Terrific Teacher Tuesday – An Un-Valentine, and a Valentine

For YA Highway I agreed to do a Valentine post – a Valentine to someone – in addition to the swoony scene from my WIP that I posted earlier this week. I also wanted to do a Terrific Tuesday post, but since my Terrific Tuesday posts are usually about teens (or sometimes tots), and I think a woman of my advanced age writing a Valentine to a teen (or a tot) is a bit weird, I thought I might called today Terrific TEACHER Tuesday instead.

I’m not going to go all “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” now. The closest thing I ever had to a sexual crush on a teacher was a swimming teacher when I was 35. Sigh…Mr. Boryenko.

Anyway, this will be a Valentine to a terrific teacher, one who greatly affected me and helped to shape me into what I am now. Many of you will have stories like this – the primary teacher who taught you to read, the middle school teacher who inspired you to try a bit harder, the high school teacher who helped you learn that you were destined to be a writer, an actor, a chiropractor, or whatever.

I think she taught me in grade one

Sadly, I don’t have stories like this, not from school anyway. All I have is stories of teachers who discouraged me, punished me for things that were out of my control, or ignored my feeble early attempts at writing. So, in the interests of getting things off my chest, I’m going to list them first.

Mademoiselle Someone or other who got married half way through the year and changed her name, grade 1 – you sat in the back of the class and smoked. You bumped me out of the advanced reading group after I struggled with ONE word (“stopped”, I’ll never forget it) because I’d been away for two months.

Mademoiselle Spinster Twin, grade two – you made me stand at your desk reading in French until I fainted. You grabbed me, painfully by the chin, to redirect my attention to something – I don’t remember what – that I’m sure was beneath my intelligence.

Nuns with names I don’t remember at Convent School in New Zealand (grade three). You didn’t notice, or didn’t care, that the older girls were bullying me, because I got along better with the boys. You didn’t notice me at all, despite the poems you reluctantly admitted were extraordinary.

Madame Abuser, grade four – you backhanded my classmates, threw books, tied kids into their chairs with extension cords, shut them in lockers and taped their mouths shut with, I think, gaffer’s tape. You never touched me – I don’t think you dared – but my heart broke every day for my classmates. Yet we fought with each other about who would hold your hand on the way to gym. It makes me sick to think of it now, how much we loved you, and how you hated us.

Madame Memorable, grade five. All I remember from grade five is developing a fierce crush on Peter Malone that lingered for four years. Madame Memorable, you must have been okay.

Madame Little Blonde with the fox fur coat, grade six – you were tough, a disciplinarian. You set the bar high, yet never bothered to notice I was already floating above it. I spent a fair bit of time facing the back wall, sometimes with tears in my eyes, frustrated and bored, and humiliated by the bullies that you fawned over because they were ass kissers.

Mr. Whathisname, the band leader, you weren’t much better, basically telling me I had no musical inclination at all and leaving me to the b*tches in the percussion section. No musical inclination? Please see, “played the lead in the musical” and “rock band” below.

Monsieur We-were-your-last-resort, grade seven. I know you knew me. I wrote a poem, in French, that made you cry. Yet you distained me, set me meaningless punishments, and made me cry, and not in a good way. Once you literally kicked my butt. I showed you, AGAIN in grade ten what I could do with words, but it never occurred to you to take notice or do something about it.

Monsieur Douche-bag, grade eight, remember those poems I showed you? I know they were bad. I get it. I was thirteen years old for God’s sake, of course they were bad. But did you have to tell me that? Make me feel about two inches tall? Did you hear I’m publishing a novel in verse next year?

Grade nine English/Gym teacher. No surprise I don’t remember your name. ‘It’s not a very good story is it?’ you said to me. No, I know, it wasn’t but…really? I wrote it, and many others you’ll never see, in my spare time. I showed it to you, because that’s what you do. And I got ‘it’s not very good’? Were you friends with M. Douche-bag or what? Did you hear I have a book coming out next month?

Grade Ten, Mrs. Feminist who hated girly girls. You turned your nose up when we asked you to supervise the cheerleaders. I get it, we knew it was superficial and cheesy, but in an athletic school, that’s what girls who want to sing and dance do. We showed you in the end, how serious we were, but it’s hard to forget a slight like that. You looked at us like we were trashy bimbos so that’s how we felt.

Grade eleven, new artsy school and  Mrs. McJazzyPants. You were inspiring, and loved me, for a time, casting me in the lead and giving me a solo with the blues band, but then you dumped me. Blocked me from the jazz choir, the girls’ rock band, even preventing a friend from accompanying me on a solo performance in the Arts Benefit Concert. I showed you anyway, with a song I only see the irony of right this moment, but I never trusted you again, even when you took me back in grade twelve. I know it’s too late (you passed in 2009) but can I tell you that you can’t treat a teenage girl like that?

