8/17/2009




The legend of Mrs. Kitrosser

One of the the things about Google, not to mention Facebook or USSearch.com, is that you can spend hours looking up people from your past to see what happened to them.
Most people have become easy to find, sooner or later. If they weren't on Friendster, they're on Facebook. And usually they're somewhere in cyberspace if you Google them.
But I have never located my exhuberant and kind of strange eighth grade humanities teacher, Mrs. Kitrosser.
I always wonder what happened to her. It seems like she came out of nowhere that year. And well, so did I.

Holmdel, N.J.

That was the year my parents were getting divorced and my mom moved us to a house for rent Holmdel. The place had a reputation for being snooty, but My mom always wanted a "better" school system for us. In fact, she moved us a number of times, claiming that was the reason. (Ever see the movie "Slums of Beverly Hills? That was my life, only in NJ...we lived in hotels for several months too.)
Anyway, the development we moved to was the only one in Holmdel we could afford: Old Manor, a withered section of town full of knotty trees and jittery squirrels. It was the first time I'd lived in a house older than 25 years, and the first time the trees in the yard were more than saplings.
It was July when we moved there, and I was still in summer camp. There was a girl from Holmdel in my group, Jill, so I told her we had just moved to told a house in Old Manor. She said, gesturing with her hands, "Well, we live in a 'nicer area'..." I smiled along with her because I knew what she meant. But looking back, that's kind of a crappy thing to say. 
During every move, I always had that one flash of optimism when setting up my room, because I realized these were new kids, a new school, and who knew what could happen. Plus, a new house meant new space to explore. One tree in the back yard had two branches that were level with each other, about eight feet up. My little brother and I put a board across them and we sat in that tree for hours. My first semblance of a tree house! I'd only seen them on TV.
Little did I know that at Holmdel Intermediate School, I'd be largely isolated.  The only girl who sort of became a friend at Holmdel was in my Creative Arts class. She was named Karen as well, and got picked on worse than I did. The other kids found her a bit too serious. She was very into poetry, band, and chorus. She started "going out" with (I don't think they went anywhere) a boy who also got picked on, Phil. He was also in the band, also a poet. As far as my friends, Karen was it, but I never saw her after school.
There was another girl who was nice to me. She lived near Old Manor and wore black heavy metal t-shirts. Her name was Sarah. She was kind of nice, and she was at my table in my horrible art class, where the worst snobs were. One day, she invited me to go to the mall after school with her. I mumbled that I had an orthodontist appointment. The truth was, I was afraid. I didn't have money like these girls, and I didn't actually know what to DO at the mall if you didn't have money to spend. Later, I heard Sarah's friend say to her, "You're only nice to her because you feel bad for her." 

You're gonna burn

But the oddest time was during my class called Humanities.
I didn't know what Humanities was supposed to be. When I walked into the room, something was different. None of the honors kids from my other classes were there. I looked around frantically for Rob L. or Buck R. or April M., the class president. Even when they were snooty to me, at least they behaved. But not the kids in Humanities.
How, I wondered, did I end up in this period instead of the one with the other honors kids? Just bad luck.
The teacher, a skinny African-American man who supposedly had been a drill instructor in the military, was named Mr. Henry. The kids in the class constantly harassed him, and he looked like he was about to have a heart attack. One kid, a football player, would poke at him every second with a rude remark. Mr. Henry would take the bait, whirling around and yelling, "You're gonna BURN, Levant! You're gonna BURN!!!" 

Vanished

I kept waiting for them to stop harassing him and start harassing me instead.  Sitting there every day was torture. No one listened, and I kept staring at my desk so they wouldn't turn their taunting to me.
Then one day, he was gone.
I have no idea where he went. Nervous breakdown, maybe.
We came into class and there was a new atmosphere.
The windows were open. Some murals made of oak tag were spinning silently from the ceiling. They had big smiley faces drawn on them in Magic Marker and they said "Super Smiley Says: Hard work will be rewarded."

