Hudson, IL, 1972.  I was going into third grade.  In small-town Hudson, there were only two teachers for each grade, and students were assigned to a teacher (supposedly) by random.  You’d find out who your teacher was a few weeks before school started. You always hoped to get the nice (and, if female, hopefully pretty) one.

Unfortunately, I got Mrs. Tomassino.  She wasn’t butt-ugly, but she had a reputation for being really mean.  And two of my best friends were in the “nice” teacher’s class.  The school year was going to be bleak.

As it turned out, Mrs. T wasn’t TOO bad…though she was the meanest teacher I’d had up to that point.  She could certainly give you the verbal smackdown.

After a few weeks, she noticed that another kid and I would often finish our classwork several minutes before all the other kids in almost every period, and we’d get fidgety.  So one day she had the two of us go to a corner of the room and face two desks together.  She pulled out a box.

“Either of you know how to play chess?”

We didn’t, but we learned.  She’d take a few minutes every day to show us strategies and such, and then the two of us were playing every day, every chance we got.  We had our board set up in the corner, and we’d speed through the classwork even faster to rush over and get a few moves in before the next period started.

So that’s how I learned chess at age 8 — from a “mean” teacher who didn’t want me to be bored.  I suppose if I were 8 now, she’d have had us playing some educational computer game.

I’ll take chess any day.