Social media can be exasperating but it does allow me to stay in touch with former teaching peers and students…all from the comfort of my den and recliner.
A student I had not interacted with for a while chimed in on a post and brought a huge smile to my face. I spent the day thinking of square and round pegs and the holes they don’t fit into.
She was a slender, wisp of a girl. Cute, with long dark hair and large matching brown eyes behind huge dark-framed glasses. Dressed in her school uniform she looked just like any of the twenty or so students that met in my geography class. I’m sure if she had been allowed to wear clothes of her own choosing, she might have dressed as a neo-hippy or in goth black. She was a square peg in a class of round holes.
The classes were small, and the course of study was anything I wanted to make of it. I had died and gone to teacher nirvana. There were no standards to teach to, no end of course testing to prepare them for. For a teacher on the backend of his career, it was almost like being semi-retired…almost.
I had been employed to teach geography and with carte blanche, I decided to make it cultural geography focusing more on the who and what than the where of geography. Project-based; it would allow students controlled by the right side of their brains to express their creativity. It would also provide great opportunities for “controlled” arguments. I found her often to be in a not so silent minority as I attempted to control arguments that ran wildly off the rails.
She was a square peg in a world full of round holes in a class filled with round pegs. We had just started up a new charter school, a “middle college” program that allowed students to take dual credit, giving them the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and a college associate degree. Free college credit…well, free on the taxpayer’s dime and Warren Buffet seed money.
The makeup of the school was interesting, to say the least. Former homeschoolers, Christian schoolers, and malcontents crushed into the melting pot that was my geography class. More than once I found myself on the left side of discussions even though I considered myself middle of the road.
I had a suspicion most of my students thought I might be standing shoulder to shoulder with Karl Marx when all I was attempting was to get them to realize that most arguments had two sides. My little square peg was definitely on the left side of the arguments.
As I thought about her, I realized, I really like the kids that tended to wander down their paths of life. Remember, “all who wander are not lost”, and you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you are going. As I have grown older I found I related better to the “lost on purpose” folks than to those who were in lockstep together.
I didn’t always think that way. My early days of teaching as I did “on the job training” were a different time, a time when history and social studies were equal parts course of study and propaganda. We were still carrying around the pre-Watergate and Cold War “My Country! Right or Wrong” baggage. The culture was changing but the old status quo was holding on with a death grip…and still is.
We didn’t seem to care much about modes of learning or personality profiles in my early career. In those days we tended to try and knock the edges off the square pegs and force them into “our” round holes using our five-pound hammers and wooden paddles. Thankfully those days have passed…they’ve passed, right?
As I talked to a mentor about one of my early square pegs, she schooled me, “They think with the right side of the brain and are not always logical to those of us controlled by our left side. If we can get them out of high school, they will do fine.” I think Mrs. Leatherwood was on to something.
As I look back on my own evolution, I find that it was those square pegs that made teaching interesting…more interesting. They brought a refreshing breeze into the classroom…and outside it too. The little boy who tried to fly his hang glider off the hill at the football stadium, the crazy smart kid who came up with a plan to “streak” the “halls of education” his senior year (It was nipped in the bud before it came to fruition, saving his career). Even the ones who filled a fifty-gallon trashcan on top of the gym foyer before painting it as a Budweiser beer can.
Inside the classroom, they were more comfortable with art and poetry than the Third Law of Thermodynamics. They were the headbangers or want to be actors. As painful as their creativity could be, it was refreshing. Many times, I was forced to be the disciplinarian when what I really wanted to do was laugh.
For clarification, I enjoyed my little right-wing fascist too, and honestly tried to be a mediator rather than an indoctrinator. I tried to argue both sides of arguments and reframed from making my political stances known…some things you just can’t hide though.
As I texted back and forth, I realized my little square peg would never wish to go back to her high school days. Part of me thought it was a shame, another part of me is cheering her on. I would not want to return to my high school days either.
My mentor, Mrs. Leatherwood, was correct, my little square peg is simply fine in the world she is making for herself. Throwing clay and making art in her off-hours, she is still a square peg in a world of round holes, but she seems comfortable with it. I’m sure she will face many forks on her path and not always make the right choice. But I think she is comfortable with the making of mistakes all humans make. See, all who wander are not lost.
Thanks for the smile you left me with.
Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who has taken up the art of writing badly in his retirement. His author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR350Q1Jn0cOSjibk-4UScnGT9xKCp27KjrSuWxp1RymNShmpgGq04zrDF8