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Permanent Record

My wife is ten years younger than I and I just asked her if she had ever heard of the Permanent Record. Her reply was that she was never threatened with it. I suggested that she was probably a good girl in school and she agreed.

This was brought to my mind half an hour earlier when in response to Kurt Meacham’s explanation why he was not at the SLIME club this morning, I noted that I would not put his absence in his permanent record.

When I was in elementary school in Maryland, the permanent record was tantamount to having your picture on the Post Office wall, along with nine other most-wanted criminals. I was not a good boy in grades one to four, and the first three of those years required daily notes from my teachers, Miss Grogan, Miss Hill and Mrs. Hughes to my mother. I dutifully brought them home, unopened under threat that if I dared peek it would go on my permanent record. I did peek once but could not read Miss Hill’s cursive (so much for The Palmer Method) and as a second grader it really made no difference.

When my mother died she left behind a bunch of these notes. I was now married with child and found them hilarious. One reported that I kept pushing my way to the front of the line, and even after being sent back to my proper place, I bullied my way to the front again. The teacher noted that when she chastised me for my conduct, my reply was “I only did it twice.”

As a substitute teacher at Liberty Bell, senior high and middle school I, of course, got a lot of static from some of the kids. Twice I tried the threat of the miscreant’s conduct being a part of his permanent record, which always produced blank stares. One youngster asked me what that was, and I quickly cobbed up some answer that I don’t remember. But being put on the spot as I was, it taught me that the P.R. was an antiquity that had seen its days. It had not been only a Maryland threat, for it followed me to fifth grade and Miss Erickson in New Jersey.

Today, now, 68 years later I decided to seek the Holy Grail of frustrated teachers. I went to Google, looked up “Permanent Record” and by golly there is such a thing. Its impact on one’s life seems to depend on the state where the [alleged] offense occurred. If you are of an age to remember the P.R., you can get a lot of laughs reading the entries. But it surprised me to find that it is a real document, short for Permanent School Record.

That knowledge has also released a certain amount of personal paranoia.

One day, while sub-teaching Mrs. Kimbrell’s Spanish class the students were reading aloud from a Spanish language book. The boy who was reading came to place where the word CARAMBA! was used. He paused and then asked, “Mr. Spiwak, what does Caramba mean?”

I thought about this and tried to come up with a quick definition. Scratched my head, shuffled my feet and then came up with, “It means...HOLY SHIT!” The kids were stunned for a mili-second and then the room exploded in laughter. For weeks after, students I knew and those I did not would pass me in the hall and with big grins utter, “Caramba, Mr. Spiwak.”

I think it made me popular and that delighted me. But today, now, discovering that there really is a permanent record for students, by implication means there is most likely one for teachers as well. Thus my paranoia; if it follows a person throughout his life, it will be attached to my second grade and beyond mischief.

CARAMBA! I may never be allowed to teach Spanish again.


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