Claire Went There

And wound up here

Claire Needs Improvement

Mrs. Cooper was my 2nd grade teacher. She may have been a delightful woman, but in my memory she is brillo-headed and mean.  And while I recognize that most adults don’t look back at their 2nd grade year as a pivotal one, for me the entire year was a lesson in how to handle the awkward situations I was just beginning to create for myself.  2nd grade was when I figured out that I was going to have to think faster than everyone else if I did not want to keep getting caught in the aftermath of my screw ups.

The subject was syllables, and since I considered myself something of a language prodigy, the class exercise was a no-brainer.  “We’re going to go around the room and each of you will say your first name and clap out the syllables.” Fantastic! “Steph-a-nie” 3 claps. “Bar-bie” 2 claps. Jim, Mike, Scott all one clap.  Suz-anne, Jean-nie both 2 claps, a few more names, on down the row, and at the end, me.

“Clay-er!” I shouted.  2 claps!  Mrs. Cooper stopped me – I had interrupted the perfect flow of syllable clapping – “No. You’re name is Claire. One syllable, one clap. Claire.”

Uh, no? I don’t think I had ever heard my name said that way. This was Tucker, Georgia and in Tucker, Georgia, I was most definitely Clay-er.  And thus began my introduction to the classroom stares of open-mouthed kids, who either pity you or want to eat you, depending on your popularity. Never again, I vowed.


Same class, different day, and I had a belly ache. The kind of belly ache that a child learns early on cannot be relieved undetected while sitting on a hard wooden seat. I needed a restroom, only Mrs. Cooper would not give me a hall pass. I tried to distract myself with Dick and Jane but having eaten my sister’s favorite bean soup for dinner the night before, I could not ignore the pressure. It was time.  I grabbed my chubby pencil and made a bee-line for the wall-mounted pencil sharpener.  This small mechanical device held the promise of a loud grinding noise which I knew would be a perfect cover for the loud noises I was desperate to make.  Only my timing was way off, and I made my half-class journey to the pencil sharpener farting loudly, continuously, and uncontrollably.

By the time I made it there it was all over, only there they were – my classmates and their open-mouthed stares. Not again!  I chose the the chubby kid with the big glasses and pointed to her with a wrinkled nose and said loudly “THAT WAS HER!”  Mrs. Cooper quietly walked up to me with the hall pass — which I no longer needed —  and I left the room, free to roam and confident in my ability to both plan ahead AND recover if my plans were foiled.

Oversharing – I did that, too.  Mrs. Cooper sat me down in the middle of my show-and-tell turn when I held up the Tinkerbelle Deoderant my mother had bought for me because “she says I stink.” I made up a family that I did not have, with 6 older brothers (one of whom my Dad accidentally shot), and shared their antics in subsequent show-and-tells.  I sat on the bench outside the principal’s office a few times that year for various infractions ranging from talking in line to throwing my milk carton at the trash can and missing. Each time someone looked at me while I sat on the principal’s bench, I would shout “my dad’s an astronaut!” because that seemed a good way to deflect from the fact that I was sitting on that yellow cushion and eating lunch alone.

2nd grade was the year I received my first “needs improvement” conduct grades, specifically in “self-control.” This made my mother hysterical and my father disgustedly perplexed. I didn’t even know what “self-control” WAS, much less how to improve it.  Had it only been 2010, Mrs. Cooper would have called in my parents and demanded that I be medicated.  But this was the early 70s; no medicine, no extended time, no participation trophy.  2nd grade was the dawn of my learning how to get away with stuff, the birth of my troublemaking side, the year I started making a mess of things and figuring out how to cover up those messes.  Indeed, Clay-er had no self-control and needed improvement.

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7 thoughts on “Claire Needs Improvement

  1. Ann Miller Collins on said:

    Claire, you are fantastic! You’ve made me laugh and cry!

  2. Clover on said:

    Clay-er has turned into a funny, caring adult after her awkward 2nd grade. I remember cussing in the second grade & getting into trouble. Who knew how much it would impact our later lives?? KEEP WRITING! You are very good!

  3. You’ve come a long way Baby … oops, I mean Clay-er!

  4. 2nd grade was the year my meanie ole fat teacher Mrs. Thatcher wouldn’t let me sit up front (alphabetical seating, mind you) when i told her i couldn’t see. so i spent my time making glue dot warts on all my fingers and practiced drawing horses.
    got the glasses the next year.

  5. I know I was not in your class because I would have NEVER forgotten that ..LOL! You are so lucky you did not get a “nickname” for the rest of your life. Some things you can just never forget…like one of my only memories in elementary was when Benny Steinberg “went” all over his desk. Oh the horror for him ..I’m sure that haunted him his whole life as did your “farting” episode…oh, still laughing!
    I love your blog makes me laugh and cry ; )

  6. Oh my goodness! This made me laugh out loud, especially the Clay-er southern confusion. In 3rd grade I asked my teacher how to spell y’all. Her response was: “That’s not a real word.” No further explanation. I was devastated and unable to complete my writing assignment. 🙂

  7. Natalie DeYoung on said:

    I kind of want to smack Mrs. Cooper on your behalf…

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