Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dear Miss Cottrill

This happened to me in Grade 1 or Grade 2, at Ridgeview School, in Brampton, Ontario. I don't remember my Grade 1 teacher's name at this moment, but I do recall that Miss Cottrill was my Grade 2 teacher, so let's just say that it happened in Grade 2.

We were doing phonics, and we had just studied the "sw" sound. Our teacher gave everyone a sheet of unlined paper, and told us to fold it in quarters. Then we unfolded the sheet. In each of the four quarters, we were supposed to draw a picture of a word that started with "sw", and then write the word.

I don't remember the first three pictures I drew, but do remember that I had trouble thinking of a fourth word. Finally I thought of "swear." I took four colored crayons, and with each crayon I drew one letter of a four-letter word. Yes, thatkind of four-letter word. And I really was that naive and innocent. We didn't use those kinds of words in our family, but I knew what they were, and I didn't see any problem with using the word as an illustrative example in a cold and clinical environment like a school assignment.

I outlined each letter with a black crayon, wrote the word "swear" in the square, and submitted my finished assignment.

That afternoon, while we were quietly working on something else, Miss Cottrill took advantage of the slack time to review and grade our phonics assignments. I was rather proud of my artwork -- all of it, not just the "swear" illustration -- and I was hoping for a good grade.

Not that I was watching her or anything, but suddenly I heard Miss Cottrill gasp. It was more like a yelp - an audible and shrill intake of breath, anyway. I looked up from whatever I was doing to see her examining my paper, then I went back to my work.

The next day she handed back the graded assignments. I didn't get mine. Afterwards, I went to her desk and asked if I could have mine back. She said, "no." She wasn't mean about it, but she didn't give me an explanation.

I've always wondered what happened to that assignment. Did she burn it to ashes in a puritanical fervor? Did she show it to the principal and ask for his advice, and he told her not to worry about it? Did she post it on the bulletin board in the staff room, for the other teachers' amusement? Did she put it in her scrapbook of "crazy things that happened to me during my career as a public school teacher?" Did she talk to my parents about it? And were they scandalized, or did they laugh it off?

One of these days, I'll write about the time in 8th grade when I used a word that had a double-entendre I didn't even know about, and how it got me in trouble anyway.

No comments: