Shaping Young Minds

The seventh grade was a good year for me. Or so I thought. It had a notorious reputation, as you left the safe haven of the elementary and entered the dangerous world of lockers and sevy hating eighth graders. As I received my yearbook my feeling was I had escaped the curse of the seventh grade. I was heading into summer with friends and a staff of teachers who liked me. This assessment was not correct.

Mrs. Ladwig, my math teacher, wrote the following in my yearbook:

Carrie – Should I write what is true or should I make you feel good? No, really, you are more capable but you are very charming. Remember, mediocrity is for gas station attendants. See you next year, E. Ladwig

Somehow, the “you are very charming” part doesn’t feel like an actual compliment in this context, but maybe that’s just me. Mrs. Polley wrote this:

Carrie – Have a good summer + do the best you can do next year…for a change! Mrs. P.

In my defense, I have no memory of slacking off in that class. There was very little in the way of opportunity for class clownery or the various other forms of performance art I favored. It was first period and I do remember being sleepy a lot. Mr. Johnson, known universally as KJ, wrote this:

Carrie – Somedays, grrrr! Best wishes, KJ

Now, I do fondly remember an occasion wherein KJ began bragging about cheating on his taxes. As soon as he lit into this lecture I raised my hand high and kept it there while he boasted about how smart he was and how dumb the IRS was. Finally, annoyed, he called on me. “Do you have something to add to the conversation, Carrie?” I responded simply: “My dad is a special agent with the IRS.” Which was true, btw. Somedays, grrr, indeed, KJ. Somedays, grrr, indeed.

Mrs. Giles

The incomparable Mrs. Giles.

After this, I got wise and stopped asking teachers to sign my annual. With one exception. Caroline Giles had been my science teacher. I knew at the time it was a special learning experience. What I didn’t know was that it would never be surpassed. Mrs. Giles was a profoundly gifted teacher and when we ate up the curriculum she kept going. At no point in my science education did I come to a class that was anything more than a review of what Mrs. Giles had taught us–in the 7th grade. One day she came to class dressed as Mrs. Mitochondria. She also appreciated performance art. Under Mrs. Giles tutelage we instituted a recycling program at our school, despite the school’s odd reluctance. We formed a Science Club and went to elementary schools and performed experiments (more performance art!). We memorized the Periodic Table of Elements. I named a stuffed dog I got for my birthday Dmitri Mendeleev. To this day I remember, “Na, I don’t want any salt,” and “A! U! You took my gold!” We had a stupid little phrase for every element. And they worked. (Obviously.) Mrs. Giles gave me my favorite assignment of all time. We were to create a fictional animal that made evolutionary sense. My creation was an amalgmation of hippo and whale characteristics that lived in the Amazon 30,000 years ago. Hippo-shaped, it had the whale-like trait of sifting out smaller animals through its peculiar jaws and eating them en masse. Years later, I was gratified by the discovery that hippos and whales are in fact close cousins . Mrs. Giles and I were way ahead of them.

Mrs. Giles did not stay long at Cascade Junior High. Only one year. She went back to where she came from – teaching teachers as a college professor. Although she was very professional about it, I could tell she was ostracized by the rest of the staff. They didn’t like her recycling campaign, they didn’t like her Mrs. Mitochondria costume, or the fact our classroom was always so loud. She had to start keeping the door shut. I knew she was glad to leave when she did. This is what she wrote in my yearbook:

Carrie – You’re a great thinker and you have fabulous ideas! I’ll really miss you, but if you become a teacher I might see you again. Mrs. Giles

A simple message, but one that meant a lot.

9 thoughts on “Shaping Young Minds

  1. LisaE. says:

    Wow! I’ve been thinking about Mrs. Giles a bunch lately and even posted a FB message asking Cascade Alumni for any information they might have about her. I wrote that because of her I can still spell Mitochondria and remember what it does, and the difference between osmosis and diffusion, among other wonderful things. Some people posted their memories of her too, it’s been kinda fun. I guess I missed that she was gone after 89-90 (our 7th grade year), and now 25 years later am thinking about her. Thank you so for this great post, and thanks to my computer/internet whiz of a bf who actually found this for me. Looking at yr pic and at the teachers’ names and at some of the responses here I was saying, I know that person, I remember that person! And look – she wrote about Mrs. Mitochondria! =D It’s so sad that the really enthusiastic teachers become so ostracized by the mediocre ones that they wind up leaving. It makes me sad to know that other 7th graders missed out on what we had. I enjoyed her classes but I wish I had known then how very unique and special it was and would be to have a teacher who didn’t just lecture. You say she went back to teaching teachers at college, do you know anything else? Like whether she’s still doing that? or where? If so I’d love to hear more and maybe get in touch with her, if not, I totally understand – it’s been a lifetime since then. And again, really great post. I’m going to put the link to this post on the message about her on my FB page, so don’t be surprised if you hear from more of our classmates. <3

  2. Curt L. says:

    I will never forget the smell of Ms. Giles’ classroom. A potent mix of rodents, formaldehyde, Fritos and unwashed adolescence. We. must. never. forget.

  3. Jen says:

    Making learning fun is an idea that is lost on most teachers. It’s sad. At least you have memories of one that made a difference for you.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Yeah, I didn’t think I was a troublemaker, either. Except in Mr. Hubbard’s class. (I think you were in Mr. Hubbard’s class with me. He always used to make me go outside to count the bricks.) Years later, during my brief stint at the Kent 6 Cinemas -before the injustice that was my firing- I was taking tickets, and Mr. Hubbard came in, alone. We locked eyes, and both thought exactly the same thing, “You.” Of course, at the end of the day, Mr. Hubbard had nothing on the evil that was KJ and his dark room. ALLEGEDLY. Do I have to put ALLEGEDLY? Or was anything made official? BTW – that dude was pulling that crap nine year before our time with my sister Becky’s class. It took FOREVER to get to the great justice that was KJ’s firing.

    Anyway, it’s nice to see all the Cascade folks enjoying the post, but it’s not particularly well written by any stretch. It’s just that we all loved Mrs. Giles so much.

  5. Amberlyn Jones says:

    I LOVE THIS POST. AMEN, Sista. I adored Mrs. Giles. She was hands-down one of the most inspiring teachers I ever had. Ever. I think many of our cohorts would agree with this assessment. She was in a league of her own, truly.

    I don’t remember you being a troublemaker! I can’t believe how, um, candid the teachers were in their yearbook remarks! Oh well, justice is swift- KJ got his in the end. Grr, Indeed.

    Well Done, Carrie.

  6. Clarke says:

    If you see these first few teachers you need to somehow point out that your new “yearbook” quote would by “You are pure determination!” I think that would make them rethink their snarky potshots.

  7. Carolyn says:

    You know, she wasn’t, really. That was the thing that kinda shocked me. I liked these teachers (except for KJ) and I was really surprised when it turned out they didn’t like me back. Or at the very least, had enough of an issue with me they took the time to include it in a yearbook inscription.

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