Thank You Miss O’Mara

Even in the beginning, in kindergarten, I could never adjust to school.  And it only grew worse as I progressed through the grades in elementary school.  It seemed unnatural then, and it still does to some degree now, to expect little kids bursting with energy to sit in one spot at a desk and not to move unless you were asked to.  In my case, it was too much to expect.

I’d look at my classmates and it didn’t appear that they were having the same difficulty as I did being tethered to a desk.   As they stared at the blackboard and listened to the teacher, I was off in my mind somewhere else.  Although I was mostly inattentive, I was never disruptive.

Soon I was far behind the others, and as a result I was always placed with the kids who found learning a challenge.  I would gaze out of the window, and like a pint sized Walter Mitty, I would create in my mind a world much more exciting than the mundane world of a stuffy class room. At recess time, or at the end of the school day, I would gallop home, past the saguaro cactus, the fresh prairie breezes caressing my face and whipping the mane of the horse that I rode.

As I became a teenager, it seemed that even graduating from high school might be the impossible dream. Never in my wildest moment could I ever have imagined that someday I would be a teacher in similar stuffy classrooms, and yet I spent thirty-four of my adult years as a teacher.  The unlikely events that led me into the field of education are a part of my book, but in this blog I want to briefly tell what it was that hopefully made me a successful teacher once I determined that teaching would be my profession.

There were many memorable teachers whose classes I was fortunate enough to be enrolled.  Certainly there were also ineffective teachers too, but there were many more effective teachers than there were bad or ineffective teachers.  As you might expect, the effective teachers were the ones who helped shape my career.  I imitated them when I had classes of my own.  They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery.  Ask anyone who ultimately became a teacher and I am certain that he or she will credit some long ago educator as the one who probably unknowingly influenced them to pursue education as a profession.

Now take all of those wonderful teachers, most of whom have gone to the great school house in the sky by now, God bless them.  All of them collectively have not had the influence on my career as one single detested teacher that I had in the eighth grade, circa 1949-50.  Miss O’Mara was pure and unadulterated evil and she disliked and distrusted kids.  She found fault with girls who all their lives had always been teachers’ pets.  These were fresh faced girls who always completed all of their school work and earned good grades.  They came to school wearing pretty dresses each day with tiny triangular handkerchiefs pinned to the dresses, but even they could not escape the wrath of O’Mara, and they were often brought to tears.  If she found fault with them, I was red meat for O’Mara.

Suffice to say that O’Mara made my life so miserable each and every day in her class room that I would begin vomiting on Sunday nights knowing that the first two periods each Monday would commence with me standing alongside my desk while O’Mara laced into me about the quality of my work, my haircuts or my physical appearance in general.  She even got me a conduct card to be signed by each of my teachers after each class, and ultimately by one of my parents. Those cards were usually reserved for kids with disciplinary problems, one of which I certainly was not.

I know that my classmates felt bad because of the abuse that O’Mara heaped on me, but in doing so, I kept the spot light off them for the most part, and for that they were probably grateful, but the rest is grist for another short story.

I think that you might be starting to see the irony of how the evil and totally destructive and negative Miss O’Mara had the greatest positive influence on me, even more than any of the other wonderful teachers I knew.  By the way, she would be turning in her grave if she knew that the likes of me had become a teacher.  What wonderful revenge!

With O’Mara constantly in my mind, I vowed that I would never humiliate a student of mine, and make education so unbearable as to make them physically ill in anticipation of going to her class. So thank you Miss O’Mara. I can’t say that you didn’t leave many of us scarred in your infamy.  I know that you did in my case, but you also made me better person, and better professionally.

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If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

As a child I would listen with interest to many adults as they speculated about how different things would be for them today if they only knew then what they know now. Implicit in such speculation was an admission in every case that somewhere in the past the decisions or choices that they made in their youth were responsible for the negativity of their lives in the present. They truly believed that those long ago decisions were responsible for failed personal relationships, abbreviated educations, or perhaps dead-end careers and the list goes on.  Of course there is no way of knowing if those people could really go back in time, if they were given some sort of an H.G. Wells time machine, that they really would take advantage of it.  Would they make totally different choices, which would cause them to lead entirely different and more satisfying lives?

