July 8, 2020:

The caliber of the teachers was undeniably less.

I felt it immediately, without having the vocabulary. In the County the teachers loved me, gave me advanced books to read, took time to talk to me, and turned the other way when I climbed the fence to play tetherball with the older boys. In the City Schools the teachers were time servers. They were clock-punchers and bureaucrats, laser-focused on maintaining discipline to the exclusion of learning.

There's an irony to the change because both my third grade teachers were named Mrs. Nichols. A symmetry, where the coincidence of their names opens an inevitable comparison.

Mrs. Nichols of the County was brilliant. She was patient, encouraging, friendly, impressed with my advanced reading skills and perfectly happy to give me books usually reserved for the higher grades. Half way through third grade I'd read the sixth grade textbooks and she was giving me novels from the library. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Wrinkle in Time and other interesting things because of her.

Mrs. Nichols of the City Schools was sour, sarcastic, unhappy, and all about not breaking rules. When I told her I'd read Island of the Blue Dolphins she called me a liar. When I was being silly during group singing she made me sing solo, an admirable way to encourage young people to never sing again. She hated The Beatles, hated long hair on boys, and I think genuinely missed the days when corporal punishment was legal.

This carried through to the end. Even the elite teachers in the gifted program were less skillful, less patient, more authoritarian, and less effective than the average teachers in the County. I have no explanation, merely observing the fact.