by Maria Lagalante Schulz
Tonight was Back to School Night for my younger daughter. The school was buzzing with excitement as parents raced to their child’s classroom and sat in seats with their kid’s name on it.
My daughter’s teacher is an older woman who was also my older daughter’s teacher three years ago. She has been around the block a few thousand times. Still, she was fashionably dressed, with long blonde hair, stylish square-rimmed glasses, long nails and a beautifully tailored black dress with a matching jacket. On her feet, she wore beautiful black leather pumps that I’d seen at Nordstrom’s.
Mrs. Z, as I’ll call her, gave us a Power Point Presentation on “What We Do At School” and showed us a list that the class came up with that said things like:
1. We Are Smart
2. We Are Polite
3. We Usually Listen Well
4. We Do Not Bully
5. We are Kind
6. We are Compassionate
7. We Have Lots of fun here
8. We are Creative
9. We Love Our Teachers
10. We Expect the Best
She wrapped up her presentation by saying, “Listen, if your kids don’t do their homework, or they’re afraid they’re going to fail a test, tell them to relax. Nobody here is going to get kicked out of the 5th grade.” Many of the parents laughed and so did she. Then she said, “I cannot teach in an atmosphere that reflects anything but mutual respect and trust.”
When she was done with her presentation, we went down the hall to her teaching teammate and met Mr. B. He’s my daughter’s math and science teacher. “I want your kids to have fun while they learn,” he said to us. “So we’ll be playing lots of math games and building things like volcanoes and earthquake-proof structures. Even when they fail, I like to reward them with candy.”
Now, I think it’s great that both of my daughter’s teachers are supportive, kind and caring. It got me thinking, though, about my own elementary school teachers in general, and my 5th grade teacher in particular. Let’s call her Mrs. Colangelo
Mrs. Colangelo was an older woman who didn’t find us in the least bit amusing and who was fascinated by the oddest things. She liked to do long presentations on writing implements. “The pencil is very interesting,” she would say in her Elmer Fudd lisp. So, actually, it sounded like “The penciwal is vewy intewesting,” which of course led me to sit there in my chair and fight off great gales of laughter.
I knew that, should I be unable to hold back the raging tide of laughter that was building up inside of me while Mrs. Colangelo expounded on the merits of #2 pencils, ball point pens, and magic markers, that she would have no problem whatsoever pounding me into a fine dust.
Our classroom was not built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust. Our classroom was built on an atmosphere of mutual derision and lies. Mrs. Colangelo liked to make fun of every student in the class, especially because we were all a bunch of “stupid morons” who couldn’t remember to bring our #2 pencils on SRA Test days.
Also, as students, we wholeheartedly embraced the notion of lying whenever it was necessary. For instance, if you broke the pencil sharpener (one of Mrs. C.’s most prized possessions), you would stand there, cranking away, blowing imaginary shavings off your still dull and unsharpened pencil, and then head back to your desk. This way, the next poor sucker who got to the pencil sharpener would take the fall when Mrs. C. realized they’d just destroyed her pride and joy.
Mrs. C loved saying things to us like “You mess up again, and you’ll never get out of the 5th grade” and, the biggest threat of all: “not only will you get left back, we’ll expel you and you’ll have to go to public school.”
Mrs. Colangelo never had designer dresses and shoes, stylish glasses or long blonde hair. Instead, she had an ill-fitting black wig that came loose whenever it was hot out. She also wore frumpy blue or black dresses that started at her head and ended about an inch above her ankle. Her shoes were orthopedic black loafers that even my grandmother wouldn’t wear.
If Mrs. Colangelo had ever thought to ask us to describe ourselves, this is the list we would have come up with:
1. We Are Morons
2. We Are Bored
3. We Never Listen
4. We Love Bullies
5. We are Kind of Dumb
6. We are Not Compassionate
7. We Have Lots of fun elsewhere
8. We are Creative Liars
9. We Love Anyone But Our Teachers
10. We Expect the Worst
When we had Open School Day, Mrs. Colangelo had me go up to the blackboard to do a math problem. I had about the same aptitude for math as a well-trained chimpanzee, and Mrs. C. immediately regretted her decision.
Now, chances are pretty good that if my mother was not standing against the coat closet, trying to use her best psychic powers to help me through this personal hell, Mrs. C. would have ripped the chalk from my hand, yanked on my hair and told me to get back to my seat. That would have been followed by a few sour calls of “I expect better from you” and “I thought you were the smart twin,” right before she got one of the brainiacs up there to bail me out.
But…since my mother, and a bunch of other mothers WERE there, Mrs. C. bit her lip, danced like she really had to pee or maybe just wanted to use her hands to strangle me, and said encouraging things like “C’mon now Mawia. You know you can do wit.”
Of course, I knew I couldn’t, but she still let me muddle through. It’s one of my fonder memories, seeing Mrs. C. unable to pull me by the hair even though she really, really wanted to. Thank goodness my mother actually came to those Open School Days.
Even if I had been able to do that math problem, there was no way Mrs. C was going to congratulate me with candy. I was just happy to escape her wrath, never mind expecting a treat.
