after school special part 1: my not so indian education

When I was in Seattle almost a month ago, a friend told me to hit one of her favorite bookstores there. And I love a good bookstore. I wander the aisles and touch them and take pictures of ones I want to order online cheaper. If their are squishy chairs I sometimes even order coffee and sit down and plow my way through something that looks good. My favorite sections (usually in this order): memoirs, staff picks, religion, science and then fiction. Somehow I ended up in education and couldn't resist this book:

A book written by students, about their teachers. And I was curious about what they had to teach me. The first section were letters from highschoolers to their teachers. And they weren't all flattering. It made me wonder what mine would say about me.
The middle section was a retelling of Sherman Alexie's prose about his school years, mostly on a reservation. They were broken up by each grade and painfully honest.  Click here to read it (it is pretty short I promise) An Indian Education

Some of the teachers in this book asked their upper level students to write their own version. Year by year -- short snippets of what they remembered and what they learned.  And some of them were just as hard to read. And it made me think about what I remembered. And it scares me a little to think about what stands out and how much slips away. But the more I thought the more I remembered. And I remember the most random things. Like the stoplight in the corner of my elementary cafeteria telling us when we could talk and when to be silent. The song about George Washington we sang in the 2nd grade play, harsh words, blue bows and skinned knees on the playground.  My son started first grade yesterday. And I wonder what he will keep.

I started my own version and thought maybe I'd post a few at a time....and that would give me plenty of time to not write the begining of school when I am slammed and tired anyways. I of course didn't finish is the first installment.

I remember someone tracing me on butcher paper and cutting it out. Gluing on yellow yarn for hair. Even though my hair was brown. Like some giant life size paper doll.
I got to draw who I wanted to be.
Sometimes I still wish it was that easy.
To start over with a piece of butcher paper. And cut and color and glue only the parts I want to keep.
My teacher was a first year teacher full of energy. Ms. Minnick. She gave out Micheal Jackson buttons for good behavior which were the envy of everyone on the playground.
I think I was the only girl in my class to have a boyfriend. Even the teacher teased us when we played duck duck goose. And I never got my name written on the board.
I’m not sure I ever spoke at all.
Every day was a different letter.
One boy in the class could read. My boyfriend. I always did like the smart guys.
And apparently, I’ve always been competitive. So I memorized a Bernstein Bears book and pretended to read it to my class for show and tell. I’m pretty sure my teacher knew. But she didn’t give me up.
Once a week, my great aunt would pick me up after school and I’d wiggle into a black leotard and pink tights and she’d take me to dance class. I was bad at it but loved not having to ride the bus. I’d look through my aunt’s picture albums and make her tell me the same stories and stay for dinner.
The other days I rode the bus. Back to the country and dirt roads. The little kids sat in front and the big kids like my junior high sister sat in back. But I had a perfect view of Mr. French’s bald spot. And once someone stuck there gum right on top of it.
My report card glowed except for the fact that I couldn’t skip or tie my shoes.
Eventually I learned to tie my shoes. The skipping though is still a struggle.

Same school. Same bus driver. Same boyfriend that I didn’t like anymore but was afraid that if I told him he’d beat me up or steal my crayons. The second part was true.
I did not like first grade at all. Or my short haired older teacher Mrs. Gabbord.
I don’t remember having any friends.
I remember trying to convince my parents to take me to private school.
I quit dance because it was too hard.
I had never gotten in trouble once in kindergarten but my first grade teacher was less than impressed with me. I must have found my voice and I used it to ask questions.
She pinned notes to my dress saying that I talked back. She asked me to redo my papers because they were messy.
I was bored of coloring in the lines and cutting and pasting.
Eventually the teacher requested a conference. I was petrified. She had made me cry and erase so many times I bore holes in my paper. I got my greater than and less than signs backwards and received a zero on an assignment. But I’ve never been one for details. I was sure she was going to say horrible things about me to my parents and that they wouldn’t let me watch any more 3’s company. Instead she said I was smart. Probably bored. And needed more of a challenge. She sent me home with chapter books. And I never stopped reading them.

My parents moved into town. And me to a better school.
So now I was the new girl with a chili bowl and quickly made friends with another new girl with a chili bowl. We are still friends. We both thankfully have better hair.
My teacher. Mrs. Aycox. Was probably the best teacher I had in grade school. She was an older black woman in a mostly white elementary school. She was firm and somehow warm. They didn’t write names on the board like my last school but instead pulled apples with our names on them off the tree. We begged to bang erasers and clean chalk boards.
I discovered Beverly Cleary and kind of saw myself as Ramona. I read books and made dioramas from shoe boxes and got into trouble for talking with people at my table. One guy in the back would eat glue. The rest of us rubbed it on our hands and peeled it off like we were peeling off our skin.
Before I had lived in the country where I had the run of the place. Ponds. Dirt roads. Bikes and snakes and ducks. Now we lived off a country club golf course and my neighbors were all retirees. I’d occasionally make the rounds and get cookies and butterscotch candies from every old person on our cul-de-sac.
For PE they had us run around the back stops. I never finished first. But was always towards the front of the girls. And didn’t understand why so many of them were walking. Didn’t they know this was a race. So what if there wasn’t a prize.
I made a new boyfriend. And as a present he gave me one of his mom’s old wallets. I thought I should reciprocate and gave him a book I had gotten at the book fair. I still think books are good gifts and used pocketbooks not so much.

I was no longer the new girl but my new best friend with the chili bowl was no longer in my class. Mrs. Hawkins.
Third grade meant business. Cursive and multiplication tables. My handwriting needed some work but the math came easy.
The pulled the smart kids out a couple of days a week and we read A Wrinkle in Time and did logic puzzles and she taught us to draw with the other side of the our brains.
We sat on the white tiles in the cafeteria for assemblies. And I always wanted it to be my turn to hold McGruff the crime dog puppet.
I was a girl scout and wore the horrible green uniform with knee socks. I hated selling cookies but didn’t mind eating them.
Sometimes my brother drove me to school in his beat up blue truck. He would turn up the bad 80s music and tell me not to kiss too many boys. I wasn’t kissing any boys. So this was a non issue. 
A girl named Josseylyn would sometimes try to beat me up at recess. Then again she tried to beat up lots of people and would sometimes make herself throw up. I hated her. I feared her. And even at 8 I knew enough to feel sorry for her.
I wonder what would have happened if I had just been nice to her.


Kate said...

Sherman Alexie is a powerful writer.

What an interesting exercise too. Memory. One night in college, a few friends gathered in a circle and told each other life stories. Maybe it should seem comical to do so at 18 or 20, but those years are so very full.

Dawn said...

The first picture...stuffed animal or small lion that could eat your arm?

michelle said...

@dawn. a real lion. I'm pretty sure it was taken at Post Oak Mall. I have mulitple pictures of me and Revillie too....