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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Saturday Comic Special: The Life And Times Of Geraldine Grundy

Hello, fellow Pop Culture addicts all around the world! I hope your Labour (or Labor If you live down in the lower 48 states, Alaska, and Hawaii spell it) Day weekend is going as perfect as it can be, and that whatever you're doing, you're having fun.

For many of us, this is the final long weekend of the whole summer, so whether you're working or playing, I hope you enjoy it. Some of us are back at school already, and some of us will be going back this Tuesday. A sad reminder that summer is over and we'll be heading into the season of autumn before you know it.

Well, unless you happen to like school, that is.

Anyway, to kick off the beginning of another school year, I thought that I would make this week Teacher's Week. Every day from September 3 to September 9, we'll be featuring a type of pop culture reference that has to do with either teaching or education. There will be one for the Sunday Jukebox, one for the Monday Matinee...I've even managed to find one for Thursday Night at the Arcade, if you can believe it. Of course, I will try to find references to my own experiences within the public school system, and talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, take note of September 7...I'll be talking about the ugly in that one...perhaps one of my most heated blog entries that I've ever done. But, that will wait until Across The Pond Wednesday.

At least I'll give you some incentive to keep checking in the blog until then, right?

So today happens to be Saturday, September 3, 2011, and this means that I'm going to be talking about a cartoon series. In all actuality, I will be talking about a comic book character. The good news is that this comic book character has appeared in at least three incarnations of a popular cartoon serial that first began airing in the 1960s. But first, I'd like to tell you a story about one of my school experiences, if you don't mind.

I'm sure that as all of us went through school, we all had teachers in our life that really inspired us. Teachers that were so passionate about teaching that they made us want to learn. Teachers that made us want to better ourselves as people, and who were genuinely excited about helping us grow into adults (or, just more mature children).

I can think of one teacher right off the bat that fits this description very well.

When I was entering sixth grade in September 1992, it was a rather difficult year for me at first. In actuality, it started way back a year later in the fifth grade. That was the year that a lot of my friends that I had from elementary school headed off to a different school that specialized in French Immersion, and it was more or less one of those instances where I was basically left to my own devices to find a new group of friends. I managed to find a small group in fifth grade that I hung around with quite often, and by the end of that year, things sort of worked out to the point where I was okay with the way things had gone.

During that summer between fifth and sixth grades though, things began to go downhill. Two of them moved away from town that summer, and as far as the rest of the group went, they were all assigned to different teachers. So entering sixth grade, I was more or less in the same classroom with a couple of acquaintances, sixteen kids who basically ignored me, and a group of kids who used to pick on me to the point where I would dissolve into a pool of tears.

(I was a wee bit on the sensitive side in sixth grade.)

By all accounts, the 1992/1993 school year was looking as if it would be one of the worst school years ever, Even worse than 1987/1988 (which you'll read more about on the 7th).

Instead, the whole year was saved by a wonderful teacher.

Her name was Mrs. Woodfine. She was one of those teachers that looked quiet and timid on the outside...but inside, she was a ball of fire. And I mean that in a good way.

What I mean by this comment was that Mrs. Woodfine was the type of teacher who encouraged you to give your all in everything that she taught. This included what I would consider to be some of the best school projects that I think any teacher could have given us. I'll never forget the one time we were learning about geology terms and how we had to design a landscape that featured things like plateaus, peninsulas, and glaciers. We were told to make a three-dimensional model out of a plaster like mixture. I thought that it would turn out to be a disaster when I was putting it together, but it actually turned out to be a project that looked amazing. She also had some incredibly creative art project ideas, such as making Easter egg cards for our reading buddies, and making pop-up posters for art class. In fact, it was one of those pop-up posters that ended up getting chosen for display at the student art gallery, so I guess I can thank her for getting my name out there in my short lived art career. :)

There was so much more to her than simple art projects and geography models. In fact, I'd also like to share a personal story in regards to my sixth grade teacher, involving a series of embarrassing events that happened to me.

I'm sure that some of you remember going to a program in your schools called the D.A.R.E. Program. It was an educational program designed to teach middle school students the dangers of drugs, alcohol, violence, and gang activity. We had something similar in my school, only it was called the V,E.P. Program (Very Effective Person). For the first semester of the year, we would have a police constable come in to tell us that drugs were bad, and alcohol was bad, etc. In all honesty, it wasn't anything that I hadn't known before, and looking back on it, it all seemed kind of like a waste of time. Nevertheless, at the end of the semester, shortly before the Christmas break, we would graduate from the program, have an assembly at night, and we'd get our certificate and aqua-coloured T-shirt.

I can remember the graduation ceremony date very well. The date was December 8, 1992. And, how do I know this? It was the same day that I had a belt grading ceremony at the karate school where I took classes for a few years. I ended up earning my yellow belt, but once I did, I had to leave the school so I could make it to the V.E.P. Graduation ceremony.