It’s my guess, based on what I know of human nature, the changes that they would make would have minimal effect on their lives.  Of course they would not put their hand in the fire this time, or try to jump over that three foot picket fence which resulted in a trip to the emergency room the last time.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  This time would they strictly and without protest follow the advice of their elders, their parents, or teachers?   Even those advising them had more than likely ignored the advice of their elders when they were young?

The American hard-drinking comedian, W. C. Fields, was asked the same question.  What would he do differently if he could go back or if he could live his life over?  The reporter who asked the question did so because he knew that Field’s bouts with inebriation were legendary and that on more than one occasion the police or friends were called upon to get Fields home.  Fields thought about it for a second and then he answered.  “If I had my life to live over, I’d live it over a bar.” In a period of lucidity Fields was admitting that very little would change even if he could have a redo, but this time at least he could spare his friends and the police.

A more discouraging example of how humanity never learns from its mistakes even as individuals don’t is that even when we actually do have the opportunity to correct our mistakes and makes things better, we don’t.  What did we learn from World War I to be sure that there would never be a World War II?  We have gone back to give wars names as we have done historically.  The Korean War, the Viet Nam War. There’s no need for me to continue.  You get it.

Having said all that, what advice would I give myself if I could go back in time in order for me to avoid the mistakes that I made as a young man?  I would probably say the usual things such as pay attention in school, don’t be influenced by the bad acts of others and don’t behave in a way that would embarrass your parents.  Those were the things that were told to me.  I understood what was being said to me and I ignored that advice because I had to learn on my own. I am fairly certain that I would probably behave in the same way that I had in the past because I would still believe that I had to experience things myself despite the best intentions of those who were concerned for me.  In my case the mistakes I made have brought me to where I am now and have made me the person that I am so I believe that even though I did not always take the smoothest road everything I did has brought me to where I am today, has made me wiser and has made me a better person.  So if I knew that the young man to whom I was speaking was to ignore the advice that I was giving but would turn out the better for it, I would be content to allow him to follow his own path.

 

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Get to Know Me: Nick Bilotti…

The seven years between the ages of thirteen and nineteen is a crucial time for young men and young women.  It’s a time when parents relinquish, sometimes reluctantly, the complete autonomy that they had over their children, and their children have no choice but to find a way to live for the next sixty or seventy years in a world for which many of them are unprepared.

Those years were perhaps the most desperate years of my life and my book begins at that precise moment, when as a seventeen year old I believed that most people my age were now at a cross road.  I knew that their futures, successful or unsuccessful, would depend on whether they chose the correct road, but I didn’t see that choice for myself.  Rather than a cross road, at seventeen, I believed that I was at a dead end.

Failing grades in school, and deception of family and friends caused me to see the military as the only way out.  There I could hide and allow the army to order my life.  My only responsibility would be to follow orders and allow fate to rule my life.  I would allow the “chips to fall where they may.”

I could not have known that fate, or a guardian angel, call it what you may, would not let me off the hook that easy.  I surely have thought about it all and I have no real answers, only conjecture. A series of unlikely events, which are still inexplicable to me more than seventy years later, threw a life preserver to me. When the swells of life caused me to not see them, other life preservers were thrown my way.  Is it that someone up there likes me, or is that we are all offered redemption in some form?  I liken it to the story of the God fearing man caught in the flood on the roof of his house who turned down first a boat, and then refused a helicopter offered by rescuers because he believed God would cause the waters to recede and save him.  After he drowned he blamed God for his demise, and God answered, I sent you a boat and then a helicopter, and both times you refused, and now you blame me.

When opportunity is offered it’s up to us not to squander it, and if we do, do not blame everyone else for our own bad choices.

So years later, and as an octogenarian, I felt compelled to tell my story and the events and the characters many of them memorable in their eccentricities.  Not to share this story would be such a waste for anyone with the slightest interest in the human condition.

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