When I first became an ESL teacher I had no seniority. This meant I could not choose the grade I taught so I was given the second grade. Out of six grades, it was the one nobody wanted. I have since worked with all the grades from k-6 and second has remained my least favorite. It was said that the second-grade teachers were hard to work with, inflexible and treated ESL as a major inconvenience. Yet, it wasn’t the logical nightmare of trying to work out a schedule and then having teachers tell me that today this was not a good time to pull-out my ELLs that made the second grade unbearable. It was the kids. The whiny, sniveling, know-it-all manipulative, cry-babies known as second graders. Kindergarteners and first-graders are still fresh-faced babes who look up to their teachers to guide them and could be cajoled and consoled with a motherly tone and maternal concern. Most third to sixth graders are mature enough to be put in line with a certain look, if not then a threat to phone home. But a second grader would act out and then give you a pouty face, stab a classmate with a pencil and then cry to high-heaven when you gave him a what-for. So, how to manage a group of seven-year olds? How did my second grade teacher do it?
She was a large woman, tall and buxom,with sledge-hammer arms and a black bee hive hairdo, which turned out to be a wig. She was a woman who never attained her dream of becoming a nun. She had the demeanor of one however, and kept us seven-year olds quivering in our shoes. She didn’t fly and she wasn’t any Gidget.
We sat in rows either alphabetically or by height. Either way I was always toward the front. I’d dream of making a quick exit through the back door of the cloak closet, as they were called in those days. I never did, I was too afraid of the cat-o-nine tails she kept in her bottom drawer and pulled out every now and then to remind us to keep busy and keep in line. On her desk she kept a paddle. It looked like a small cricket bat, with a shortened handle, that was swathed in black electric tape. I didn’t talk much that year and when I did I ended up sitting in the front with a giant tongue hung around my neck like a scarlet letter that read: “I’m a tattle tale.” This was a woman who ruled with an iron fist.
And lest you forget that sloth is a deadly sin she would toss you and your desk into the cloak closet until you cleaned up your act. Every morning she put up work that had to be done by dismissal time otherwise you stayed behind to finish it. It was usually something like write out the ones times table or the twos, etc. One day, she had us write out the entire times table from 1-12. We were fiendishly writing all day, during lunch, finishing our regular work quick to write out some more mathematical facts, hidden inside our books. My friends and I were sweating and breaking our pencils with worry that we’d never finish in time. Some of us did, most of us didn’t. And what did our teacher do? She bellowed for us to hand in our work. She sternly collected each paper with a shake of her head and then proceeded to rip up all the loose leaf sheets and throw them in the trash! “April Fools,” she exclaimed and something sort of like a smile cracked on her face. We were not amused, this was the woman’s idea of a joke?
Ah, second grade it is a special grade. You can bet I never forgot it. We were really whipped into shape back then, but that was the 1970s in a Catholic School. You can’t get away with that these days. I wonder what my second grade teacher does with all her paddles and whips these days?