Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blast from the Past

Recently, I was privileged to attend my 4th grade class reunion.

What?  4th grade class reunions aren't that common?  Well, my 4th grade class was never common to begin  with.

Here's a picture of me with my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Awesome-O.

(Note that I was the only member of Awesome-O Class of '85 to attend.  I'm looking in your direction, everyone else.)

In elementary school, I participated in something called GATE: Gifted And Talented Education.  Those of us in GATE fell under many categories:

  • Brilliant but quiet
  • Brilliant but loud
  • Too hyperactive to be in a regular classroom
  • Too weird to be in a regular classroom
  • Smart but socially clueless
  • Several of the above
GATE students were identified by a complicated series of tests, including IQ tests.  We were together all day, every day, from third through fifth grade.  Thinking about it now, I realize how extraordinary that was.  Most kids get shuffled from class to class between grades, and switch between different teachers during the day.  We didn't.  Our teacher was OUR TEACHER, who taught us reading, language, math, social studies, and science every day.

At the reunion, I realized I remembered the people who were there better than I remembered people in my graduating class at high school.  It was amazing!  What was even more amazing was how, in a room full of our peers, we all immediately reverted to our Inner Nerd.  The quiet ones were still quiet, the loud ones unbelievably loud, but you could almost see guards dropping as we realized we were among our peers.  The class clowns began entertaining, the sarcastic ones were dripping with well-placed stings, and the nice ones were just exuding good nature.

There were a wide variety of careers represented.  Several of us are in education.  There was a neurosurgeon and stay-at-home moms, small business owners and IT experts.  Above all, we were still GATE kids: smart, kind of goofy, and not traditional at all.

At the reunion, I was given the honor of witnessing what has to be one of the greatest "You're busted!" moments of all time.  Allow me to set the scene:  Sven and I were sitting there with Siegfried, a friend of ours who happens to be Awesome-O class of '84.  We were discussing how we ended up with different 5th grade teachers, because Siegfried's teacher left in the summer between his fifth grade year and mine.

Not to drag the story out, but I told Siegfried about my 5th grade teacher, who had never taught elementary school or GATE before, and how inappropriate her reading assignments were.  We read Johnny Tremain and Island of the Blue Dolphins, which were great, and then The Hobbit, which was okay but a little dense for 10-year-olds, then Animal Farm, which I did not understand at all.  I thought it was about talking animals until I was 18.

"What came next?" asked Siegfried.
"Lord of the Flies," I said.  After the laughter subsided, I recalled how my mother, along with several others, protested, which resulted in an "opt-out" assignment: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.  Siegfried and I then imagined how we would teach a class in which half of the kids were discussing the pig-hunting scene from LOTF while the rest were debating whether or not Farmer Fitzsimmon's rose bush was really the best place for those darned rats.

"Why stop there?" Siegfried asked, and we began suggesting increasingly inappropriate reading material for 10-year-olds.
"How about The World According to Garp?" I suggested.  Siegfried got that wicked twinkle in his eye and began to intone, in a teacherly voice:

"Class, please regard the [expletive descriptive word] scene and-"

"WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?" intoned Mrs. Awesome-O, descending upon us.

Busted.  We had to explain it all to her, which fortunately, she found hilarious, though whether it was because we were funny or she was on her second glass of wine, I can't say.  What I can say is that Mrs. Awesome-O is still awesome.  As we were leaving, she gave me a hug and said to Sven, "Take care of her, she's one of my good ones."

Right back at you, Mrs. Awesome-O.