Did I mention that I didn't have time to change out of my karate gi? And that while everyone else in my sixth grade class were decked out in dress clothes and dresses, I was in my sweaty karate outfit that looked like white pajamas? Yeah, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

When it came time for me to come up on stage to accept my diploma, there I was, walking across the stage in my karate gi while some of the more...shall we say...vocal little urchins purposely laughed and poked fun at me. What I should have done was provide a spur-of-the-moment karate chop to those bratty children from one of the katas that I had to learn in order to shut them up while demonstrating my keen karate moves.

Instead, I cried. I burst out crying right in front of all of those people and I promptly ran off the stage, embarrassed beyond belief. At that moment, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

But then a few days later, once the 'Karate Kid' scandal died down, my sixth grade teacher pulled me aside, and asked me to open up a green notebook that she had given me a couple of months ago. It was a book she had given me to jot down all the instances in which I felt like I was being bullied, or teased by my classmates. Initially, it was only designed for me to give only to the teacher. Unfortunately, my classmates found out about the book, and made even more fun of me. That was fine though. Gave me more material.

So, anyway, she encouraged me to write down how I was feeling about things, and she would look over it and write in some tips as to how I could handle conflicts with students better. And you know what...most of the time, her advice was spot on.

In fact, the whole idea of writing down my problems in a little book kind of was the early beginnings to my love for writing. I always found it easier to express myself through written measures than I ever could verbally. Eventually, I ended up turning my pain into words, and I find that I became a better writer because of it.

So there you have it. Without the support and encouragement from a teacher named Mrs. Woodfine, this blog very well may not exist today.

It's been years since I've seen Mrs. Woodfine. Last time I think I saw her was when I was in the tenth grade, and we used to have gym classes out at my old elementary school field (our high school football field had to be built at an elementary school, as our high school was in the middle of a concrete area. I honestly don't even know if she is still alive, to tell you the truth. I just hope that wherever she is, that she knows how much I respected her as a student. She really was my favourite teacher during elementary school.

Okay, enough about me and sixth grade.

The subject of today's blog is a teacher that like Mrs. Woodfine was an inspiration to her students at Riverdale High School. She may have had an edge to her, and she may have had a reputation of being strict. And her fashion sense may have been nonexistant (at least in her early years). However, she was probably one of the best teachers to ever exist in the world of comic books.

Geraldine Grundy has been a staple of Riverdale High and Archie Comics since the comic serial first appeared in the early 1940s. Just judging by her early appearances, it appeared as though Miss Grundy was painfully behind the times. With her hair in a librarian style bun, her teeth (or tooth) looking like it needed an orthodontist desperately, and the same floor length burgundy school marm dress that she wore for almost 35 years straight, Miss Grundy looked more like she belonged in the 1800s instead of the 1900s.

Over the years though, Miss Grundy may have ended up discovering the benefits of Botox and make-up because her looks started to greatly improve, and her fashion sense greatly improved.

Maybe Betty and Veronica decided to give her some tips? Who knows?

Regardless of Miss Grundy's appearance, one thing that you could say about her was that as much as her students drove her crazy sometimes (and in a couple of occasions, she almost decided to quit teaching), she would do almost anything to help her students do better in school.

Take her relationship with Betty Cooper for example. Miss Grundy had told Betty that she had natural aptitude as a writer, and that she was a joy to have in her class. But when Betty noticed that Miss Grundy had put a lot of red ink on her papers, she grew concerned that she was losing her edge. Not so, said Miss Grundy. Miss Grundy admitted to Betty that she graded her a little tougher than the others in the class because she knew Betty had a natural talent as a writer, and didn't want her to accept anything that wasn't her best work. Through Miss Grundy's encouragement, Betty became a better writer, and if you've ever read any of those Betty's Diary comic books, you can see samples of Betty's writing.

Miss Grundy was also a big help to Moose as well. Moose was always a student who struggled in school. His schoolwork and general proficiency skills were at a lower standard than the others in the class, and often his written assignments were difficult, if not impossible to understand. It wasn't until Miss Grundy (with help from Mr. Weatherbee) sent Moose for some medical tests that they discovered that Moose was dyslexic. Through different learning methods that Miss Grundy implemented into her lesson plans, and her constant encouragement helped Moose improve, and eventually he found himself at the same level as the other students in class, and that was all because of Miss Grundy's help.

Eventually, she would have effects on every single person that she taught. She taught Reggie Mantle how to become more humble. She taught Archie Andrews skills on how to manage his time better. She taught Veronica Lodge that her personality could attract more people than her money. As for Jughead Jones, well...Jughead kept her on her toes with his unusual methods of learning, such as sleeping through class yet retaining every single piece of her lesson plan.

Miss Grundy was a valuable member of the faculty of Riverdale High, and all the teachers loved her, as did the principal of the school, Waldo Weatherbee. Occasionally, there would be some plot where Miss Grundy was going to leave the school to take on a job at other schools that paid more. I recall one instance where a woman named Jane Silver owned a private school where her sole motivation was to attract the wealthy kids of Riverdale and give them a substandard education so that she could net a huge profit. When Veronica made it clear that she didn't want to go to the school, Ms. Silver staged a plot to bribe Miss Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee with fancy gifts and money so that they would leave Riverdale High to encourage Veronica to transfer there. With help from Archie and Chuck Clayton, they were able to expose Jane Silver's evil plan, and Miss Grundy remained at Riverdale High.

