Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Lime often says something that sets me off and running.  She recently did a post at her House of Lime about a good kindergarten teacher and a bad first day of kindergarten. 

I have had a series of good and bad experiences with public education.  I hesitate to say bad things... not... despite earning my living in one for 16 years.  Sheesh.
I have seen good, bad, so-so in school staff and in parents and students.

I was a so-so student who was fairly lazy.  I think that I convinced myself that as long as I passed the tests that homework was optional.  It isn't.  But I did have a knack for charming male teachers... which gave me A grades... and good recall on anything from a lecture, reading or on film... which gave me passing scores.  My parents were frequently treated to a standard speech about how bright and witty I was but not living up to my potential.  It near drove my father insane but for me that was part of the point.  I was number 5 in a line up of honor student sisters and sport star brother... I had no special talent to offer and was exhausted by the competition.

I began school on a high... put in a TAG pre-school program run by our local college.  But that soon faded.  I ended up in a group that were taught to be sight spellers and my rememberer did not work that well.   I was easily distracted by other students, the clouds in the sky and any movement by bugs.  Looking at words and trying to recall them just was not interesting to me.   I became a horrible speller.

My father used to read my papers... that I was sure were finished and circle the misspelled words... and I would have to re-write the darned things using the dictionary he provided... a giant unabridged thing that had its own stand.  I was then distracted by all the great words and it took me hours to finish things.

Tenth grade found me in the classroom of the world's most awful English teacher.  Every Wednesday we had a spelling test.  Every Wednesday she would prop her butt on Richard's desk... he was at a track meet those days, so it was empty.  She would lean over and watch what I was writing on my paper.  As soon as I misspelled a word, she would snatch up my paper... wad it up into a ball and say "Rebecca gets an F again!" and then shoot it into the waste basket.  

Sometimes I actually studied and tried and would make it through most of the list before the snatch... but eventually I began to misspell the first word on purpose, just to get the humiliation over and done with.  I complained to my dad and it did no good  until...

Richard was my friend.  Everyone knew about the way I ended my spelling lessons.  It was a source of laughter but an upset for me.  Duh.  Richard began his Wednesdays in class, but left after about ten minutes for track.  One day, he looked at me and winked.  I watched him undo the screws under his desk top and slip the nuts into his pocket that held the screws before he left as teacher wrote on the blackboard.  Hee hee.  I was not alone in watching this play out... most of the kids were very aware and I was not the only kid this teacher tormented.

Teacher grabbed her clipboard with the week's spelling list and swished over to her usual place at Richard's desk.  In those days, teachers wore dresses, nylons and girdles or panty hose.  This teacher was obese.  Very obese.  She looked very similarly to Miss Piggy.  No offense to the Muppets!

As if taunting us... she hovered close to the desk for a few words... all eyes on her.  I spelled carefully, not wanting to ruin the show by blowing it ahead of the big event.  Then she did it... hiked up one cheek and came down on the desk top.

The desk top flipped, she fell backwards... legs going out and up so that we all got a good view of her girdle and garters as she slammed down hard on her back.  The room roared with laughter and just as quickly the laughter turned silent as the red faced and very angry teacher pointed at me and threw me out of her room.

My mother was called.  She called my father.  I sat in misery outside the girl's dean's office in the waiting area for my father to arrive.  He did.  He was not happy.  He was a busy man, but never too busy to drop everything for something like this.  It was fortunate for me that the dean was on a phone call with another parent and I had time to tell my dad what happened myself.  He nodded his head and did not speak one word to me.  This frightened me greatly.

The girls dean began her speech on what had happened and my father listened quietly until she had finished.  The information she had given him was wrong, he explained... I had not loosened the bolts.  I felt both relief and guilt that Richard was outed.  He had done it for me.  But my dad rose to that fact as well and detailed for the dean what I had been experiencing in the class... with his belief that neither I or Richard should be punished.  He then demanded that I be taken out of that class and placed in a different class with a decent teacher who did not take such pleasure in humiliating her students... or he would be filing formal complaint with the school board.

He then amazed me further by taking me out to lunch and letting me hang out at the office with him for the rest of the day.  He did not punish me or even talk more about it.  When I returned to school the next day my transfer was waiting.  When I got to my new class... there was Richard who actually thanked me because my father had called his father and explained what had happened.  His parents agreed that he too should be transferred.

As it happened, I left public school the following year shortly into the school year.  That time, I came home from school and announced that I was never returning to public school again.  My father did not even ask me what happened.  He found a private school that would take me and put me in it.  He never got another call to come to a school to hear what trouble I had managed to get into.  We were both happier.

Irony rules in my life... so where did I end up working... in a public school, as most of you know.  But I can honestly say this... there are good people and bad people in education, as there is in the rest of life.  I think my father was tired of the complaints.  I did get far more complaints than any of the other kids in my family.  Way more.  But I will say this for my parents... they punished me fairly when I deserved it and they backed me up like wolverines when I was right.  They allowed me to be who I was.  That's what its all about.  I tried to do the same for my own children.  

