My insomnia has been awful lately and as I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep a couple of days ago, a strange series of events concerning an old teacher popped into my head. Here is that thought turned into a “story”.
A week before summer break I was pulled into a conversation held by a group of nervous 4th graders to discuss the three teachers who taught fifth grade. None of us knew what teacher we would be assigned to next year (that information was sent to us in mid to late August along with out school supplies and uniform list—-that’s right! Yours truly went to a uniform school from K-6 and I hate to admit that I kind loved it…) and as we sat speculating on the chances of being put into each class, we agreed that no one wanted to be in Mrs. H.’s class.
All year long we’d heard the angry yells and threats erupting from her room, and on more than one occasion teachers had actually stepped away from their own classrooms to tell Mrs. H. and her students to “quiet down”. Whenever this happened a polite apology would be made by Mrs. H, followed by a stupid chorus of her annoying students, and the noise would subside for a couple of minutes…until her screams broke through the stillness of the halls yet again and our teachers were forced to keep our doors shut.
Each time this happened the students and teachers who shared the same hallway as her would talk; in the classrooms, at lunch and on the playground, and despite threats from the principal and other teachers against Mrs. H.’s students no one seemed to care, and nothing ever changed. The yells and threats would continue day after day, week after week, and even the threat (and sometimes actual punishment) of not going to recess did nothing to help.
So, when the end of August came around and it was time for me to find out who my teacher was…well you can only imagine how scared I was when I found out I’d been put in Mrs. H.’s class. For the rest of the summer, I tossed and turned at night, trying to imagine spending an entire year hearing her yells first-hand, despite (most likely) not having done anything to earn them. Mrs. H. was strict. She was a no-nonsense kind of teacher and she always meant business. She never let anything slide and going into her class meant spending an entire year receiving dirty looks from the entire 4th grade wing and the other two fifth grade classrooms.
“If you behave and mind your business, she won’t have anything to yell at you for,” my mother said. “If you behave and are polite, then everything will be okay; and if she ever does yell at you—whether you did something or not—let me know. I don’t send you to school to be yelled at.”
And with a big sigh I would always rebuke my mother’s warnings and advice by saying “WHAT IF?”
What if she yelled at me for something I didn’t do? What was I supposed to do if she yelled to the class all the time? What if I went deaf? What if she was a horrible teacher? **What if she punished me for something the class didn’t do? What if she decided not to take us out to recess? What if, what if, what if….On and on it went until the first day of school arrived. The endless what ifs grew and became more terrifying as September approached and on my first day, as my mother shook my shoulders to wake me up I sighed, unhappy—for the very first time in my life—to be heading off to a brand new school year.
With a heavy heart and an even heavier backpack full of awesome new school supplies I got up, put my uniform on, had breakfast and got on the bus. The entire ride to school I pondered over what I would do if she DID yell at me. I’d been in trouble before but nothing bad had come out of it because I was ALWAYS right, and if she tried anything…boy o boy would I let her have it! My dragon of a mother would march into school, put her and the principal in their place and then—then Mrs. H. turned out to be really fucking cool.
As I walked into my new classroom, a warm and friendly Mrs. H. smiled down at me, officially welcoming me into her classroom. With a hearty wave she pointed to a table near her desk and told me to find my seat, nodding politely in my direction when I sat down. As more and more students arrived, I couldn’t help but wonder why any of them looked so happy and comfortable. Did they not realize what she was doing? Her friendliness was a trick, and soon enough someone would get up to sharpen their pencil, or they would sneeze too loud, or their water bottle would make too much noise, and BOOM! Her chest would pull out the first of the many screams we were certainly going to receive throughout the rest of the year.
[Interlude II: I know the bits above may seem dumb and redundant, and if you have made it this far then thank you! I promise I am almost done with this bit, and I will promptly move on to the next thing. Just give me a chance…pretty please?]
