John Martin

laughing through grad school
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CI 800 – STREIBEL  “Memory work – School Days -- Mrs. Gentz”

Dictionary Detention

Mrs. Gentz was the 5th grade teacher when I was in 4th grade. At one point in the year, after a noon recess hour where she had pulled recess duty, the 3rd-5th graders were assembled in our classroom lines outside at the building exit waiting for permission to go inside. Robbie Berkelhaur and I were messing around in line and apparently didn’t shut up and straighten out soon enough for Mrs. Gentz so she gave us a recess detention in her classroom for the next day. We didn't know what to expect, but showed up somewhat defiant and curious about the 5th grade classroom. She told us to copy a page out of the dictionary -- any page, but when I copied the copyright page, she changed her mind and sent me back to keep copying until recess was over. It was an interesting project and my first prolonged exposure to the dictionary. In retrospect I credit it (and her) for my interest in definitions and etymology. If not for that experience, I probably wouldn't have my own copy of the OED.

Paper Music

In 5th grade Mrs. Gentz was my teacher, and I loved her as a teacher. She allowed and encouraged (or at least tolerated) my challenges, my smart-ass remarks, and my creative outbreaks. On one occasion I wanted music in my desk and set about making miniature stereo components out of cut and folded paper and tape, with detailed controls drawn on in pencil. These I taped to my desk with as wide "stereo separation" as the width of the desk would allow.

Outsiders

That year we read The Outsiders and rather than simply do book reports, we acted out and produced an 8mm film version of the scene where Pony and Johnny get in a fight in the park and Johnny almost drowns and Pony ends up killing someone. I don't remember much more of the book apart from that scene, and might have dismissed the whole book if not for our film production. I played Johnny and got to walk around the rest of the day with wet hair after my drowning. I don't remember much of the film as we only saw it once when it was finished. Mrs. Gentz had done the filming and editing herself, and I remember how she had added a scene from Johnny's viewpoint underwater where he blacks out -- she had filmed a clear bowl of water with food coloring clouding up in it until it was dark. Even to this day I think it was a pretty simple, but cool transition. I imagine, in her classroom today if she's still teaching, that the kids run the camera, do the editing, and have a lot more control of the overall production.

Carpool

Later that year on the bus ride into school, I saw Mr.s Gentz behind the bus, and I somehow talked the bus driver into stopping and letting me ride with her. I got off the bus and into her Dodge Malibu (?) catching her by surprise, but getting the ride to school. I thought it was so cool to get a ride to school with the neatest teacher, but that morning I got called to the office and reprimanded for it, and apparently got the bus driver and Mrs. Gentz in trouble too.

Substitute

Mrs. Rasmussen subbed for a week once when Mrs. Gentz was out -- I never questioned why Mrs. Gentz was out, but those sorts of questions never come up in the mind of a self-centered 5th grade boy. All I knew was that Mrs. Gentz wasn't there and who did Mrs. Rasmussen think she was demanding us around as if she were entitled to do so? I don't remember exactly what prompted it, but I found myself assigned to stand with my nose to the chalkboard. Of course Mrs. Rasmussen was behind me teaching class, so she couldn't see if I had my nose to the chalkboard or was instead behind her, wildly mocking her character and presentation. It didn't take long though before she could no longer ignore the eyes and barely suppressed laughter of the class that was egging me on, but every time she turned to check I would faster to nose board. Eventually she simply sent me to the office, and when I refused, she menaced toward me as I scampered out the right door. Instead of heading to the office though I waited in the hallway outside the other doorway until she found a break and left to deal with me in the office. At that point, I walked into the classroom, took my seat, and got down to some serious reading. She huffed back from the office asked if anyone had seen me then noticed me herself and exploded into a flurry. It was huge victory for me, and for some reason I relish it to this day.

I got in big trouble for that. Most of the afternoon was spent in the office, and my mom dutifully spanked me with a "why John, do you do this?" expression. But it was clear to me that my mother

6th Grade

I like to think that Mrs. Gentz followed me in to 6th grade, because when we came to school that year and saw her at the front of the room, I was elated. I don't recall much of that year apart from beginning crushes on Michelle, Bernadette, and Sue, but