Transition from elementary school to Central Junior High was somewhat intimidating. I was a confirmed introvert. I had a small circle of friends, and joined several clubs. There were 100s of students, some pretty rough. Schoolyard fights were not uncommon. I remember one when José, clobbered the star football player, without receiving a scratch. It was quickly broken up by teachers, who ushered the winner off for due punishment.
A few months later, I got involved with the YMCA and got to know José pretty well. He was always very nice to me. Later he became the Golden Gloves Champion of Lima.
One odd thing about the YMCA: they required boys to swim nude in their pools. Supposedly, for sanitary reasons. Everyone did, and I don’t recall seeing anything kinky. I was always swimming with groups of my friends. It really was the national policy, and many schools did the same until the 1960s.
Some long for the “good old days” when teachers ruled with an iron fist. Not me! Remember the book, Up the Down Staircase? There really was such a thing at Central Junior High School! I once witnessed the female dean of students grabbing a boy at the top of the wrong staircase and angrily tossing him head over heels down the entire staircase.
In the seventh grade my math teacher, Miss Whitley, taught the entire class – from the first day to the last – with a piece of chalk in one and a paddle in the other. It was used routinely.
She collected paddles! Had a variety of them of all shapes and sizes hanging from the walls. My agenda was survival!
A big part of every class involved board work (could be “bored” work), where we took turns standing at the chalkboard, and working on assigned problems. Miss Whitley would stroll along the lines of calculating students, and monitor accuracy and honesty. Roaming eyes would be met with a quite flick of the wrist on the offenders butt. I may have erred on many math problems, but escaped the paddling. It kind of ruined my taste for math for a while.
I had a close call in the eighth grade. We had a huge study hall, corralling at least 100 students, anchored in long rows in the old wooden desks with flip-up seats attached to the desks behind. All desks had ink well holes (No, we didn’t use them). Teachers in charge of study hall were never in a good mood. The man in charge of this one had a short fuse. First week, I saw him sneak up behind a misbehaving guy, and grab him by the hair (The “hoods” all had long hair. Elvis was in!). He whipped the guy’s head back cracking it on the next student’s desk!
They arranged us alphabetically, so I sat behind Nancy Nieschwander. She was a cute girl, and I had no ill feelings toward her. But one day, as we were assembling, I did something rather stupid. I stuck my foot under the desk, and caught the back edge of her seat, which was in the down position. Unfortunately, my timing was perfect. And as she started to sit, I flipped her seat up – resulting in her butt hitting the floor with a thud. I was horrified. But she was quick and pulled her seat down with my foot still in the crack, bringing me up over the top of my desk. Fearing the hall monitor’s whiplash treatment, I did the only sensible thing: beg for mercy! Fortunately, the evil monitor was busy at the far end and didn’t notice my inappropriate behavior. Close one!
I had another close call in the ninth grade though. [What does it say that my most vivid junior high memories involve paddles?] I had a really good algebra teacher, Mrs. Amstutz, who rekindled some interest in math. She was also my homeroom teacher, very kind, and consistently encouraged me. I think she kind of liked me.
There are rules though! And one was no talking during homeroom, occasionally enforced with the ubiquitous paddle. (She only had one but at least kept it in a drawer). Just after the bell rang, I turned to ask the student behind me if I could borrow a pencil. Mrs. Amstutz, who was working at her desk, looked up as she snapped, “Who’s talking?” Oops, time to lose my paddle virginity!
She ordered, “Ron, out in the hall, now!” I knew I wasn’t getting away with timeout this time. She grabbed her paddle from the drawer, and marched to the hall behind me, slamming the door. As I braced for the worst, she lowered her paddle, smiled a bit, and whispered, “Relax. I’m not going to paddle you, but I can’t let those hoods think I’d let you get away with something.” She drew the paddle back and cracked it on her calf a couple times, and nodded for me to return to the classroom. She followed me back in with a scowl, briskly returned the paddle to the desk, and slammed it shut. We had a special bond for the rest of the year. She would be high on my list of my five most influential teachers.
[Confession: It is only fair that I admit that I remember these stories so vividly because I retold them 100s of times in my academic role training 1000s of teachers and counselors. But I think I got their attention, and hopefully my experiences helped their students have a more pleasant learning environment.]
Mr. Dennison owned a small used book store across the street from the junior high school. I was fascinated with history, particularly the U.S. Presidents. (By the time I was in the third grade, I impressed adults by naming all the U.S. Presidents in sequence. It was a lot easier in those days!)
I started dropping by the bookshop after school to browse his collection, and even bought a couple books. I loved the smell and aura of a room of old books. We would chat about different historical events and the presidents. Experiencing an adult show genuine interest in what I had to say was both novel and satisfying. Then he began saving special books for me. He inscribed each one with his name. I devoured and treasured those books..
Wouldn’t it have been special if I had found him years later and let him know what an impact he had by his small compassionate gestures!
A Missed Career
As I neared the end of the ninth grade, I began to ponder what I wanted to do in high school. Lima Senior High School was fairly new, and had a broad curriculum with many academic and vocational tracks. I was planning to enter their Printing Program.
Why printing? I guess it is connected to the book attraction. Everything about the printed word fascinated me – including the process of how it was done. As a kid, I printed calling cards on little rubber printing presses, even bought a couple used mimeograph machines. There were a couple printing shops near the junior high school. I began dropping by to watch. Their small presses fascinated me. The workers tolerated me, answered my questions, and gave me all sizes of paper cuttings.
I was fascinated by our neighbor, Ray Moore’s, sign making. He even gave me some old calligraphy pins. I thought printing might be an enjoyable career path. That changed in June when my parents announced we were moving from Lima. As we packed, I had totally unaware of how much my life was about to change!