To be fair, even as a child, I was outspoken. It was the time when “children should be seen and not heard” was the prevailing philosophy and I missed that memo. Adults were to be respected, but in my household the adults often acted more like children than the children, so my perception on that accord was a bit skewed, as well.
As for teachers, I can sum up our relationship like this: They were being paid to be there, and I was there by law. Except for the nuns, of course. It was their calling in life to transform us from sinners to, if not saints, at least something a cut above illiterate heathens, and with their stern manner and intimidating black robes, they were well-equipped to do so. And yet, I’m certain I sent more than one of them to confession for harboring un-Christ-like thoughts.
I was a curious child who questioned everything. Back then the distinction between faith and fact was lost on me.
“Why is it as hard for a rich man to get into heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? That sounds a bit unfair. What if he’s a nice man?” I would ask, and off to Mother Superior I would go. Of course now, with income inequality being what it is in this country, I see that their teaching was positively prophetic.
The final straw in my religious education came when I stood on a tree stump on the playground one fine morning and declared myself to be the Virgin Mary. It was generally agreed upon that I was better suited for public school.
And so it was that in the third grade I became the problem of ordinary public servants, underpaid men and women who, lacking the authority of God, counted heavily on children being taught certain rules of conduct at home. Unfortunately for them, my education in that particular area was a bit lacking. I never learned to take “no” for an answer which, while trying on the adults around me at the time, served the adult I would become very well as I made my way in the rejection-heavy business of writing for television.
High school proved no better for the teachers in my path. A smart kid who could have gotten all A’s and B’s had I cared to, the most often phrase seen on my report cards was “underachiever.” I couldn’t help it. I was bored. Then came sophomore English and Miss O’Toole. Suddenly, my mind burst open like fireworks on the Fourth of July. “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” – she even made Shakespeare come alive for me! Freakin’ Shakespeare! I loved Miss O’Toole and I got an “A” in her class. So, in choosing my teachers for my junior year, naturally I requested her again.
Imagine my 16-year-old shock when my counselor told me that my beloved Miss O’Toole didn’t want me back in her class. Apparently, I was disruptive. WTF? I was flummoxed. I was hurt. I was shamed. Now you would think that the counselor would have brought us both in to discuss the situation and try to work things out – being that I got a fucking “A” and all. But that did not happen. There would be no meeting, no explanation. I would instead be put into the class of another teacher, whose name I cannot even remember, where I would literally sleep through the entire semester, yet somehow still manage to squeak out a “D.” It would be nearly a decade before I took an interest in learning again.
I have often thought of Miss O’Toole over the years. I’ve wondered if she ever saw my name on her television screen and thought, “I wonder… Nah. Couldn’t be.”