Bowen: Hard to forget the third grade

Published 10:25 pm Thursday, November 16, 2017

“Let me see your report cards,” I said to my grandkids this past week, adding, “They do still print report cards and hand them to you, don’t they?”

“Oh, yes,” said Connor-man, “I have mine right here.”

He began digging through a pile of papers in his folder and pretty soon produced a wrinkled, computer-generated piece of paper. Audrey — Ms. Pretty Eyes, as we know her — did the same, and both watched me suspiciously as I perused them.

Being young, they are just learning how grown-ups look at a report card. They turn their head slightly to the side, bite their lip, and narrow their eyes ominously — which, kids soon learn, is the second worst thing in the report card experience. The worse thing, of course, is when the teacher hands you the report card and looks away. I found — through years of experience — that the “look-away” report card spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e, any way you turned it.

Connor-man, being a seventh grader, has learned the hazards of school a bit more than Pretty Eyes. You see, she is now walking the halls of horror:

It is called the “Third” grade – with a capital “T.”

So you’ll know, “Third” grade isn’t kindergarten, anymore or first or second grade. You pass second grade with flying colors, then they ship you to third grade and take away all your rights: the loving hands of the teacher no long wipe your nose, “nap time” is what you do at night and — I quote — “Puppet shows don’t make your test scores go up.”

Instead, they hand you a packet as thick as a novel, a skinny purple form with circles all down it, and a No. 2 pencil to fill in the bubbles, and say in a calm voice, “You may begin.”

I know these things because Rach is one of those third-grade wardens herself, making those poor babies work as though they are guilty of some crime, while the only crime they have ever committed is passing the second grade, with flying colors.

Will someone please tell these teachers that these little pretty-eyed babies are not in the army, boot camp, prison or med school? They’re in the “Third” grade! Please, give the kids a nap. Play “seven-up” after lunch, do story-time until the kids all say “Ahhhh” in unison. They’re 8-years-old, maybe nine — although, I might’ve been 11 by the time I escaped.

But, no, instead of those amenities (Yes, I am sure I learned that word in the third grade), do you know what they get? They get grades. That’s right. Real grades! Forget those E’s and S’s on your report card. Now these teachers sling B’s and B-minuses, even C’s and D’s if you don’t turn in a paper or two. I won’t even mention what comes after D, just to say it is not “E.” I learned that lesson the hard way 50 years ago.

But I really shouldn’t be surprised at all at this. My own third-grade teacher invented the term “cruel and unusual,” right down at LaGrange’s Southwest Elementary School, now called Berta Weathersbee Elementary School.

You would think I would forget my third-grade teacher’s name after half a century, but that’s not going to happen. Oh, I’ve tried to forget it, but I can’t. Sadly, I cannot remember my kindergarten, my first-grade, or my second-grade teachers’ names. Why? Because they were nice. They didn’t paddle (That, I think, didn’t come until the fourth grade, right before Christmas). They didn’t keep you after school. They didn’t take away nap-time or story-time or soda crackers with chocolate milk. They treated you with full respect and love.

If you sneezed, they said, “Oh, you poor baby, you’re getting a little cold. Here, put your head down for a bit.”

If you said, “Ms. Teacher, I think my stomach may be startin’ to hurt a little,” they’d say,

“Oh, wonderful child, you’ve been working so hard, such a good young man. I’ll send sweet Tony Pippen to the cafeteria for some warm milk to sooth your tiny little tummy. In the mean-time, give your favorite teacher a big hug.”

Ah, I miss those days. If I could do it over, I would’ve stayed in the second grade for the rest of my life: warm milk, kind sympathy and tissues for your nose, administered with supreme love at the hands of an angel.

I never would’ve graduated to the third grade where the world turned, abruptly. For me, the world turned in 1965, with these few chilling words:

“Class: You are now in the third grade. As your teacher, I have three rules. I will expect you to obey every one of these rules, every minute, of every day, for the rest of your natural life. These rules are: No napping. No whining. No tummy aches.”

“Furthermore,” she added, initiating her horrified subjects to their first three-syllable word, “if you want an ‘A,’ you will have to earn it. You will earn it with blood, sweat, and tears. Mainly tears. This is the third grade. What I’m going to say to you next is something you’ll never forget, not if you live to be threescore years – and ten.”

Then she paused, scanned the room with a scowl, her eyes narrowing like a grown-up perusing a report card, and said,

“My name … is Ms. Goforth.”

And, you know, two-score years — and ten — later, she was right.

I cannot forget it.

Steven Ray Bowen is a former Granger who lives and writes in Red Oak, Texas.