Middle School

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“This isn’t Jr. High,” you hear, when someone’s being petty, immature, irrational, and petulant. But what about when it was Jr. High? I recently had cause to ponder this very question after this picture appeared on Facebook:

I'm the one in the red shirt

Out of the myriad comments this picture got, I think this one sums it up best:

Where did you find this? Where was this and why is Shelby holding a giant pot?

This, my dear readers, was the Calle Mayor Middle School Chorus in Torrance, California, circa Christmas 1984. Oh yeah. We are performing a song about fruitcake in which the words of the song describe fruitcake ingredients and how it’s made. Fake fruitcake ingredients were placed into the pot I was holding until the end of the song, when I triumphantly pulled out a real fruitcake. End scene. This blog has videos of their school’s chorus singing the song–ours wasn’t nearly as elaborate.

This picture brought me right back to 6th grade, and I wasn’t the only one. 21 people with Facebook accounts were tagged in the picture and there are 71 comments, nearly all of them about the same thing–our music teacher, Mrs. Thelma Sanborn.

To understand the impact Mrs. Sanborn had on the lives of most of those kids in the red shirts, it’s important to note that there were two elementary schools that fed into our middle school. Mrs. Sanborn was the music teacher who floated between the two schools, and then moved up to middle school when we did and taught there. I had Mrs. Sanborn as my music teacher from Kindergarten through 8th grade, and in middle school she was my Social Studies teacher as well.

We loved Mrs. Sanborn. All of us. The comments on the picture kept coming in–remember when she taught us how to dance to Hot Butter Popcorn? Or how all of us can recite the states in alphabetical order thanks to Fifty Nifty? Or the tragic, yet uplifting story of El Senor Don Gato (meow meow meow)? Or when we went to Knott’s Berry Farm to sing at Christmastime?

And other comments too, like “Thelma was a positive in my not so positive young life,” and “Many, many fond memories–probably the only fond memories of middle school!”

And I thought, what is it about middle school (or junior high, for you junior high-ers) that makes it so awful? So awful that when adults are acting abominably in social situations we remind them that we are no longer there anymore? Because yeah, Mrs. Sanborn was a bright light for me in what I remember to be a dark time. That was when I was ostracized from the small group of friends I’d had since elementary school. And not just ostracized in my head, either–I would get passed notes in class that read “Stop eating lunch with us you bitch.” Okay, I get what you’re saying. Sheesh.

Great glasses!

At the time it felt like I was the only one who didn’t fit in. Everyone else had friends, it seemed. I tried to be fashionable but my glasses were too big for my face and my clothes weren’t quite right and my hair was always greasy. I attended the strangest slumber party of my life and then was never invited to another one (what did I do wrong???). My grades dropped. I felt terrible about myself. There I was, alone in a sea of much cooler people with good friends and good hair and good social lives. And the only highlight of my day? Chorus with Mrs. Sanborn.

Mrs. Sanborn (who is alive and well, by the way–I just realized this post kind of makes it sound like she’s dead) was such a positive influence. She was so warm and friendly and understanding. Even though I couldn’t sing my way out of a paper bag (still can’t), she gave me solos to perform so I could be in the spotlight I so desperately craved. She made me feel like I was her favorite student–the best one she’d ever had.

And now, a quarter of a century after that picture was taken, someone puts it up on Facebook and I finally realize–maybe I wasn’t the only one. Maybe everyone else had a crummy time in middle school too. And maybe Mrs. Sanborn made us all feel like we were her favorite student, the best one she’d ever had. Maybe everyone else was walking around in their own little lonely bubble too. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, thank you Mrs. Sanborn. You were my favorite teacher, the best one I ever had.

The Scrivener

PS. Any CMMS alum who happens to swing by–if you want to see a video of what I look like now, check out my stroller review here.