The Turch and Other Mistakes

Neither age nor time has changed my opinion of Mrs. Gladwill.

I will go to my grave believing that my first grade teacher actually took pleasure in torturing little kids.

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this: at age six, when I watched the movie The Wizard of Oz for the first time, I was convinced that the Wicked Witch of the West had taken lessons from Mrs. Gladwill.

Horrible memories from first grade still haunt me:

  • Being put in the corner because it was easier to move me rather than the kids around me who were cheating;
  • Wetting my pants because Mrs. Gladwill believed that if you didn’t use lunch or recess to relieve yourself, you didn’t plan appropriately;
  • Going to school with the mumps because I didn’t want my name to be written on the upper right hand corner of the chalkboard for being absent;
  • Getting caught going to school with the mumps, being blamed for infecting most of the kids in my class, and having my name written on the upper right hand corner of the chalkboard anyway.

The list goes on and on. But nothing compares to the horror I felt for making my first mistake on a school assignment.

Up to that point, I though school was too easy. So, when Mrs. Gladwill gave her class a worksheet with rows of pictures and told us to circle everything that began with the letters ch, I scoffed at such a simple task. While my peers studied the worksheet and labored  over the choices, I took more time selecting which crayon to use than I did actually circling the pictures: a chairs, cherries; checkers, a chicken, cheese and a few other items. I raised my hand, turned in my paper and took pleasure in being the first in my class to complete the assignment.

What I never anticipated was getting the paper back the next day with a big red circle around the picture of a church and an even bigger -1 at the top of the page.

I was so astonished, I forgot to be afraid of Mrs. Gladwill. I actually reached out and tugged on her sleeve.

“You made a mistake,” I blurted out in my moment of disbelief,

I immediately regretted my words.

Mrs. Gladwill turned around with a look that said “I never make mistakes.” Her  lack of words, however, gave me the opportunity I needed.

“You circled the turch,” I said. “Turch doesn’t begin with ch, It begins with T.”

For the first time in my life, an adult looked at me as though I was stupid.

“CHurch,” Mrs. Gladwill said emphasizing the ch sound, “begins with ch.”

And that was the end of our discussion. But it wasn’t the end of my disbelief.

I took the offending paper home to show my mother, who, to my amazement, sided with Mrs. Gladwill.

I was stunned. We went to turch almost every Sunday. When I talked about turch, it definitely started with a T.  And that’s how others people said it too. I couldn’t have been saying and hearing it wrong.

And yet, according to my mother and to Mrs Gladwill, I had been.

The day my mother convinced me that turch wasn’t a word was quite possibly the most humbling day of my life. My world was turned upside down because I realized that the way I perceived it wasn’t always accurate. That was the most important lesson I learned in first grade.

It’s also one of which I am regularly reminded.

Just the other day, I discovered that yet another person I knew had died of a drug overdose, and, once again, people took to social media to disparage her. There were comments about how she used the money she got from being on welfare to buy drugs. There were comments about her deserving to die if she did drugs. There were even comments that the world was better off with one less drug user.

And for every one of those comments, someone who knew would point out that she wasn’t on welfare – she had a job. They would point out that she was a kind soul who went out of her way to help others. They would say that she had a family who loved her. That seemed to fall on deaf ears.

The people who were making the negative, hateful comments were doing exactly what I did as a first grader – only instead of insisting that the word church starts with a T, they were insisting that there is only one type of person who dies of a drug overdose. Based on their judgemental comments, the only thing that will change their mind is when someone they know and care about dies of an overdose.

I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – just as I wouldn’t wish any child has a horrible teacher like Mrs. Gladwill. But there is something to be said for negative experiences.  They teach us valuable lessons; they help us develop new skills; they give us a new perspective; and, hopefully, every once in a while, they teach us humility.

Mrs. Gladwill died ten years ago at the age of 94. When my mother sent me her obituary, all those negative feelings from first grade came rushing back. But something else came back as well: a memory of my mother telling me that the smartest people make a lot of mistakes in life. The difference between them and others is that they always learn from them.

Thanks Mom. And (I say this with a great deal of hesitancy) thanks also, Mrs. Gladwill.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on May 6, 2018, in education, My life, people, perspective and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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