Saturday, November 18, 2006

School days, what-a-fool days

This morning, checking out Annie's blog, I read this post, which included a reference to a familiar song from my childhood:

"School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days,
Reading and writing and 'rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick,
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate,
"I love you so,"
When we were a couple of kids." *

I remember that song well, but not in a good way. I ruined any pleasant associations with it in sixth grade.

As I've demonstrated here, here and here, the genre of parody appeals to me enormously. It always has. Even as far back as sixth grade.

My sixth grade teacher was a large woman, tall and stout, with a cap of short, tight, gray curls and a stern demeanor. I can still picture her clearly, and I still remember how intimidated I felt in her presence. Mostly, I tried not to draw attention to myself in her classroom.

One day, for some reason I can't remember, I amused myself and a couple of other kids at lunchtime by singing them a parody I'd made up to the tune of "School Days." I sang it quietly and furtively, and we had a good laugh.

Unfortunately, I hadn't been quiet and furtive enough. Another student overhead me. A student, coincidentally, who (a) felt it was his moral duty to report such a breach of manners to the teacher, or (b) recognized a great opportunity to rat me out just because he could.

I finished my lunch, tossed my brown paper sack in the trashcan and headed for the playground. Just before I stepped out the door, Miss Engleking caught me by the arm and said, "Come here just a minute."

Uh-oh. "What were you singing?" she asked.

"Who, me? Um...I wasn't singing anything...I don't think."

"Oh," she said, "that's not what I heard."

"Well, I don't remember singing, so I don't know what song it could have been."

She wasn't buying it. "Someone told me you were singing a song about me, and I'd like to hear it."

With that, the jig was up. I ducked my head, turned red as a beet, and whined, "It wasn't really anything, it was just silly."

Drawing herself up to her full height (about eight feet as I recall), she said, "I want you to sing it. Here. Now. Loud."

So there I stood, next to the table where all the teachers sat and watched, and, voice quavering, sang this:

"School days, school days,
Darned old golden rule days,
Reading and writing and 'rithmetic,
All put together they make me sick,
We are the slaves of Miss Engleking,
She doesn't look like a human being..."

There was more, but I no longer remember it. There was something about her being fat (which I am now; karma is a bitch), and something about her being mean.

The other thing I remember, besides the horrible awkwardness and embarrassment, is what happened when I finished singing. Miss Engleking laughed, and then she encouraged me. She told me the song was "very clever" and that I should write more to develop my writing skills. Then she added one more bit of advice: "Next time, though, try to write something that will make someone feel good."

Miss Engleking, I think it would make you feel good to read that I took your words to heart.

* Music by Gus Edwards; Lyrics by Will D. Cobb, 1907


  1. Did you do anything to the kid who ratted you out? I wonder what became of him-did he utilize his tattling skills as an adult?

  2. Janet, I moved away and never found out what happened to him. As an adult, I've wondered if I might have done something to HIM before this incident that motivated him to tattle so gleefully, but I couldn't think of anything specific. (Which doesn't mean it didn't happen.)

  3. There, there, that Miss Engleking wasn't so bad now, was she? Were you still intimidated by her after this incident?

    . . . and come to think of it, all of my elementary school teachers were about eight feet tall also, LOL.

  4. Wow, that left an indelible impression! How great that Miss Engleking was able to turn it into a positive learning experience instead of an excuse to punish you. I don't remember having such insightful or benevolent teachers! Carmon

  5. Sunflower, yes, I was still intimidated. Now, on top of everything else, I was afraid she'd hold a grudge about "The Song." Fortunately, it was near the end of the school year so I wasn't kept in suspense for too long.

    Carmon, "positive experience" is a bit of a stretch. Having to stand up and sing that song in front of a group of teachers and students was plenty punishing. Even though her words were kind and her advice was good, I've always wondered what she'd have done if the other teachers hadn't been there.

    There was a boy in my class (let's call him Luke) who was unkindly recognized by everyone as "the dumbest kid in the class." He moved up grade by grade with the rest of us, but he never did his work, failed every test, and crawled around on the floor all day long annoying people. I remember once when he did something to another boy--pinched him or something--and Miss Engleking let the other boy choose the biggest book he could find (a dictionary in this case) and hit Luke over the head with it.

    About 10 years ago, I saw a documentary about children with fetal alcohol syndrome, many of whom have specific facial irregulatities. In the faces of those children, I saw Luke.

    Sad, sad situation.

  6. Oops...well I missed the part about it being in front of the class and other teachers. I thought she was respectful enough to stage it in private. Sorry she wasn't kind. I think there were a lot of very frustrated women who became teachers because it was one of the few professions open to them then. Carmon

  7. Just wanted to add that I recognize (and did in the sixth grade, too) that the parody I wrote was NOT nice and that discipline of some sort was appropriate. It could have gone MUCH worse.

  8. Oh Velvet, that was embarrassing.

    I was just a little bit older when I wrote a note to one of my friends about our teacher looking like a "hippopotamus". Yes, the teacher found the note. Unlike Mrs. Engleking, my teacher, Mrs. Heflin, just looked at me with pain in her eyes the next day in class. I was both embarrassed and mortified. I learned a lesson from that, just as you learned a lesson from your experience. I've been much kinder in my comments about others since then.

  9. Carmon, teacher, nurse, secretary, bookkeeper, bank teller, I leaving anything out? You're right, there weren't a lot of choices back then.

    Annie, it sounds like you know exactly how embarrassed I was. I wish I could count all the lessons I've learned the hard way.

  10. Well, I'll second that Velvet, you certainly have made a lot of us feel good here. Would have loved to have been at that teacher's table though. :-) What a creep that boy was. You know in the movies you would have ended up marrying him. lol

  11. Sandy, you're right about the movie ending. Although, considering some of the movies I've seen recently, I'd have been just as likely to end up in a weird relationship with Miss Engleking. "Brokeback blackboard"


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