Friday, February 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: The art of junior high

Junior High. The gateway between the innocence of childhood and the immaturity of teenhood. It is within the fluorescent-lit halls that we begin to discover our individuality. From the colorful resin chairs bolted to doodled-on desktops we gain perspective on the path of our educational future. And as lockers clang, books slam, basketballs boing, gum smacks, and backpacks scuffle, we learn to judge the world around us and how we ought to fit into it. Certainly not the most glamourous era, riddled with humiliation and awkwardness, but necessary nonetheless.

The art teacher at my junior high school (which, for my second year of attendance changed to a middle school, making us the youngest of three grades in 7th and the oldest of three grades in 8th) was renowned among students as a pervert. The whispered tales may have been entirely fictional, but at age twelve, rumor rules over truth. While the man sported a look that might cause a father to involuntarily hold his daughter's arm a little tighter walking by, the gossip that sealed his reputation involved supposed requests for skirt-wearing girls to stand on chairs and reach highly stored objects while he remained below to enjoy the view.

Alleged morality flaws aside, I did not get along with this particular teacher at all. It should be interjected here that I have always been a good student, and typically enjoyed the advantages of forming positive associations with most of my teachers. I'm actually that girl who returned to visit old teachers occasionally after graduation. So it stands to reason that my repugnance toward Mr. Art Teacher was not misguided based on unsubstatiated anecdotes.

To form an appropriate mental image of this cantankerous old man, imagine a crusty version of the Tasmanian Devil.

His waist was so tiny that even aided by a tightly cinched belt it could hardly hold up the faded jeans sagging from the flat area where most people display buttocks. Over the belt, however, protruded a substantial belly, above which his inexplicably wide shoulders supported a small round head covered in prickly white stubble. Appearances do not make the man, and by no means was his unkempt exterior the grounds for my distaste.

The man was mean. He also demonstrated archaic notions of gender inequality. For example, during one particular class, our assignment entailed sketching our own copy of a line drawing he provided. He produced two separate handouts, each containing a different image: one for the boys and one for the girls. The boys' drawing was a race car. I do not even remember what was printed on the girls' selection, because I swiftly demanded I receive the car version instead, much to my instructor's displeasure. I was as livid about the situation as a tween with limited exposure to feminist ideology might be. After completing the drawing, I carefully embellished my race car with flowers, bows, and butterflies. I wouldn't want Mr. Art Teacher thinking a boy had drawn it.

One technique that The Taz frequently imparted to our class involved finding smaller images within a large one to aid our ability to copy it. (Why does it seem that so many of our "art" projects involved simply copying someone else's art?) So he would put a drawing of, say, a horse on the projector screen and point out where its jaw and neck come together to form the letter A, or how its ear resembles a tube sock. Jewels of this nature. His distorted images within images were sometimes difficult for the rest of us to grasp. A fly on the wall might notice a handful of students craning or twisting their necks in an attempt to free a purported hidden object from obscurity. The rest of the students in the room would have their heads buried in their arms on the table, ever-grateful that projector-screen operation requires restful darkness.

One day, when the hunt for a covert mouse within the forehead of a bulldog illustration became too ridiculous to bear, I decided to just mess with him a little. While everyone else uninhibitedly voiced their confusion, I professed elated comprehension. Not only could I see his precious mouse, but I could also see a little cow! I described the bovine representation to him from my seat, but when my spur-of-the-moment description made about as little sense as his lesson plan, Mr. Art Teacher invited me to approach the projector and show the class (possibly starting to pay attention at this point) and himself (hardly containing his giddiness at a participating student) what in the world I was talking about. I bounded out of my seat, grabbed that green marker with gusto, and proceeded to notate my imaginary representation all over the bulldog's grumpy little face.

"Here is the mane scribble scribble and this is his big eye giant circle nowhere near the mane. Nostrils are here dot dot and the bulldog's ear here is the tail swooshy. Don't you see? ... The cow's ears are in the dog's whiskers right here line line line."

I stared at him expectantly until he began to nod. "Yeeeeah, okay...I think I see it!" I walked proudly back to my table, biting my lip to repress a laugh.

If you think I mistreated a poor, innocent man, perhaps this next story will redeem my intentions.

Pottery time. I didn't want to make a pot. I made a snowflake. Maybe it was more of the junior high rebellion boiling up. The rationale behind my artistic choice is irrelevant. My project was a little clay snowflake. It was only about 4 inches in diameter, and I painted it with white glaze before leaving it to be fired in the kiln.

A few days later, when the pottery had endured the fiery oven and emerged in all its shiny glory, I found my snowflake on a shelf of unclaimed projects. I had forgotten to write my name on the back, so it was orphaned here. I plucked it from the shelf and presently labeled it so it wouldn't be lost again.

It must have been the next class when an important administrator cracked open the art room door and peered inside. I was startled and confused when she called my name and beckoned for me to join her in the hall. My memory may not be entirely accurate, but I think it was the assistant principal. I clung to a hope that perhaps I had won some kind of contest.

As it turns out, I was not a winner. Ms. Administrator explained that Mr. Art Teacher had witnessed me thieve a classmate's art project and claim it as my own work. Ugh.

Being accused of stealing was an unsettling experience. I'm the teacher's pet (in all my other classes, anyway), remember? And here I was having to defend my honor to a woman who didn't know me from Eve (because I had never done anything to warrant a relationship with the junior high gestapo) and a teacher who clearly believed I was the furthest thing from Eve. Spawn of Satan, indeed.

The precise details are fuzzy, but through my very genuine tears, I was able to convince them of my innocence. He apologized, but I had trouble forgiving the old man for jumping to such a conclusion without any evidence. If he had been paying attention, he might have noticed me creating my rebellious little snowflake, too.

One final memory from junior high art class. And it has to be the time that my desk-partner/friend and I created an anthology of poo. We illustrated and captioned such wonders as the "Ghost Poop" and the "Rainbow Poop." Come on, it was junior high! We were gaining perspective on the world and discovering our educational future, remember?


Laugh! It's funny!


Bridget said...

I love how you are simultaneously a rebel AND a teacher's pet.

Don't worry, I am one of those people who visits old teachers, too. Only a couple of them, though.

Annie said...

I don't know why, but I can see the rebel in you. LOL.

I also think it's a law that there be some perverted dude teaching in every jr. high school. Mine had two: a science teacher and an algebra teacher.


jaeyde said...

have you ever seen the college poster that is covered in different kinds of poo with labels and descriptions?

ii kind of get the feeling that students who are bright have the tendency to be teacher's pet to teachers of quality (as both recognize and respect the other for who they are) and the rebel with poor teaching (as the child recognizes and disrespects and rebels against unmerited authority and the teacher innately seeing this, responds in sometimes aggressive defensiveness). Can you tell that I too was this student? :P

jaeyde said...

oh - and my junior high, the big creeper was a suspiciously friendly life science teacher.

Anonymous said...

love the story. and I completely agree with Jaeyde's comment about dedicated students connecting with quality teachers and rebelling against the lousy ones. There also might be a little extra fun in experimenting with the rebel role for the first time.
recommended reading: "What is Your Poo Telling You?" you can borrow my copy sometime if you want. it was a gift from Deb.


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