The Linear Canvas
This journal is about the wrongs and rights of the world, as I see them.

The Linear Canvas

I Survived…Miss Littler

September 10th, 2010 . by Alexander Fisher

Third Grade_Littler_66_67 When I think about being in elementary school in the late 1960’s, being in Miss Littler’s third grade class immediately comes to mind. That experience always seems to dominate my memories of those years.

Miss Littler was a very proper and clean woman. I mean that in a good way. She was always well dressed and always had her hair done. She wore what we called cat-eye glasses and seemed cheerful on the surface. But underneath was a driven woman who had a plan to help her students succeed in her class whether they wanted to or not. Sometimes those that paid for her behavior were third grade kids.

I have no idea how she became the kind of teacher that she was. When I was in second grade, I had seen Miss Littler. The third grade was on the second floor so I only saw her in passing. I obviously didn’t have the choice of my home room teacher, but I had heard Mrs. Ridenour was nice, so I guess I was hoping for her. No one I knew had Miss Littler before. (no survivors?) You could only hope for nice, the alternative was not pleasant.

On the first day of school, when I found out that I was to be in Miss Littler’s class, I was a little disappointed but not shocked at all. Miss Littler had grown up north of town, so she was local girl, way back then. As far as I know she was never married, but I didn’t know her too well. My employer in high school, Mr. Francis, told me that Carrie Littler had attended his high school which didn’t exist anymore. I would guess that she was around fifty years old at the time. She was always well dressed with nice shoes. She wasn’t a terribly attractive woman, but she was so well groomed, I respected her for that.

In the beginning as we settled into our new classroom, with our new teacher, nothing seemed out of place. I scanned the classroom to see if there were any new kids or ones that I had never shared a classroom with. Our class work seemed a bit thorough that morning, but I figured she would back off a little later in the day. I was sure she would take a moment, say something funny or ask a few non-school questions of the students. By recess time, that hadn’t happened yet.

No Recess for You…

Recess for all third graders was coming up soon. I couldn’t wait to get out there and talk to all my new and old classmates about the rush that the day had been so far. When the recess bell finally rang I felt a sense of relief as myself and my classmates rose to our feet simultaneously. We had been conditioned to do this when the bell rang for two plus years now.

Immediately, as though she was prepared, Miss Littler announced to everyone that she was not done with the lesson and we were all to return to our seats until she was finished!


The air went completely out of the room as a moment of dead silence fell over my classmates and me, followed by a series of groans. Never had anyone ever had this happen before. Kindergarten through second grade, no other teachers that any of us had or knew of, had ever uttered those words before. We sat back down.

Without missing a beat, she continued on with the lesson she had been giving before she was interrupted. The class work lasted for a few more minutes. Minutes that lasted an eternity. As the door was still open, you could see the other new third graders walking orderly by on their way to the playground. Noticing that she had lost our attention, Miss Littler slowly walked to the door, closing it slowly, and continued the lesson throughout. You could now only see the teachers heads pass by the windows at the top of the door and hear muffled footsteps. I always thought that this was maybe pre-planned. She knew what we would see and hear and she seemed a little too calm about it. Finally when she was finished she told us we could line up to go outside to play.

We had missed about five minutes of play time. Games were underway already, swings were taken, there was a long line at the sliding board and all the new exciting kids were all swept up by the other’s that got there first. We all felt a little shell shocked, but at least we were outside now.  A few of us talked about what had just occurred, but none of us suspected at this point it would reoccur.

When we returned to the classroom after recess, Miss Littler began her lesson plan again. Before long it was time for lunch. We all knew that the lines formed by classrooms. When the bell rang some hesitated, but she allowed us to proceed to line up to move to the cafeteria. I suspect the other teachers would have been affected by us being late. The inconvenience of stopping her lesson was probably tempered by the crap she got in the teacher’s lounge for being late to the lunch line. So other than being late for recess, all was still well. But it was early yet.

As we made it back from lunch, we settled in for what would be a long afternoon. Miss Littler began our lesson plan and never let up, one activity after another. It did make the time go faster and I was doing well with the assignments and activities. Having forgotten about that morning’s recess issue, when the bell rang for afternoon recess, we all got up to go outside. Once again we were told to sit back down. Again she closed the door as our friends who had the luck to not have Miss Littler, were all on their way outside for recess.

There was a clear pattern emerging. At this point we were not sure how long this would keep going on. At the end of that day, when the time came to go home, the same thing happened again. We were kept after school an extra five minutes or so. Again I saw the other students walking past our open door. Once again Miss Littler closed it as she continued the lesson.

