Remembering Fort Detroit



At Isaac Newton School, my third grade Social Studies teacher walked out of The Far Side into our classroom.  Mrs. Glotzbecker was a plump middle-aged woman who squeezed into dresses suitable only for Doris Day in her prime.  She wore pointy rhinestone-studded glasses, and bleached blond hair in a French twist.  She’d taught all my big sisters, and whenever she called on me, it was by one of their names.

On the first day of class we opened our history books and read about Fort Detroit.  Our assignment was to draw a picture of it.  Every day we read aloud, then worked silently.  If Mrs. Glotzbecker caught you chewing gum, like Jerry Fink, she made you wear it on your nose.  If she caught you talking, like Jerry Fink, she made you sit in the wastebasket.  Repeat offenders felt the sting of Old Harry, the paddle on the wall.  Jerry became the stuff of legend after Mrs. Glotzbecker sat him in the cardboard wastebasket and it split into pieces.  He was elevated to folk hero when she broke Old Harry on his backside and he just grinned at his buddies, who cheered him on.

Every day in class I worked on my drawing.  Fort Detroit looked better and better.  I added a canoe on the riverbank, a fish in the water.  After a week or two, I couldn’t think of anything else to add, so I used crayons to color it, but details were lost beneath the wax.  I erased stuff and started over, but that left smudges and wore holes in the paper.  I suspected something was going terribly wrong.  I was sick of Fort Detroit, but kept working it like a hangnail.  Finally Mrs. Glotzbecker collected our notebooks for grading.  She got to mine, and called me to her desk.

“Where’s the rest of your work?” she said.

“You said to draw a picture of Fort Detroit,” I whispered.

“That was weeks ago.  Where are the answers to the questions at the end of the chapter?  And the next five chapters?”

I swear I never heard her tell us to answer any questions.  But, dangit!  I should have known.  I’d had a feeling, but was too shy to ask for help or even clarification.  I was confused, and when Mrs. Glotzbecker reached for Old Harry, I was mortified.

What I learned from Mrs. Glotzpecker that day, I’ve applied to my writing.  Follow the submission guidelines!  And your gut.  When in doubt, raise your hand, ask questions.  Cut the fat for a cleaner read or add a scene to flesh it out, but don’t polish the silver off the teapot, or edit until you’ve worn holes in your paper.

What I learned from Jerry Fink was even more important.  Be resilient.  Build up calluses—in all the right places.  Let no one, and certainly not your editor, intimidate you.  Find a support group to cheer you on—there are local, regional, and national organizations you can join.  Most importantly, remember that sometimes it’s okay to break the rules, but let no one break your spirit.


“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

–Leonardo Da Vinci, Italian Renaissance Polymath (1452-1519)                                    

“A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

–Paul Valery, French Critic and Poet (1871-1945)

“Remember Fort Detroit!”

–Naomi Baltuck, Author, Storyteller, and Native Detroiter (1956- )




  1. AareneX says:

    PERFECT message for me to hear today! Thanks, Naomi!

    1. Dear Aarene,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yours was the perfect message for me to hear. Tally-ho!

  2. I also remember Mrs. Glotzbecker well. I don’t think I ever suffered the paddle, but I had a few very weird experiences I’ll tell you about sometime.

    I could have written your first two paragraphs myself with just a few name changes for my classmates who suffered her outrageous punishments, but not as eloquently as you have captured it all. I could practically smell the chalk dust.

    I admire how beautifully you have turned an abusive situation into a positive life lesson.

    Sometime we’ll have to share our Isaac Newton memories. I could tell you a few other horror stories about some of the other teachers and students, as well as a few heart-warming tales.

    1. Dear Lee, I am really eager to hear your stories! When I was in Detroit last October to visit Aunt Loena,I drove past Newton School. The house across the street with the geese was torn down, but the school was still standing. Thank you so much for stopping by.

      1. I have heard that the name of the school has been changed to that of an iconic African American woman, I suppose in keeping with the changes in the neighborhood, but I haven’t seen it for myself yet.

      2. You’re right about that, Lee. A couple of years ago I visited the school on one of my visits to Aunt Loena. I don’t remember what they are calling it now, but after years of vacancy, it was heartening to hear the laughter of children on the playground again.

  3. Julie says:

    I think we all knew a Mrs. Glotzbecker or two. S/he is the person “if s/he doesn’t kill you s/he’ll make you stonger.”

    1. Hi Julie, I’m sure you’re right. That is in keeping with my motto, “Don’t get killed!” Thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  4. kathy Klein says:

    Naomi, this is awesome! It made me laugh out loud.
    And I love the lessons you drew. We should all remember them! Hopefully without needind an “Old Harry” to remind us. 😉

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks so much for your kind words. I really appreciate your stopping by.

  5. sue says:

    Oh, I always hate hearing stories about getting hit in school. At my school the nuns used rulers “on the soft part of your arm”. It never happened to me but once when I was in 2nd grade I had so much anxiety seeing somebody else get hit in the lunch room that I soiled my pants!! I was too scared to ask to go to the bathroom because I was afraid of getting hit. Luckily, the principal was VERY sympathetic when I went to the office for a phone call home. I did, however, have a similar experience with missing some pertinent assignment instructions. In third grade, we got to finger paint with chocolate pudding! this was like winning the lottery for me as we almost never got dessert in my home. I was so engrossed with my picture (um, well I mean with eating my paint) that suddenly I looked up and saw that my entire class of 40 students had exited the room to go wash up! I had to quickly scribble a tree and run out to meet them.

    1. Oh, poor Sue! What a traumatic experience. Thank goodness that what was acceptable in our childhood is no longer allowed in most schools. Do you think your third grade experience with ‘fun food’ as an artistic medium has anything to do with your becoming an expert cake artist? I appreciate your taking the time to read and give such thoughtful comments.

  6. If I ever want the perfect example of “show, don’t tell”, I’ll re-read this post. I laughed out loud, grimaced, nodded my head, and shook my head in wonder. What a brilliant way to make one of the most important points writers have to heed: follow the guidelines.

    1. Thank you, Cathryn. This is high praise, coming from such a fine writer and storyteller.

  7. Naomi, What a great blog and a clever application to the writing life! Good advice for us all to keep in mind.!

    1. Thank you so much, and thanks for stopping by.

  8. Tom Siewert says:

    One of my teachers, Martin Prechtel, said that “Hopelessness is something reserved for people who have enough food in their bellies.” People who are hungry always have hope, have to keep their Spirit. Maybe the key to keeping Spirit, to keeping hope, is to stay hungry, in some sense of the word. It’s been hard for me at times to keep my hunger, but it seems to make a difference.

    Also some interesting things in your story for me to think about as a school teacher. Thanks Naomi.

  9. Hi Tom, I’m glad you had a teacher who inspired you. Wishing you all the best on your storyteller/writer/teacher path. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  10. narami says:

    Such a great post, thanks for sharing it in my comments! And thanks for this message that sometimes we need to hear 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Narami.

  11. narami says:

    Thanks for sharing this in my comments and for this encouraging message!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Narami, and taking the time to comment.

  12. Debra Kristi says:

    Thank you for sharing this in my comments, Naomi! I love how you drew the lessons for your writing out of your classroom experience. I am happy to say I never had teacher nearly as ghastly. Goodness.

  13. frizztext says:

    Y = YES
    “…sometimes it’s okay to break the rules,
    but let no one break your spirit…”

  14. lifelessons says:

    A wonderful, entertaining and skillful essay, Naomi, which gained you a new and enthusiastic follower! I look forward to my next read..Judy

    1. HI Judy, thanks for stopping by and for sharing your very kind response. I took a wander over to your blog and look forward to following you too.

  15. Looks like my comments have pretty well been covered in those that came before me, so I’ll just say that it’s good to hear from you again and I hope all’s going well with you and yours. 🙂


  16. niasunset says:

    so beautiful dear Naomi, Thank you, Love, nia

  17. So many good lessons . . . in paying attention and in compassion. Hugs ❤

  18. I just noticed “third grade social studies teacher” — Naomi, your elementary teachers specialized? Ours taught all subjects until junior high. Interesting . . . I confess to sometimes calling students by others’ names — I’ve defined that as name dyslexia and ask for accommodation and understanding.
    I also had a student turn in only the optional artwork for a complex assignment, even though I had told her to focus on the other parts. I gave her partial credit for what she did do . . . and never hit her or any other student.

  19. Jan C says:

    Great story, Naomi! I had Mrs. Glotzbecker too! I lived one street toward Newton from you. Our brothers hung out together.

    1. Hi Jan,
      Thanks for the kind word. What a surprise to hear from you. What street did you live on, and who was your brother? Did you stay in Michigan? I hope the years have been kind. Would love to hear more from you!
      All the best,

  20. Brian Bonkosky says:

    Wow, Naomi, your writing certainly triggered and refreshed some memories here. I also attended Newton and had Mrs Glotzbecker. Do you also recall her twisting cheeks of students? She and a few others there shaped and influenced many in a generally good way. Another memory of her social studies class involved memorizing – specifically the 13 countries in South America and their capitals (and their respective locations). I can probably still locate and recite them.

    Like you, I also recall Spanish class (you write about elsewhere). I think I probably attended before you because we had a class lasting longer than what you recall. But, my story is that each year (4th through 8th) we had a new Spanish teacher and we always used the same textbook. Each year we began at chapter one … consequently, I can still count to a hundred and mouth a few phrases, but say little else in Spanish.

    Thanks for sharing your memories! I enjoyed!


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