And that was just one of the many examples of how the student body got together to help Miss Grundy out.

In Riverdale High #4, which was released for the 1990 Christmas season, Miss Grundy's apartment gets damaged by a fire. The damage to her apartment is mostly smoke and water damage, but Miss Grundy is devastated because the fire seemed to have destroyed the only surviving photograph of her with her presumably deceased parents. The fire has also temporarily left her homeless just days before Christmas, so a kind-hearted Betty decides to take her in to her family's home. Problem is that this occurs the same night that the gang is slated to have their Christmas party at Betty's home. When the night of the party occurs, the mood is awkward as the group doesn't like having their party supervised by a teacher. But then Miss Grundy lets her hair down and shows the gang what real fun is about.

The gang is inspired by Miss Grundy's impromptu fun-streak (a mood they're not used to seeing from her) and everyone quickly forgets about the circumstances behind having Miss Grundy there...until Reggie accidentally brings it up during a party game. At which point, Miss Grundy starts to feel sad, and wants to go back home, so the gang all leave Betty's house, and head towards her apartment, where this happens.

Sometime between the last day of classes and the party, the gang managed to get inside her apartment and fixes it up with some cleaning and painting. Even more astonishingly, they managed to restore the picture that meant so much to her. That act of kindness warmed Miss Grundy's heart, and it really showed her just how much her students loved her.

That's why when the decision was made to kill her off in 2011, it sparked a whole lot of reaction.

That's right. They KILLED OFF MISS GRUNDY.

I should explain. There's a magazine called Life With Archie: The Married Life, which depicts two separate stories that would take place after Archie gets married to Betty and Veronica (he doesn't marry both of them at once, he marries each one in a separate tale). Well, in the Betty story, Miss Grundy reveals that she is dying of a terminal illness, and this prompts several changes. Mr. Weatherbee (who had been hiding his feelings for Miss Grundy for many, many years) ended up marrying Miss Grundy just before she passed away. Miss Grundy talks about the whirlwind courtship in this panel.

For the record, I always said that Miss Grundy was a wise woman. Her feelings about love are exactly the same way that I feel about it. Very wise woman indeed.

So in the fifth issue of Life With Archie magazine, Miss Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee tie the knot (in a bizarre triple wedding which also saw the union of Jughead and Midge, and Mr. Svenson and Ms. Beazly). They managed to last 42 days as husband and wife, living every day like it was their last.

By Life With Archie #6, Geraldine Grundy was at death's door, and everyone that she had touched along the way with her teaching skills and life lessons gathered inside the hospital lobby waiting for word on her condition. When Mr. Weatherbee told the crowd that Miss Grundy had died, everyone's heart broke simultaneously, as the group mourned the loss of what could have been one of the most remarkable teachers that they ever knew.

The eulogy for Miss Grundy was very touching, as each person spoke out over how much the teacher meant to them. Archie talked about how he'd never be able to repay her for giving him self-confidence. Betty talked about how wonderful a teacher she was. Veronica was overwhelmed by the huge heart Miss Grundy had. Moose felt that Miss Grundy saved him from failing English, as well as life. Jughead was too broken up about her death to even say a word. But perhaps the most touching piece came from Mr. Weatherbee himself.

Now, it's important to know that the Life With Archie magazine is set in the future. In many current Archie titles, Miss Grundy is still alive and well, so they didn't kill her off completely so that she would never appear again. But in this particular story, the writers of the story did a phenomenal job at honouring this character, and making everyone realize just what a fantastic teacher she really was.

In future Life With Archie storylines, life went on, and Mr. Weatherbee remained as principal of Riverdale High. However, Betty and Archie went on to become teachers at the school in their adult lives, and Betty was given Miss Grundy's old classroom, which Betty graciously accepted.

And, just to add a little plug for the company, the whole Life With Archie Magazine is a really decent read for any Archie fans out there. It comes highly recommended.

So, I'm going to wrap this entry up, as it became a lot longer than I had initially planned it to be. But I'm going to leave you with this. In order to be a good teacher (and ultimately a good leader), you have to really listen to your students, and make them eager to learn. Ultimately, you have to also be compassionate, firm when necessary, and have the drive to prepare your students for the future. Mrs. Woodfine did a fantastic job with my school years, and that's why I chose to talk about her in this blog entry. She and Miss Grundy were teachers that loved what they did, and genuinely cared about their students. As a result, they helped their students learn more than just arithmetic.

1 comment:

  1. Very, very touching. It shows what proper guidance and understanding can do. I never read any of the Riverdale High issues and your summary of the story is heartwarming to say the least.

    I am also sad to know that they killed off Ms. Grundy in LWA, I hope that when Betty walked into her old class and taught her first lesson, Ms. Grundy was also watching down on her.

    Amen :)