This time though I could see all of the students who had just left the building through the windows, milling about on the street. Some were crossing the streets on their way home. Some were waiting on busses. We were still sitting in the classroom completing Miss Littler’s agenda for the day. By the time she let us out, there were only a handful of students still left around the school. Most of them were waiting for the bus. I wonder if they had to run a special Miss Littler route for all the kids that missed their bus because of her. She had probably only picked children for her class that didn’t ride the bus. Or they were kept out of her class the best they could by the principal fearing parental outrage. As we left school, you could hear students complaining and because of her name, calling her Miss Hitler, and worse.

I can’t imagine what some parents thought when their bundle of joy third grader didn’t come home on time that day. Certainly after the first week, they expected it as that happened almost all year. There were days when she let us go to recess on time and there were a few days she let us go home on time. I believe I remember those days specifically because there were so few of them.

Back to the Past

One thing Miss Littler did not like were students that didn’t measure up to her standard in some way. I really can’t explain that any better. There was a girl in my class that didn’t seem to measure up to that standard and within a few weeks, she had sent her back to second grade. I had never heard of anyone being returned to the previous grade for any reason. This was new to all of us. Not even older kids I knew had seen that before. I was a little perplexed. This girl had successfully navigated second grade, got the grades to pass it, and now had to do it again?

Had it happened just once, that would have already been too many. But another student was sent back to second grade a few weeks later. This time a boy was having problems with her and I remember thinking she was picking on him. I didn’t know the whole story, but the part I was seeing wasn’t convincing me of anything else. He would become so upset that he would throw up, and often. My third grader mind initially thought they sent him back only because he threw up so much. Obviously there was more to it than that.

I have talked to both individuals and both were still angry over their treatment so long ago. I know it had to be embarrassing for them. I remember being shocked for them. It was no laughing matter to me or anyone I knew.

Punctured Poison Ice Cubes

Because Miss Littler was so used to keeping us after class for her lesson plan, she had no problems using the same as punishment for individuals or even the whole class. One day during a time when we were completing a project in groups, someone was supposedly in the supply closet going through things without Miss Littler’s permission. When the projects were finished we all went back to our seats. Not long afterwards, Miss Littler appeared in front of the class with an angry look on her face. She wanted to know immediately who had punctured her ice cubes.

Most everyone was taken aback by the fact you could puncture ice cubes and had no clue what she was talking about. Luckily she went on to explain that they were like a paraffin wax outside with some kind of industrial strength liquid that would freeze in them. Then you could put the “fun” shapes into children’s cold drinks. She also told us that she valued them because the FDA had banned them because they found the fluid would leak out of the wax poisoning the children. And now she wanted retribution. Never mind that she just admitted she had fun shaped poisonous objects in her closet.

She said that while in the closet, an unknown person had fondled them and punctured the ice cubes with a sharpened pencil. I made the fondling part up, but I know she was thinking it. She said none of us could go home until that person came forward. I remember there were a few people that had to leave and she let them go. The rest of us sat at our desks with no restroom break for the duration. During that time she alternately graded papers and tried to get the guilty party to step forward. Somewhere between thirty and forty-five minutes later, a boy finally stood up and admitted his deed.

It’s funny I never believed him. I felt immediately that he was taking one for the team. I am probably wrong about that, but I’ll always remember that feeling I had. He certainly would not have been my prime suspect. At that she dismissed the rest of us. What became of the incident I am unsure.

Recognition Day

Throughout that year I just dealt with the shortened recess times. I hardly ever got to walk home with my friends in the other grades and classes. I wasn’t ever too afraid of Miss Littler, but I always wished I was in another class.

At my school, at the end of the year there was a ceremony where they gave out awards, mainly for attendance and grades. As we all sat in the bleachers, I looked over to my left at Miss Littler and I noticed she was crying. I know that she was crying because she would miss all of us. But in my one year older, one year wiser mind, I really thought at that moment that she was crying only because she would miss torturing us on a daily basis.

I Survived

I survived Miss Littler because I was a good student and truthfully, she was a good teacher. I made the honor roll all year long including getting an award for doing so that last day. I never liked her methods. I just think they were too extreme for most third graders. But it worked for me.

Miss Littler just passed away a few years ago. I thought about writing this then, but I thought I’d wait a while. I don’t remember her saying or doing anything to me all that year, that was undeserved. I told my mother some of this story once and she said she never knew any of it. It seemed like a pretty uneventful time to her, and really, me too. The people who knew her after she retired all described her as a nice little old lady. That she was also described as tiny shocked me. I saw her as near six foot tall back then. I was told she was not much over five feet tall if that. Obviously fear affects your vision in the third grade.

When I returned from summer vacation to the fourth grade, I looked at the classroom assignments. My new teacher was going to be Mrs. Ridenour. She had switched to fourth grade for this new school year. I finally got her as a teacher, but a year later than I had hoped.


My Music

I really liked being in the third grade no matter what it sounds like. I wrote and recorded a song called Playground Days that in my mind I was describing the third grade me, minus Miss Littler. You can hear it at the link below.

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