Mrs. Kitrosser

Into the class stepped a heavyset woman with long, stringy dark hair and a raspy voice like she was constantly sucking a lozenge. She was probably in her late 30s or early 40s.
Her name was Mrs. Kitrosser - Barbara, I think, although I'm not sure. She gave us our new assignments. We were supposed to write reviews over the next few weeks: Of a video on MTV, of a book, and then of a favorite radio station.
We would be giving oral presentations of them, boosting our speaking skills. Definitely something I needed. I had been so cowed that I had largely stopped talking in school.
Mrs. Kitrosser showed us music videos in class: "We Are the World," which was big right then, and "Just A Gigalo" by David Lee Roth. She would ask us, "Why does this video work?" She was full of enthusiasm. The class responded very well, even the troublemakers like Levant and a kid who was popular and yet not completely mean, Chris seemed a bit above the taunting.
"People love David Lee Roth," Mrs. K said excitedly. "What makes this video work?"
We talked about that for a while. Chris said he liked Billy Idol. Mrs. K complained that Billy Idol used cocaine. Chris shook his head. "That's an act," he said. "That's why I like him. Because it's all an act."
Mrs. K was also into Schwarzenegger and talked about how people loved him. Most of the class was spent talking about different modes of entertainment and what "worked."
There was a problem with one of our homework assignments: We didn't get cable at the new place, so I didn't know any music videos to review. I was fairly doomed not to fit in, in so many ways.  I solved this little conundrum by doing my review on We Are the World, since we'd seen it in class.
A few days later, our assignment was to write an essay on the stupidest thing we'd ever done. She said she found a great example.  Then she read aloud a short story from our student newspaper about two kids who did something really dumb. She had read it to every class that day.  I raised my hand and told her I'd written the story.
"I've been looking for you!" she said, her eyes sparkling. "What a great story!"
She read the ending aloud again. It had a twist ending. "Isn't that great?" she asked the class. Even Chris smiled.
We continued to do our reviews and read them out loud, getting to know each other better. Some of the kids who used to be troublemakers started getting good grades. She was always drawing smiley faces on our papers and encouraging us.
For the end of the year, she had something big planned. When we handed in our radio station reviews, she was going to contact the station that got the most votes and ask the DJs to do an assembly.
Suddenly, an awful class had turned great. Levant and Chris didn't taunt her. I got the chance to do some creative writing instead of workbook stuff.

The popular girls rear their stinkin' heads

Then, at lunch, a group of popular girls in my class passed me a petition to sign.
The petition said,

WE DON'T LIKE MRS. KITROSSER BECAUSE:
1. She treats us like babies with her "Super Smiley"
2. She doesn't give us real work
3. She should be teaching kindergarden [sic]

