Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bronxville Days, Part 6

Miss Goldstein had taken over a class of sixth-graders at P.S. 8 late in the fall of 1960, just after the sudden departure of Mrs. Macarber. The explanation at the time, at least around the schoolyard, was that the latter teacher had "flipped out," but that was not exactly the case. Her mental problems were more probably deep-rooted.

Mrs. Macarber had a thing about wasting paper. She encouraged her students to write on both sides of their composition sheets and to save pieces of paper with blank sides for "scrap." But as the school year progressed, desks began to bulge with the hoarded scrap paper. Our teacher began to insist that papers with even a few square inches of blank space be saved for future use. By November, she refused to allow anything to be put in the waste cans, not even used tissues. Eraser crumbs and pencil shavings had good second uses, she insisted. Her classroom became a recycling nightmare.

Mrs. McCarver had a thick head of hair, wavy and dyed red. She would often sit for minutes at a time at her desk, her furrowed brow resting in one palm while the other hand massaged the nape of her neck as we sat silently, awaiting instructions. Then she would suddenly leap to her feet and begin to accuse us of secretly using other waste cans in the building to dispose of perfectly good paper, and of conspiring against her. That's when the school board stepped in.

It did not take Miss Goldstein long to figure out that Mrs. Macarber's madness might have been hastened by her pupils. She found them to be spoiled, unruly and incorrigible, but that made them no different than any other sixth-graders. What bothered her most was an eerie sense that these students were much worse; that what flowed in her classroom was an undercurrent of cruelty.

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