Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teachers (Part 84)!

I lost some of these in the accidental in-box purge, but I managed to find a few in my "sent items" folder when I had originally responded. So here we go.

First off is a story from Dustin Chinn, which is notable for two reasons: one, his sister is awesome, and two, he titled it "Me And Mrs. Jones", and if you've never heard that song, have a listen, because it must be one of the greatest, most soulful songs ever recorded.

Here's Dustin's story:
My fifth grade teacher Ms. Jones had it in for me since day one. By then I had built a precocious reputation among the teachers of Whitworth Elementary (I'd tried to teach my classmates the basics of poker during third grade free time). One day she was instructing the class in the usage of greater than/less than/equal to symbols and called me up to the overhead projector present my answers. Luckily for me an older sister had given me a primer on this subject, so I was absolutely confident about the results.

Three problems into the worksheet Ms. Jones stopped me. "Shouldn't they be the other way around?"


"Greater than and less than."

Now sis taught me a mnemonic device, that you can draw teeth on the symbols and pretend that they're alligators, and that gators will always attack the bigger numbers first. When I repeated the tip to the class, Ms. Jones said something along the lines of "I don't care what your sister said," and asked the entire class, "Show of hands, who thinks I'm right?" I looked straight into my best friend's eyes, and can still remember his "what else do you want me to do?" look and shrug before joining the crowd. It was unanimous. I don't remember if Ms. Jones spared me the indignity of having a follow-up vote after that, but somehow the fake democratic process made the situation even worse than if she said "It's the other way because I say so."

After recess, Ms. Jones quietly informed us that she had consulted another teacher, and that my answers were correct. It was one of the best and worst feelings of my grade school career.

That's a bittersweet story, in the moment, but I believe that in retrospect, Dustin totally kicked that teacher's ass. Kicked it.

Now, a story from Zarathud:
My teacher from hell lived across the street. Every time we were caught running through her yard or flower beds as 8 year old children, our parents warned us that Mrs. Beef eventually would be our High School English teacher and we would pay for every misdeed with interest. Being kids, we ignored the warning.

My fateful year was 11th grade when my assigned seat was the second chair in front of Mrs. Beef’s massive wooden podium. The podium must have made it easier to beat us into submission with literature, and it put me always squarely within her sight. I remember dreading those classes and comparing her to the Eye of Sauron looking for this hobbit’s slightest misdeed as if they were the precious One Ring itself. Mrs. Beef once asked the class if I always misbehaved, telling a story about remembering me being regularly grounded and staring out my bedroom window as a 5 year old. I remember the dread and humiliation from Mrs. Beef’s class more than any literature we covered that year.

I wasn’t the only victim of her emasculation. When another student gave his sarcastic oral book report on “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche,” Mrs. Beef softly informed us we would bring eggs to class next week as if nothing had happened. We had no idea of her diabolical plans for revenge. We were marched during the next class to the school kitchen, where we were forced to make and eat our own hellish creations. There’s nothing more disgusting than barely cooked plain quiche, especially made by amateurs. More than a few of us retched and become horribly ill from food poisoning that day.

Mrs. Beef was so hated that her house wasn't just egged regularly. An athletic team one night actually cut down one of the massive evergreen trees in front of her house with a chainsaw. Guys would smack each other in the nuts with an underhanded cock-punch during gym class, yelling the battle cry “Mrs. Beef” as fair warning. The physical pain wasn’t far from the emotional pain we shared that year.

It turns out that Mrs. Beef was a good friend of my best High School teacher. Somehow I think it was karma’s way of evening the scales because High School is supposed to suck.
Okay, the idea of guy's yelling the teacher's name as warning before they crotch shot somebody is totally classic.

Now, one last story for the day, and it's from Chris Kohler:
I never had to suffer through any truly bad teachers, but my fourth grade teacher had some serious problems. Examples:
- Classmate pulled my chair out as I was sitting down, causing me to fall backwards and crack my head painfully on the desk. I had a bump on my skull. Her response: Did not bother to punish the kid who did it, told me "I'm not sending you to the nurse just because of a bump on your head" and had the two of us "sit down and talk through our differences" while my head was still killing me.

- Related incident: My chest was starting to hurt, not sure why. Told her about it. Response: "Fourth graders don't get heart attacks. Sit down."

- Kept track of everyone's spelling tests on a big sheet of cardboard hung up near her desk, and told the class at the beginning of the year that the students with the three top overall scores would win a silver dollar. I was totally pumped about this because I collected coins at that time, and to have a silver dollar would be amazing. I think I missed one single spelling question that year. End of the year rolls around, and she hands me a fucking Susan B. Anthony dollar.

But here is the grand slam.

Fourth grade spelling bee. Every class is in the cafeteria, everybody is participating. As mentioned above, I feel totally confident that I am going to nail this, insofar as I know how to spell every single word in the spelling book backwards and forwards. The teachers are taking turns reading spelling words to us out of the textbook, and it just so happens that my teacher reads me one of the words.

I stand up, ready to ace it.

"Root beer," she says.

"Root beer?" I think. That's two words. How do I handle this?

"R-o-o-t," I say, then pause, then "b-e-e-r."

She stands there, saying nothing, a smirk on her face.

"R-o-o-t," pause, "b-e-e-r." I'm sure I'm right. This is easy. Why is she smiling and not saying anything?

She speaks. "Sorry, that's incorrect."

"What? Why?"

"Root beer is two words. You should have said: 'R-o-o-t, space, b-e-e-r.'"

I couldn't argue my way out of it. I was 10. I was so confused. I left the stage, sat there angry about the injustice of the whole thing without being able to articulate why I had just gotten screwed.

I didn't understand the spelling bee story at first, but this morning it hit me, and it hit hard: just like Chris, and all of you guys, I had teachers who seemed to enjoy it when I made a mistake. They relished the failure.

Even today, thinking about that is a way to get my blood pressure way up, way fast. And those were always, without exception, the worst teachers I had.

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