It was hard.  I walked into my first parent teacher meeting feeling like I was the student... small and at the teacher's mercy.  It was even harder when my children attended the school where I worked and I had to go up against co-workers that I had to see every day.  But I stood behind my kids and they knew that I would.  It was a promise I had given them.  I think it made a huge difference on how they felt about themselves and what rights they had.  I hope so anyway.

So got any bad teacher stories?


  1. Wow. That's pretty bad. You wonder where the school system finds these people. I remember more than a couple of my teachers that had anger issues.

    I always attended private school, but even with that, I had a high school phys ed teacher who made fun of my nasally voice and laughed at me right in the middle of class. I think one other classmate chuckled, but no one else laughed. If there was one regret I have for not getting in trouble, it's that one. I wished I'd cussed his ass like he'd never heard before. He was a dick. Grrr...sorry, it still pisses me off.

    Then there was the bus driver that just got livid at the kids goofing around on the bus. One day when he was escorting me across the street to my house, he must have said something pretty bad cause I was scared enough for my parents to make my brother take me to school for a few days. He didn't work there much longer. That was in our first house in CA, so I must have been in 2nd or 3rd grade.

  2. I just started to write here and it got HUGE. So I think we can safely say that you have inspired a blog post, rather than a comment. A very fruitful topic!
    It is wonderful how your parents stood up for you and how you stood up for your children as well :-)

  3. Some experience with public schools..since grandparents, parents, wife's family, me and all my kids went..and many of us are college grads with quite a sprinkling of PhDs in the sciences. Like anywhere else, the spectrum of staff varies (as does the attitude and ability of the students and parental support). Little things mean a lot: 10th grade Latin teacher noted my shyness, loved my smile and encouraged me, 2nd grade teacher got me into painting of all things. Worst teacher? Irish guy who taught English. A poorly worded question about Shakespeare characters
    clearly could have had two answers..so I put them both down. The tests were passed back one seat for
    'public grading'. When that question came up, half the class had character A and the other, character B. After much discussion, Mr English expert admitted either would be correct. The girl behind me noted that I had both
    characters. He became very angry and
    told her to mark it wrong. She went nose to nose with the guy, but no argument could sway him. 'Poetic justice'..two years later he was found guilty of stealing from the athletic funds and went to jail: the
    girl who stuck up for me became a lawyer! HS senior chemistry class:
    asked the teacher how atomic structure could manifest it self into specific spectra. "Er, uh,..look it up." I did, and later on became a physical chemist specializing in explosives (and pretty good at spectra as well!) Ah, the good old days.

  4. KenV-- I think some people get burn out and they lose it. That is such a difficult time before you really have a voice. I don't blame you for being mad. That is not okay.

  5. laura b.-- Great! Thanks. My father was a very secure person. I have never been very secure so it was very hard to be the strong parent. But I was also the only parent they had and that forced me to be better.

  6. BB-Idaho-- Welcome to Oodles of Funch! I am glad you stopped in today. Great examples of good and bad in the system and how it affects us.

    As an "educator" I found myself drawn to the kids who had troubles. Give me a kid who will kick in the bathroom stall door and I can sympathize.

  7. Your story sounds horrible to me. I can't believe they would allow such a beast to teach young impressionable children. Good thing your parents had their act together.

    I have enough to shudder about with the stories my children came home with from their private catholic school. Better than public schools, but not by much.

  8. Cube-- I too see so much that is wrong with the way the system is not working.

    We can chalk that up to tenure for teachers. Up here we no longer have that and it has made it easier to get rid of bad teachers, but they still back each other up and have a very strong union.

    It is my personal opinion that no one should have automatic tenure. If you are not doing your job right, you need to be given a chance to correct it and if that does not happen, you should be gone. That applies to all jobs.
    The quality of everything would go up.

  9. I've had some truly wonderful teachers, and then some mediocre ones. I can't call to mind any truly awful ones I have had, but my son had a band director in 6th grade who was. He refused to sign a form letting my son go to a competition, saying he didn't think he was very good. When we insisted, my son went, auditioned and even beat out many high schoolers to be placed in the honors band. He also lowered his grade from an A to a C when he forgot to bring his sax on pep rally day because it wasn't on a normal ban =d day. He did this even though my son offered to help in any way he could. My son's dad went, informed him that he was simply being punitive and wouldn't leave until he changed the grade It was crazy, and we pulled him out of band until high school and let him just work with a private teacher and the community band until then. Our theory was that the guy didn't like our son because he was talented and smart and attractive and the band director was none of those things. But who knows.

  10. secret agent woman-- That's horrible!
    Good for you and his dad for keeping him in private lessons. He could have ruined a great talent. both of your boys are so creative and musical. Sheesh!