But the yells and screams never came. Well, they did, but they were seldom and very well-deserved. I always behaved impeccably (yes, I was a teacher’s pet), and whenever Mrs. H did yell it was, in my opinion and perhaps yours, too, whenever someone was stupidly and unbelievably bad. I remember clearly when one of my classmates stole a wiener sausage from the lunchroom and for the rest of the afternoon spent the day tormenting the girls in class by asking if we’d be interested in sucking his “wiener”. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
[Aside: why are (some) boys like this? I don’t understand…I just don’t, and the fact he didn’t think anything was wrong with what he’d done made it even worse…ugh; the stories I could (and will) tell you about the boys and “men” I’ve come across…but more on that later.]
When Mrs. H. caught him wiggling the stupid wiener sausage in front of a girl, she went bat shit crazy and her screams were so loud a few of my classmates actually covered their ears to drown out the noise. A suspension was made and when he returned, he was forced to apologize to every single girl in the classroom for being disrespectful. He obviously didn’t mean a single word that came out of his mouth and the following day he had the audacity to bring ANOTHER wiener from home and do the same thing. A week long suspension ensued (I think) and when he finally came back, he stopped harassing the girls in the class for good. He had a bruise on his arm and near his left eye…I’ll let you imagine the rest if you’d like…
(But back to Mrs. H!)
Things in Mrs. H.’s class were always like that. She never yelled unless she had to, and when she did it didn’t last (usually) for too long. And as the days and then weeks and then months went by, our class found itself liking Mrs. H. (reluctantly). Unlike other teachers I’d had before she didn’t hold grudges for long, and she always made a point to apologize to the class when someone was being disruptive. We made an effort (or perhaps were not as rowdy as I’d expected us to be) to not misbehave, and in what seemed like a drastic change from her previous class, she seemed to take a special liking to us.
And then one day, after a couple of months had passed and we’d gotten used to Mrs. H., she sat us down and told us she was leaving. She had applied to be the head teacher of the gifted/talented students at another school and her application had been accepted. She was leaving in about a month or two (I honestly don’t remember, sorry!) and a new teacher, named Ms. J. Snyder, was coming in. Ms. Snyder, according to Mrs. H., had a PhD. and she was very smart. She was very eager to meet us, and she was sure we’d be really good students for her.
[Interlude III: Not that this matters to the overall story, but I have to get this off my chest. Ms. Snyder was, without a doubt, the WORST teacher I’ve ever had. If incompetence and stupidity were a person she is (I am assuming she is still alive), without question, the textbook, thesaurus, dictionary and slang definition of “it.” I sincerely hope she is no longer teaching, and if she is, God help those poor children…]
A note was sent in our backpacks that same day and parents were invited to discuss with Mrs. H. and the principal any questions, comments, or concerns they had regarding “the transition”. I honestly don’t know why they made such a big deal out of it. We could have had a pizza party to send her off and then have left it at that BUT NO! Oh, no, my dear stranger! Tears were shed, several parties were held, and after a quick meeting with Ms. Snyder the day finally came. Mrs. H. left our fifth grade classroom and we never saw her again.
[Interlude IV: I just remembered that she DID show up at our 6th grade graduation and that barely anyone remembered her name. Why were our memories so shit regarding who she was if she was such a great teacher? Anyways….]
Ms. Snyder showed up the next day and that’s basically when our fifth grade year went down the toilet, over and under every drain and sewage system in America and finally, after it had collected every single Pokemon card in existence, dumped our education NOT in the ocean—nay nay!, but in the deepest, darkest, smelliest, and filthiest circle of Hell itself. She was mostly friendly, I’ll give her that, but she was a horrible teacher and unlike Mrs. H., who could get our class to do anything with a wave of her hand or a single glance, she had to resort to yelling and screaming to get us to do LITERALLY ANYTHING.
Nothing she said or did worked and my classmates, sensing her weakness, pounced on her like hungry hyenas. Meetings would be held during recess, discussing ways in which to make her life miserable; and no matter how hard she tried no one—not even the teachers—warmed up to her.
On several occasions she brought her children and fiancé to class in order to do story time (WTF?!) and sometimes, if we’d spent the entire morning “behaving” (this meant she’d only yelled once or twice throughout the morning) she’d let us skip math lessons in order to wander around the hallways in small groups, use computers to play games on the internet, eat snacks and watch movies, and a whole bunch of other useless crap that was not helping our education.
