No doubt you have taught so many children in your years as a teacher that you have forgotten us individually. I wish I could say that I have forgotten you but you are unforgettable in the worst possible way.
Allow me to refresh your memory..
‘STAND ON YOUR CHAIR!’, your voice boomed across the room.
The classroom fell silent (as was the case when some poor kid was in for a telling off) and on this occasion the kid was me.
You were my primary school teacher but I could never take to you. It was dislike at first sight.
I remember you as a tall, thin woman with slate grey hair which hung limply either side of your face. You never wore make-up and and your piercing eyes were magnified by those unflattering glasses you wore. I recall you wearing Jesus sandals which drew attention to your man-size feet and unsightly toe hair but most of all it was your unsmiling face which unnerved me.
Why, what’s the matter, that you have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness? ~ William Shakespeare
Some teachers are charismatic but you and your ‘February face’ had the charisma of a wheelie bin. Truth be told, I was scared of you.
I don’t remember any of what you taught me, I just remember you and an incident which stuck in my memory like a thorn sticks in the flesh.
I didn’t like school – it was too loud, smelled of feet and my being there meant that I missed Pipkins. School was all about surviving and my survival was avoidance. It was my safety valve in any situation that I wasn’t comfortable with. However, my strategy would prove to be my undoing on that particular day.
So, we did craft lessons, and this one was sewing. Our task was to stitch two sides of felt together using a blanket stitch in a shape of our choice. I chose a fish. We were supposed to take our work to you if we made any mistakes. I’d made a mistake fairly early on (I was crap at sewing) but the thought of walking up to your desk made my stomach want to part ways with my lunch. So I stayed put and prayed that the fire bell would go off.
You decided to walk around the classroom to check on our progress. I knew you were behind me without having to look. It suddenly felt cold despite it being a warm day, though this was probably due to your six foot frame blocking out the sunlight. I froze up from the inside, except for my cheeks, which were crimson. After what seemed like ages, your large hand reached down and snatched my work away from me. Seconds passed, then your voice boomed out..
“STAND ON YOUR CHAIR!!”
The classroom fell deathly silent. You could have heard a mouse fart, it was that quiet!
Every child was looking at me. Me, the child who tried so hard to be invisible. Of course, the problem with trying to be invisible is that sometimes it backfires and you find yourself becoming totally the opposite.
You bellowed, “THIS IS WHAT WE DO TO RUBBISH!!” and in front of the class – you ripped my work to shreds. The wobbly stitching gave zero resistance and with one final act of malice, you threw it at me.
You made me stand on my chair, hands on head, for the rest of the lesson and into playtime.
I was eight years old.
I wanted the ground to open up beneath me. Tears stung my eyes but I refused them permission to fall. There was no way that I was going to give you the satisfaction of seeing me cry! So I just stood there looking at my shoes through blurry eyes wishing to be anywhere but there.
I certainly know of a few children who would have stood on that chair smirking at you and I have been that child when re-enacting it out in my mind. In reality, I was a sensitive girl whose behaviour at school was misinterpreted as shyness or disobedience. My sensitivity made me a target for bullies for my entire school life but that day, I learned that not all bullies are children.
You humiliated me in front of the entire class.
Your lasting impression on me, Miss, was one of fear.
Humiliation damages young children – it undermines their self-esteem.
A good teacher doesn’t intimidate their students. Humiliation isn’t character building – it’s abuse. Humiliation is rooted in power and some teachers need to humiliate children in order to control them. What you did was wrong. It was an abuse of power – I just didn’t know it then because grown ups had to be obeyed. We are hardwired to obey those in control, especially as children, so I didn’t question it. I just did as I was told and tried as best I could to deal with the hurt in order to be able to walk into the classroom the next day.
You were a bully. You probably had reasons why you acted the way you did but it doesn’t excuse you. There is no excuse for bullying. Ever.
As Jim Henson said,
Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them, they remember what you are.
I’ve remembered you for being a bully and the monster of my nightmares.
However, being older and somewhat wiser, I am able to see you for the imperfect human being that you were and the monster fades away into insignificance.
You most likely graduated up into the big school in the sky a long time ago and perhaps after being such a miserable cow to little children, you found a sense of peace?
Maybe one day I’ll find mine.