Teachers: Mr. Bicknell, Mr. Kutz, Pastor Tanis, Miss Westphall
There was a convergence of a few factors in eighth grade that were … unfortunate, I think. First, I was “at the top of the heap.” As the oldest students in the school, there was a natural inclination to feel like we could do what we wanted and the younger students would have to listen to us.
Secondly, the group of friends I had at the time was not what I would call a source for improvement.
There’s no way around saying it: I was a bully in eighth grade.
It still bothers me, twenty years later. I don’t think I’m a bully now, but knowing I was once embarrasses me. I wasn’t the “Give me your lunch money!” sort of bully, I was more of a “I’m going to hassle you” sort of bully. I had been bullied and pushed around pretty much my whole life up to this point, and I guess maybe I thought it was my way of passing it along. I was still getting picked on by people older than me at this point, too, so I had some frustration to work out. That’s certainly no excuse for my behavior, but looking back at it from my current vantage point, I can see why I was the way I was.
I’m pretty sure this was the year I held a fifth grader upside-down over a trash can, but that wasn’t because I was a bully, that was because he was being a super-jerk who thought he could get away with being a super-jerk because his dad was the new (something) coach. Since he was small and I was large, I was able to hold him over a trash can all by myself. I was also able to get in trouble for it all by myself once the super-jerk activated his super-whining abilities.
This was the year I got my last in-school spanking, but I went out with style. Mr. Bicknell, delivered it, and he did so in front of the class. Matthew A. and I were, I don’t know, talking or something, and I think he warned us. I was most likely the cause of us both getting in trouble, but we had to, in turn, go to the front of the class, grab hold of the table edge, and get whacked with a yardstick a few times. I remember the look I had on my face and I can remember the look on Mr. Bicknell’s face: biggest grin you ever saw. He knew that I was more embarrassed than in pain, and that’s what he was after. Well played, Mr. Bicknell.
Mr. Bicknell brought in his Commodore 64 from home and that was the first experience I had with computers. It was a reward of sorts, and if I finished something up early, I was allowed to go back and “be on the computer.” That meant typing in programs from computer magazines, for the most part. There was this one program that generated a 3D maze that you could move through, and it was pretty popular. I remember having that as my science project that year, though I think the topic “Computers” wasn’t a take-anyone-by-storm subject, and my booth wasn’t visited much. The two more-memorable projects were the hurricane machine built by Mike C.’s dad and Jeremy V.’s cockatoo which certain disreputable types tried to teach to say words that would have gotten the poor bird killed in Jeremy’s household. Luckily it stuck with “Pretty boy!” and declined to veer off into pirate-parrot directions.
One day we were in science class and Mr. Kutz was teaching us about the stomach’s ability to… push things back up the way they came. This, of course, led to a discussion on burping and hiccups and such. This, of course, led to me asking some sort of question – possibly smart-alecky, but I really don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is because I remember his response: “Why don’t you write a report on that and have it on my desk tomorrow?” A word to all you teachers and would-be teachers: if you want to snuff out a student’s desire to learn there is hardly a better way to do it than to say “Why don’t you write a report on it and have it on my desk tomorrow?” I remember asking him after class if he was serious, and, yes, he was. I don’t remember the exact question, so that tells you how wonderful this particular method of getting kids to learn works.
Our teacher for Bible class was the youth pastor of the church that had started the school, Pastor Tanis. It was pretty easy to determine that kids in his youth group were “kids he liked” and any students who were from out of town or from a different church were “kids who might or might not have been there that day, he’s not really sure.” It’s understandable, to a point, but it also made it easy to be less than motivated to pay attention.
My mom had given me some old stickers that said “Hello, My Name Is” with a space underneath for writing your name, like you’d use at a convention or a reunion or while on a crime spree if you were really dumb. I got the idea one day to put one of these on Pastor Tanis’s back – I think I was challenged to do so, but I’m not sure. So I filled in the name space with “Superman,” removed the backing, palmed the sticker, went up to his desk where he was answering questions, and dropped the sticker on the back of his suit coat. It landed perfectly and stuck. I went back to my seat, and then the giggles started. As the giggles built up and I knew the end was near, I slipped just outside the door so he wouldn’t immediately see me. Two things happened at this point: 1) In the classroom, JoAnn R. narced on me (it was the 80s, so I’m allowed to say “narced”) and 2) Miss Westphall, returning to the classroom, found me hiding in the doorwell and promptly deduced I was doing so because I was engaged in tomfoolery. I don’t remember my punishment, but I’m fairly certain there was some. I probably missed some recess. To this day, when I see a “Hello, My Name Is” sticker, my brain automatically fills in “Superman.”
I shall regale you with one last tale of bullyism and then put elementary school to rest.
After school was dismissed for the day, there were many kids who had to wait for their rides to arrive. We were corralled to the sidewalk in front of the building and there was at least one teacher on duty to keep an eye on us. One particular day there was someone who needed to be … reeducated. A quick glance down the sidewalk revealed no apparent teacher watching so I applied my default teaching method: a combination headlock/noogie. (It can very effective and persuasive in the right situation, let me assure you.) About three seconds after the initial lesson, I heard my name being called rather sternly and turned to find Miss Linder, the fourth grade teacher.
I had missed her in the scanning because she was so small. My surprise at seeing her, my dismay at being caught, and my memory of the crush I’d had on her all turned me into a meek soul immediately, and I calmly followed her when I was instructed to stand by her until the bus came. I didn’t mind so much. I think my crush wasn’t completely over, even in eighth grade.
And with that, elementary school ends. There was a graduation ceremony, in which I dared my friend John S. to empty his trumpet spitvalve onstage. (He did, and I laughed.) My parents bought me a used Commodore 64 for a graduation present, and I’ve had some form of computer almost ever since.
From the top of the heap in eighth grade to the bottom again in ninth. Ah, but lessons are learned! Sports are played! Nicknames are given! High school certainly had a lot waiting in store.