
I don’t remember WHY I didn’t like her. I have a vague recollection of feelings of residual bitterness over the fact that I didn’t get the pretty teacher who wore her long brown hair in a bun. My teacher had short gray hair. I was already predisposed to prejudice based on appearance. I admit it. I was barely 5 years old. Sue me.
Throughout my elementary school academic career, I flip-flopped between good years and bad years based on whether or not I liked my teacher.
In the first grade, I had a great teacher, Miss Kreevey, and I did well. In the second grade, I had an okay teacher, Miss Archibald (we called her Miss Itchy-boobs). My year can be summed up by one word: “meh”. In the third grade, I cried all the way home from the first day of school. I had been assigned the “mean teacher” Miss. Hanson. I was inconsolable. This proved to be my first lesson in forming my own educated opinions about people. Miss Hanson ended up somehow communicating to me that I was definitely not stupid, I just needed to TRY. And I blossomed that year into the avid reader I am today. That was a great year, because Miss Hanson was a great teacher, even if she did talk incessantly about her childhood dog, whose name escapes me now, which is driving me batty.
In the fourth grade, my happy school days and the learning that went along with them, came to a screeching halt. You know how Jerry Seinfeld can only speak Newman’s name with utter disdain? That is the only way I can even utter the name of my fourth grade teacher. “Miss Wenger” (hiss). The fourth grade brought with it the pinnacle of my academic trauma in the form of a year-long stand-off with the worst, meanest, nastiest teacher I ever had. She didn’t like me, and I knew it. Miss Wenger (hiss) SUCKED. She only liked girls like Jessica Rose, who had long hair, and perfect freckles, and wore pure white pleated skirts and new shoes, and probably bathed with regularity. If you could conjure up the image of a girl exactly the opposite of that, you would have me, in the fourth grade.
The fourth grade was the year of “Santiago”. “Santiago” was a story in our class reader, about a boy and his chicken. I spent the majority of my fourth grade year on the story on Santiago and his fucking chicken. I started out the year in the highest reading group. By the time I finished that goddamned story, I had fallen back two groups. Miss Wenger (hiss) would not let me move on to the next reader until the stapled packet of goldenrod paper with questions about Santiago and his fucking chicken was completed with no errors whatsoever. It will suffice to say that I was not the worlds most detail oriented child. She refused to educate me further until I had every comma and period in the right place. Reading comprehension, and the big picture, meant nothing to this woman. She was all about the details.
I turned the packet in, Miss Wenger (hiss) marked it up with her red pen and gave it back to me, and I erased my errors and started over. Repeat this scenario approximately 47 times over the course of 6 months for which I was kept inside for recess. When I had erased my wrong answers so many times that I created HOLES in the goldenrod packet for the story of Santiago and his fucking chicken, I was given a new packet with which to start over. This was the only act remotely resembling generosity I ever witnessed from Miss Wenger (hiss).
I would like to say that I carry no hate in my heart, but I HATE Miss Wenger (hiss). She is dead. And I still hate her. THAT’S one for the confessional.
My mother, who is and was a teacher, had to request a meeting with this horrible woman to insist that I move past the story of Santiago and his fucking chicken, thus releasing me from Santiago and his fucking chicken purgatory, to read a new story for the love of God. The reading packet for the subsequent story was mercifully NOT goldenrod.
The evil in this woman only found a new host in the form of our winter poem packet. Miss Wenger (hiss) assigned us the task of writing an entire book of thoughts, feelings and poems about winter. My first poems were written in neat letters, and went something like this:
“I like snow. Snow is nice. When it’s snowing, I eat rice.”
Towards the end, after I was forced to stay inside for recess for 2 months straight, the poems took on a darker tone:
“I hate snow. Snow is yucky and dirty. And I hate it”
This was scrawled, nearly illegibly, by a pencil in the hand of a very angry and frustrated fourth grader.
And that is all I have to say about Miss Wenger (hiss).
In a lovely bit of merciful luck, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bevans, was truly amazing. She raised my broken self-esteem up about 25 levels and I will always love her for it. She reminded me that I was bright and creative and worth getting to know. God bless that woman. She was a gifted teacher.
This story comes to mind this week for a reason.
It’s time to leave the Hellish purgatory of Miss Wenger’s fourth grade class and the story of Santiago and his fucking chicken.
I am disappointed in myself for not finding a way to get past this habit I have of not performing to my full potential for people like Miss Wenger. I cut off my nose to spite my face, it seems, when dealing with the Miss Wengers of the world. But I have spent a long long time on the story of Santiago and his fucking chicken, and it’s time to move on to happier classrooms. Because I know I can do better. And I don’t care to impress Miss Wenger, because I can’t stand her.
It’s time I moved on to a classroom more like Mrs. Bevans’.