When I was a teen-ager, school was my salvation. It provided a structure and predictability that the rest of my life lacked. While some people hated the monotony of the routine, I reveled in the sameness of it all…. The same locker, the same classes, the same teachers, the same friends. Plus, I was good in school. It was something I could do – Get A’s that is… I couldn’t do much else – couldn’t keep my parents from divorcing, couldn’t stop the war in Viet Nam, couldn’t make my boyfriend stop doing drugs – but I could write a damned good paper on the stoicism of the Hemingway hero. And that felt good.
Anyway, I went to this huge high school where there were almost 1000 people in my graduating class. And what they did to control us was to divide us into tracks based on how smart they thought we were… there was the academic track, the commercial track and the vocational track. And if that weren’t enough, there were levels within the tracks…Academic A, B, and C, Commercial A, B, and C and so on.. you get the picture.
Well, I was in Academic A, but all of my friends including Randy and June were in Academic B. That meant I had AP classes along with all of the other “smart” kids. My friends were still college prep – they took algebra and foreign language (unlike the kids in commercial who took typing or bookkeeping or the ones in vocational who took shop) only they weren’t considered “smart” by some of the teachers. Never mind that Randy and June were two of the funniest and most clever people I had ever met and they were always exciting to be around.
My 11th grade French teacher, Madamoiselle Gitlin taught in all of the tracks. She of course preferred to teach in the A track and was always complaining to us about how much she hated teaching the kids in the B and C track.. One day she asked me to come to see her after school. I remember going to her office and feeling really strange… wondering what she could possibly want to talk to me about. She asked me to sit down and looked at me with this really earnest look on her face… like she really cared about me or something… Then she got all serious and moved in close to me and told me that I should stop hanging around with Randy and June. That they were bad influences on me and that I was being brought down by them and I should separate myself from them before it was too late.
At the time, I just stared at her dumbfounded. I was shocked and angry, but I didn’t say a word. I sat there in stony silence until she told me I could go.
Years later, when I became I teacher, I vowed that I would never talk to any student about any other student – and I would never question someone’s choice of a friend.
See what really bothers me about this story today is – why wasn’t she concerned about Randy and June? If she thought they were headed in the wrong direction, why didn’t she try to help them? Just because they weren’t good in French, they weren’t worth the trouble?