I would like to say that this was the worst moment I passed in Mrs. C’s class, but it did in fact get worse. One day, when the temperature soared up to 90 degrees, my brother Chris and I walked to school together and wondered what the day had in store for us.
“Everything will be fine,” I said, “as long as Mrs. C’s wig isn’t half off. When it’s half off, there’s going to be trouble.”
Well, lo and behold, Mrs. C’s wig was ¾ of the way off, her face was purple, and she was on a rampage all day long. She browbeat the brainy kids for small infractions, like not being able to do calculus even though we were only 10. She screamed at the classmate with Muscular Dystrophy because he was slowing us down when we changed classes. She even failed to find something “intewesting” about her pencils.
I had managed to fly under the radar of Mrs. C’s heat-induced rage for most of the day and it was almost dismissal time. I felt like a marathon runner that can see the finish line just a few yards up. I breathed a sigh of relief when my classmate, Tom, poked me.
“Maria, look at what your brother’s up to!”
I looked out the back door’s window to see what mess Chris had gotten himself up to when I suddenly felt a hot, clammy and vise-like hand close around the back of my neck.
“You wanna see what yaw brothuh is doing? Fine!” Mrs. C said, as she lifted me off the ground and dragged me towards the classroom across the hall. “Now you can stay for detention too.”
She flung the door open and gave me one last push as I thudded across the threshold. “Looks like you’ve got the full set of twins now,” Mrs. C said.
Mrs. Delaney did not look happy to see me. “What did you do?”
“I was caught watching Chris get yelled at.” I replied.
I took a seat while Chris and Mrs. Delaney got back to their earlier argument.
“Maybe I should come to your house this afternoon and tell your mother what a bad kid you are,” Mrs. Delaney said.
“You can come,” Chris replied. “But I won’t let you in.”
“I’ll keep ringing the bell,” Mrs. Delaney said.
“Our bell doesn’t work.”
“I’ll knock on the door.”
“I’ll sic the dogs on you,” Chris said.
I thought that Chris was lucky to be in Mrs. Delaney’s class, because this conversation would have ended after the first word out of my mouth when Mrs. C jammed her pencil through my skull.
“Maria,” Mrs. Delaney said, “would you tell your mother how your brother has been acting today?”
“Sure,” I said, since I figured we would never get out of there if I didn’t. Honestly, I had no idea how this fight started, and as much as I was enjoying the spectacle of Chris having an argument with one of our teachers, I also wanted to get home. The Guiding Light was on at 3, and since we lived across the street from the school, we could still make it.
We ran out of there as fast as two kids laden down with twenty pounds of books could and darted across the street. When we got there, our mother greeted us at the door.
“Hi! Anything happen today that I should know about?”
“Nope,” we replied, as we dropped our books on the floor and threw ourselves down on the couch to enjoy another rousing episode of The Guiding Light.
There were two great things going on here: one, my mother had baked a pound cake the day before, and miracle of miracles, there was still some left. My mother mixed things up by sometimes using a Bundt pan or sometimes using a loaf pan. I preferred the loaf pan, but you couldn’t go wrong either way.
And two, the storyline we were following today dealt with my favorite character of all time, Roger Thorpe. Even though Roger had been killed off twice already (once he was shot, and once he was pushed off a cliff), there was now a storyline about a thoroughly bandaged man in a wheelchair whose face we couldn’t see.
“That’s Roger!” I said, as I dug into my pound cake and dunked a chunk furiously. I took a long swig of milk.
“Are you sure,” Chris said, in between bites. “There were sharks in that water.”
“Roger can survive anything,” I said, because of course he could. If there had been a storyline where Roger was hacked to bits by an axe-wielding maniac, I’m sure the writers would have found a way to put the pieces back together and bring Roger back to his hordes of adoring fans. The Guiding Light was never as much fun without Roger Thorpe around, making the ridiculously rich, spoiled Allan Spaulding’s life miserable.
Our Mom grabbed a slice of pound cake and sat down beside us. “How come you two were late?” she said.
Chris and I shot looks at one another and laughed. “Mrs. Delaney wanted to talk to the two of us,” I said.
During commercials, we told her the whole story: about Chris’s angry argument with her that led to detention, about me getting hauled out of Mrs. Colangelo’s class and thrown into Chris’s little melodrama; about my promise to tell on him.
Mom laughed. “You shouldn’t fight with your teacher,” she said to Chris. “And you should mind your own business,” she said to me.
The show came back on and we turned our attention back to it. “Just don’t answer the door if someone starts knocking,” Chris said.
Did someone say pound cake? I heard once that they called it a pound cake because you used a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs and a pound of flour. I thought it was because you could really pack on the pounds eating this entire cake because it’s just so good. Here’s a link to a recipe and a little background on the beautiful pound cake:
Here’s another recipe with strawberries on top:
And to lighten it all up, here are some tips on Healthy Homemade Cakes:
So, do you have a story or a cake recipe you’d like to share? Post your comments here and let the rest of the Hungry Lifers in on it.