I woke up the other day with a sudden unexpected flashback to my third grade experience, and to Miss Zeilke, and so I did some semi-random googling, and found that she had passed away some time ago….
My educator parents thought Miss Zeilke was a good teacher. They knew more about teaching than I did or do, but as far as I could tell as a kid in the classroom—No. Miss Zeilke was mean, Miss Zeilke was crabby, Miss Zeilke picked on me, Miss Zeilke was generally disliked by me and (I think) my classmates. I remember once at the mall (what passed for a mall in 1966) jumping on the cracks between the concrete in the sidewalk outside—yelling “Step on the crack, break Miss Zeilke’s back!” and my poor mother was shocked and outraged.
But it was an honest childish emotion I was expressing.
Below is a floor plan for a room at Weiking Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Back in the day this was Wilson Campus School, at Mankato State College, where I received much of my youthful education. Wilson was a small school—maybe 500 kids pre-k through 12th Grade.
From the website, it looks like the building has been much modified over the years, but this—which was the Second Grade classroom then—still has much the same form as the other classrooms in the elementary school wing of the building.
I spent a fair amount of time in the second grade back room. I probably spent half the year in the third grade back room. Sheesh.
I was an ornery kid. No doubt about it! I was squirmy and fidgety and excitable and I talked a lot. (I probably had ADHD, which was unknown then). But I think different adults reacted differently to my orneriness and squirminess. Me, as an adult? I sure wouldn’t want to be around me as a child. If Current Me was supervising 3rd Grade Me, I’d say something like, “Little Lowell, go out and play in the goddamn ditch and leave me the fuck alone.” Or I’d lock me in the goddamn back room with the giant paper-cutter and hope for the best. Some of my teachers no doubt found me annoying, too—maybe especially Miss Zeilke found me annoying.
At one point in the school year, Miss Zeilke moved my desk from the rear of the room, to the front—right in front of her teacher desk. I told my parents that, yeah—she moved my desk to the front of the room because I was smarter than everyone else. And, yeah—I think I actually thought that was true! I don’t think I was lying! Stupid, clueless me.
My parents came home from a meeting with Miss Zeilke and told me that—Hell, no, Miss Zeilke didn’t move my desk because I was smart, she moved my desk because I was ornery and obnoxious and disrupting the class. Whoa. My parents were ashamed and they were pissed.
So the unhappy school year sort of passed like that. I got yelled at, I got exiled to the back room, I endured what I thought at the time was terrible injustice. I guess I learned stuff. Our class moved on to the Fourth Grade, with Mrs. Palmer, who I loved.
Miss Zeilke later retired and moved to Florida. But I never forgot Miss Zeilke!
In fact, I carried a stupid smoldering grudge.
So. Years and years later, my class at Wilson finally graduated and people were milling around afterward, and I saw—Miss Zeilke. Talking to one of the Mitchell twins. Laughing—saying something about how cute they were way back then.
I marched over and stuck my arm out. “Look!” I said. “I still have scars on my arm from when you grabbed me and dragged me off to the back room!”
Miss Zeilke just looked at me blankly. Confused.
Miss Zeilke had no idea who I was.
And I suddenly felt like an idiot. Here I had been carrying a deep anger and resentment toward her for nine years—for half my life!—and she had been off living her good life in retirement with no idea that I even fucking existed.
So my hate was all a big nothing. So, apparently, was my life.
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