  11. I have to say, in hindsight most of my teachers were reasonably ok to pretty good. It was me who was the horrid rotten brat - me and my gang of little urchins. What bastards we were: snotty, rude, and never did a lick of avoidable work.

    I loathed school, though I always did well, except in "deportment", of course. I spent most of grades 1-8 in the office for some offense or another. As evidence, I remember the first and last names of every principal and assistant principal I ever had. Eventually I was given a "special test."

    The gifted program did little else but give me more able partners in crime: kids who understood if we all shut up and denied everything, there'd be a good chance we'd get away with whatever we'd done. But even if we didn't, well, we'd get chewed out. OK. Well, we were going to get chewed out for something sooner or later.

    An example: One day, our 8th grade English teacher, good-hearted, if a little too enthusiastic, had a coughing fit. One of my classmates began to chant "die... die... die..." Pretty soon the whole room had joined in, "DIE! DIE! DIE!" She left the room in tears.

    Did I mention we were horrid, rotten, little bastards?

  12. Cricket-- Okay... you were! But I laughed all through that. ;-)

  13. Yeah? Ya liked that?

    I must admit that, even now, my own repentance is somewhat lacking.

    Yep. We were awful. We went way beyond putting chalk in the erasers. Though we did that as a matter of course. The good old "time-delay cherry bomb behind a toilet," say? Or stopping up all the toilets? The merciless cartoons and songs?

    Teachers who truly irritated us got their heating register pissed in: a real winter treat. Admittedly, we had to suffer too, but we only had to endure for 50 minutes. They were stuck in that room all day.

    I will say that our hatred was purely official. We hated school, and we hated our teachers as its agents, not as people. After the bell, outside of school, or anytime they weren't exercising some sort of authority over us we, and they, put our animosity aside. I think of the English and Germans playing football at Christmastime during WWI.

    Good times... good times. Well, not really. I'll take 41 over 14 any day.

  14. glad your dad stood up for you. gees, what a piece of wrk that woman was.

    my bad teacher story is awful. the scum almost cost me my life. i went into anaphylactic shock for the first time in my life during a spelling test in 4th grade with a teacher who hated me (he'd been singling me out all year for mistreatment...things like loosing my homework and making me do it over and punishment for imagined infractions). i raised my hand to ask to go to the nurse because i felt like i was going to vomit and i was suddenly very itchy everywhere. he wouldn't let me go until i finished the test. meanwhile the girl across from me could see there was something very, very wrong with me because she said i had gone white as a sheet and had hives bursting out all over my face. til he let me go to the nurse and she called my mom who only worked 4 blocks away from the school and she got to me, she walked right past me without even recognizing me because that's how swollen my face was. til she got me to the doctor he said i was less than a minute away from loosing my airway completely.

    that asswipe should have been fired and never let near another student.

  15. Jeez, another in a long line of similarities. I am the youngest of 6, all of whom were stars - mostly academic. But my response was to try and keep up. Of course, I was not perfect and the nun at the Catholic school made sure to point out that I was not as good as my siblings.

  16. Cricket-- Yes. You were my type of friend in school days. I was not much of an instigator generally, a follower, but I did help stage a three day anti-war sit in on the lawn of my public high school. When the secretary... who happened to be the mother of a friend of mine who worked in the office and regularly pulled my pink slips (AWOL from class) to keep me out of trouble... called my mother to ask her if she knew where I was...

    My mother, bless her heart said "Well, I believe she's sitting on your front lawn."

    I was suspended for 3 days for that one but my French teacher refused to fail me on my final as teachers were instructed to do with us rabble rousers. She was a wonderful teacher. I was inexplicably well liked by most of my teachers despite all the trouble I got into and that helped.

    But I do agree... pranks and trouble are for the young. I can find enough reasonable trouble at the age I am to keep me happy.

  17. lime-- That is horrific! I have also been in anaphylactic shock and its no picnic and very scary. You could have died. He should have been fired post haste! Glad you survived and good for your chum who insisted that you needed to see the nurse! What a hero to stand up to that bully of a teacher.

  18. Pamela-- I hated the sibling game in school. It made into such a misery. I was not my sisters and I sure was no sports star. I only wanted to be me and liked for who I was, not what family I belonged to.

    Nuns! I have penguin stories too! Beware the penguins. Again, not all evil. There were a few that I was very fond of, but some were darned scary.

  19. Jill-- Hi! I need to visit you. I've been so caught up in new love, moving and going bats. Glad you stopped in to remind me.

  20. Great story. Wonderfully supportive parents. Amazing kids. Hot guy. You seem to have the mother lode. You deserve it.

  21. Churlita-- Thanks. I do feel blessed and lucky.

  22. i left my horror story at Lime's house.

    good morning Miss Shields....

  23. coopernicus-- Ha! I'll go check it out. I see you are a "Ralphie" fan too! Loved the books and the movies, even the later ones that you see on PBS from time to time. Great stuffs!