When I was in third grade, my teacher was Mrs. French. She was a bit younger and flashier than most of the other teachers at my elementary school. She was very tan, with a classic 80’s perm. She liked to wear gold jewelry. She seemed to treat the boys nicer than the girls. In addition to her flashy dress, she also could show flashes of anger.
I remember turning as red as a tomato in the face over what I call the “dirty neck incident.” I’m not sure if it was really part of the curriculum to lift the collars of students and look for dirt, but as we were getting ready to go to recess or lunch one day, we were all lined up so Mrs. French could do her inspection. Now, I was the fairly typical kid in that I didn’t jump for joy when it was time to take a bath, but once I was surrounded by bubbles via the pretty pink Mr. Bubbles bottle, and had my toys and soap crayons to play with, I was fine. Also, my mom is a bit of a clean freak. So I doubt that it looked like coal had been rubbed on my neck. Still, Mrs. French wrinkled her nose and said, “You need to wash your neck better.”
I mumbled something about washing my neck last night when I got a bath and slunk away from her grip. I’m sure other kids got cited as “dirty” as well, but I don’t remember. By the time I got home, I was almost in tears and told Mom about the incident. I think she was most upset that her cleaning skills would be called into question. I remember my mom scrubbing my neck that night until it turned as red as my face earlier that day.
Dad, who had plenty of run-ins with mean teachers via the nuns who used to hit his knuckles with a ruler, had a different mindset. “Why is the teacher worried about their necks? Isn’t she supposed to be teaching the kids reading and writing and arithmetic?” I had to side with Dad on this one. Sure, good hygiene is important, but since Dad did manual labor all of his life, a clean neck was not a top priority for earning a living.