Now at this point you may be wondering why. Why did we hate her so much if she seemed to be every child’s dream teacher? Well, stranger it was because she didn’t teach. At all. She would try to avoid lessons the same way a cat avoids water and whenever she DID happen to teach the class she’d end up frustrated and angry because NO ONE knew what to do. But honestly what did she expect? She was never consistent with our education and because she didn’t assign homework and/or allow us more than a day or two on each concept we didn’t understand anything.
Teachers would talk about how misbehaved and academically behind we were and more than once (sorry for overusing this expression but it’s the only one that’s coming to mind at this point) they’d make snide comments about her lack of teaching and control over our class.
Mrs. H., despite her “faults”, had been a very good teacher and under her attentive eye we’d actually been AHEAD of the other fifth grade classes in math, science, history, and reading. Everyone in class, even the kids who struggled, hated her guts because she was making all of us fall behind.
I suppose I should have explained that bit earlier, but I didn’t know how. We didn’t hate Ms. Snyder because of who she was (although we resented her a little for taking Mrs. H.’s place), but because of how EXTREMELY laid back and careless she was. When other teachers talk both openly and behind your back about your teaching style and your students GO TO THE PRINCIPAL (and in my case talk to their parents) to complain about not learning anything…that’s a problem. And it is a pretty big one.
Things got so bad the principal had to go to our class one day to talk to us, and when we OPENLY complained about not learning anything the principal had the nerve to take Ms. Snyder’s side and completely gaslight us by saying that WE had to pay more attention in class if we wanted to do well.
I don’t know whether any of the other teachers talked to the principal afterwards to back up our claims, but when several parents (mine included) went to the school to complain about us falling behind Ms. Snyder finally changed her tune. She yelled less and was more “consistent” with our teaching, but by then it was too late. Our state exams had come and gone and barely any of us had managed to scrape by. The only consolation rested in the idea that she would no longer be our teacher and that sixth grade would hopefully bring a normal teacher who truly cared about our education.
And then we found out.
[Interlude V: When I enrolled at R.E.W.S.S.O.E., home of the teddy bears (yep!, a teddy bear was our school mascot; students voted and that one won), the only grades they offered were K-3. By the time I reached the third grade the powers that be had unanimously decided to expand a grade year as our current class moved on, so that eventually the school would be able to offer a standard K-6 curriculum.]
As the end of the year approached, we found out that the SAME teacher we had “THIS” year would ALSO be out sixth grade teacher. And because this story is already way too fucking long, I’m gonna recap the rest of what happened in a few short sentences.
I requested a classroom change about a week before classes began (a meeting was held, and I put Ms. Snyder on blast for being a horrible teacher) and I was swiftly moved to Mr. Smith’s class. To this day he is still one of the coolest teachers I’ve ever had, and I still have very fond memories of him. He was a total sweetheart, very kind and knowledgeable, and he gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever heard in my life.
Ugh. I did not mean for this story to finish this way, but I don’t know what else to do with it. In reality (and in the beginning, as I was writing it) the true purpose of whatever the heck this has become was to try to understand why Ms. Snyder thought that telling us that her ex-husband was gay and had married her only for appearance’s sake would get us to like her.
That was supposed to be where the story, but halfway through it felt strange to explain that particular moment in time in extensive length. To this day I don’t know why she decided to reveal such a painful part of her life, and despite thinking long and hard about it these past couple of days, I still have no clue.
One day, out of the blue, she sat us down after recess and thought that it would be a good idea to share something incredibly personal about her life—and that the class would respond with something other than an awkward silence followed by uncontrollable laughter. Was she lonely? Is that why she had decided to tell us? Or was it something else? Something I’m not old enough to understand? I don’t know. I really don’t, and before I continue repeating myself, I’m going to call it quits.
If you made it this far thank you and congratulations. I appreciate you taking the time to read my wild and often incoherent tangents, and I want you to know that I respect and value your time. It’s mine that I need to learn to appreciate a little more.