I don't remember much about Miss Hatch, except for her silver hair and red dagger fingernails. Her first name, like the name of her school, evaporated from memory long ago.
Miss Hatch was my second-grade teacher, a teacher who caught me in an educational safety net before I fell too far.Shortly before I started second grade, we moved to Massachusetts. On the first day of school, I discovered that it wasn't only my Western twang that separated me from classmates whose speech dropped "r's" right and left.
I was far behind in my school work. Even though I had sailed through the first grade in Utah, my peers at the Winthrop, Mass., elementary school had already academically passed me.
So I was introduced early to remedial work. Every recess, every day after school for an entire semester I stayed at my desk, working on the reading, spelling and math lessons that Miss Hatch designed especially for me. Like most seven-year-olds, I would rather have been outside enjoying a New England fall than stuck with Miss Hatch in a dingy basement school room.
I resented it so much that when my grandmother asked how I liked school I went on and on about mean, old Miss Hatch, whose hatred of me came through loud and clear with all extra work.
My dad had an entirely different opinion of mean, old Miss Hatch. She was going out of her way to HELP me, he said. While she could be taking a break or going home on time, Miss Hatch too was stuck in that schoolroom, working with me, making sure I succeeded. It worked. By the second semester, I had caught up.
This memory surfaced the other day as I sat in the Senate Public Education Standing Committee. The committee sent to the Senate a bill that would rescind a 1988 law requiring remediation for seventh and eighth graders.
For years, state law required students in grades 9-12 to remediate for failing grades, but the 1988 version added seventh and eighth graders to the requirement of competency in English, social studies, math and science.
School superintendents said requiring remediation for the intermediate grades is causing real problems.
They said it's difficult to hold back kids who are already undergoing a tremendous emotional upheaval in those transition years between elementary school and high school. In addition, parents are refusing to pay the fees for remediation classes.
Associate Superintendent David West of the Murray School District later told me that the law affecting intermediate grades doesn't allow for flexibility and that causes scheduling problems for child and school alike.
For example, if a seventh-grade student failed first-semester English but passed the second semester, he would still be required to take a semester of English before advancing to eighth-grade English. Scheduling problems arise if he won't take a remedial class.
West said Murray is working hard to conform to the letter of the law. Students are encouraged to take remedial classes immediately after receiving the failing grade.
But despite the encouragement and the availability of after-school remedial classes, only 40 percent of Murray students who failed the core subjects last fall have signed up for remedial work this winter.
Some parents flatly refuse to pay the remediation fee. But it isn't excessive. The cost per class is $30, which can be waived in cases of financial hardship, if the parents fill out the proper forms.
I can understand the school district's plight. I can also see the social problems with holding back children and the concerns of parents.
But I wonder about the message we're giving when remediation becomes an option. Students learn early that they can always get by, regardless of their effort. When they reach high school, they're unprepared.
Educators are the first to say that poor school performance is an important factor in the high school dropout rate.
Maybe what we need more than a law is an overhaul in our attitude about remediation. It isn't punishment. As my dad once told me, it's help that can lead to success.