A popular girl handed it to me and waited for me to sign it. She stared at me expectantly.
I could see Mrs. Kitrosser spotting my name on there and wondering why. "I thought Caren liked me," she'd think.
As great as the pressure was, I passed it to the next girl. "I like Mrs. Kitrosser," I said quietly. The girl focused on the next girl and didn't bother with me, so that went okay.
I later heard that the kids who started the petition were going to be suspended, although I don't think it had happened. I wondered if Chris and Levant had signed it, or showed strength too. They were actually getting A's in her class.
At the end of the year, Chris stood up and read a poem about why he liked Z-100. He wore sunglasses and his Billy Idol shirt and looked pretty cool. 
Always willing to be a little different (even though I wasn't sure I wanted to be picked on for it), I read my essay about Y-107, a relatively new Jersey Shore radio station that I liked listening to in the morning. I was getting tired of top 40 music and the same songs repeating over and over, so I'd stopped listening to Z-100.  My favorite Y-107 DJ, Ian Case, was funny, stuttered, and seemed very unrehearsed at times, all of which I liked.  He played some of the same music as Z-100, but with fewer repeats.
Of course, Z-100 got the most votes in our class. Mrs. Kitrosser contacted the morning Zoo DJs, Scott Shannon and Ross Britain, to come do an assembly.
Shortly after I heard Z-100 had won, I wrote to Ian Case telling him that I liked Y-107 better.  He sent me a yellow Y-107 t-shirt, but with a note saying I had to wear it when the Z-100 DJ's came to school -- and that I had to take a picture and send it to him.  
As it turned out, Scott Shannon and the Zoo Crew agreed to come and gave a date when they could make it -- but it was late June, after we'd be out of school. So it wasn't really going to happen.
When I found out they weren't coming, I wrote a letter to Ian Case saying I wouldn't be able to get the photo, and apologizing.  I also had Mrs. Kitrosser sign a statement saying they weren't coming, lest Ian not believe me.  In my letter, I wrote, "I owed you something for that shirt.  After all, you probably used your whole week's pay on the six stamps needed to send it."
Apparently, Ian thought that was pretty funny, because he talked about me on the air and repeated my joke about his pay.  I quickly pressed "record" and got the conversation on tape.  "She had her humanities teacher sign this thing," Ian said.  "I kind of felt bad, but Caren, sorry.  This isn't good enough.  You didn't have it notarized.  To sign affadavits, you have to have them notarized."
The year drew to a close and my mom moved us to a new town, Old Bridge, with an OK school system and some geniuinely nice kids. One girl I became friends with proudly told me that she was on the free lunch program because her mom was on Welfare. Never would have happened in Holmdel.
I've never seen Mrs. Kitrosser's name on the web or anywhere else. I don't know if she stayed at Holmdel past the end of the year, or Mrs. Henry came back, or the popular kids got her transferred to kindergarten. But she was great, and she was one of the few people who made my life easier in eighth grade. So thanks, Mrs. K. You were super!

4 comments:

Edward Chomyts said...

Hi. I'm not sure what prompted me to Google Mrs. Kitrosser, but I did, and your blog was the only thing that came up. They school let her go at the end of the ( probationary) year. While she had some nice qualities, I would infer that her way of doing things just didn't jive well with the other teachers, not to mention her wanton destruction of an entire set of new textbooks. That alone was enough to undermine any of the good things she may have accomplished during that year. Mr. Summers ( Henry?) , never returned. He had been with the school system for many years at that point, and by then he just pretty much had it. He was a sweet old fella, with an amazing eye for cheaters. For what it's worth, I don't think Mrs. Kitrosser was too upset about leaving. I garnered this from a brief conversation with her right before we left. Best regards, Ed ( I was in 7nth? 8th? grade with you at the time..)

AddledWriter said...

That's fascinating. I didn't know she destroyed textbooks. Very strange. She was vocal, but I didn't know she was controversial in that way. I love hearing school gossip. Tell me more! Anyway, you must have been a bright 7th grader for her to talk to you. Good to hear from you! Thanks so much for posting.

Edward Chomyts said...

You're welcome! I don't want to slander Mrs. Kitrosser, because she was an earnest lady. "Wanton destruction" is a harsh judgement, so let's shuck it off to lack of experience. What she did was encourage students to highlight what she called " key points" in the textbooks. Something that we all eventually learn to do in later years, albeit with our own reading material. Her intentions were earnest, but these were a brand new set of textbooks, and it was 7th grade, in a public school. Bad idea. Although she asked that we do it in pencil, it didn't take long for the kids to start using highlighters, pens, etc. which lead to tearing out pages, using them as soccer balls, et. al. It got ugly, and these big, expensive social studies (?) books were ruined within weeks. I wasn't particularly smarter than anyone, but I was a pretty big kid by then, and she noticed that some high school students would cross the border at times to hunt me down in the hallways, lol. So we talked about that I guess, and she was encouraging... A nice lady, mrs. K. And congrats on your book, I hope it continues to sell! Regards, E

AddledWriter said...

Ah! That doesn't sound as bad. Slightly subversive though. I don't think we had textbooks in my class. You have a good memory for things that happened in school 31 years ago. ;) (I do too, oddly...) Well, clearly Mrs. K made an impact! I had forgotten Mr. Summers' name. Thanks for the comment on the book, and for sharing these warmfuzzy memories! Come back now, y'hear?