Mrs. Crooks, dear Mrs. Crooks, 68%, really? In creative writing? Are you f*cking kidding me?

Grade twelve, you know what? I don’t remember any of your names. Not one. I had my rock band, Jessica, Maury and Graham. I had my friends. I had my sisters. I didn’t need you. I gave you one of the best years of my life, and I got nothing back. You didn’t listen, you didn’t seem to care. You interacted weakly with me. I had the feeling that you hated us all.

If you hated teenagers so much why did you teach high school? Can you see how you failed me? Me! I have an IQ of 139. I spoke, read and wrote in two languages. My father was a professor, my mother a librarian. We were well off, middle class, well-travelled and lived in a house full of books. And you failed to inspire ME. To what uninspiring level of sh*t did you rise for the kids who couldn’t or didn’t read, or had a bad home life, or basically supported themselves? Did you ever stop to ask yourself if it was okay that your work was crap? Do you think surgeons should ever ask themselves this? Or police officers? Or ship’s captains?

I’ve been told, over and over, that there are inspiring, wonderful, life changing teachers in the world. The web is full of stories about them. But my experience has been considerably less than this idealized, rose tinted view.

Your ship sank, school teachers o’ mine. Happy F*cking Valentine’s Day to you all, wherever you are. Teachers look like superheroes in the media because people don’t call their crap teachers out. Do you know why we all love to hear about inspiring teachers? Because they are exceptional. And why should that be? Isn’t it their job to inspire young people? When is the last time you read a post where someone rhapsodized about an auto-mechanic because they did what they are paid to do and FIXED YOUR DAMN CAR? And smiled at you as they took your money? And called you ma’am?

We are not asking teachers and schools for miracles. We are asking them to do their jobs. Many, maybe most, do. Maybe I was just unlucky. I hope there are no teachers like this left in the world, but I feel almost sure that there are. My seven year old daughter (let me repeat, she is SEVEN YEARS OLD) has been driven to tears by her gym teacher (repeat: GYM TEACHER) on more than one occasion.

It wasn’t until I left high school that I had terrific teachers. Dr.Hazel Smith at the University of New South Wales. Alison Lyssa at Sydney Community College. And finally Professor Alison Acheson at UBC, who has had a profound impact on everyone she’s ever taught.

So this Valentine’s Day, this Terrific Teacher Tuesday is for you, Alison Acheson.. Happy Valentine’s Day Alison, you are truly TERRIFIC. Your students have the confidence, and the writing credits, to prove it.

12 thoughts on “Terrific Teacher Tuesday – An Un-Valentine, and a Valentine

  1. Oh my. I was reading along, and I could so clearly see these people in your life, and all I could think about was the last day of my SECOND teaching practicum (I was kicked out of both–although they don’t “kick” you out in Education. They have other ways to let you go). On my last day, to “model” to me how I might heighten my standards for the grade four students in my care, the sponsor teacher told a child he could write. With a thumb broken in three places. His mother had asked me–as acting teacher–to make certain he didn’t write for a week. And to make doubly certain (because one must always cover one’s ass in Education, and I’m not speaking in terms of the learners, but with admin), I checked with a friend, an emerg nurse at children’s. Yes, one solid week–especially if the child has been taken to a hospital such as Surrey…where he’ll be given a splint and not a full cast, as he would at Children’s.

    So, Gabrielle, I’m reading your post, feeling anger, knowing how this and all the other thousands of more subtle ways of killing spirits is out there…and then I come to the end of your Valentine post, and I’m in tears suddenly. Thank you. You have truly made my day. And more, as I blunder on through my teaching/writing path…

    Happy Valentine’s!

  2. I think you were really unlucky…maybe it was the French immersion thing – they were so desperate for French teachers back then maybe, I don’t know? I had a few really good teachers but lots of mediocre in the English stream in the same school. High school was the same, a few really good, many mediocre. I once got 59% in English – I had had my tonsils out that year, was away for more than 2 weeks and MISSED A TEST and got that grade, what a joke…uh excuse me Miss Whatever your name was, I am now on a university fellowship for a doctorate in language and literacy…

    I have to say my kids teachers have been, for the most part, excellent. But, given that I have kid with “special educational needs” it wasn’t like I was going to tolerate mediocre teachers for him. They saw me coming, with my big smile just barely concealing my “I am your worst nightmare come true if you f*ck with my child” aura… They did great, but I had done my homework and picked a school with an exemplary reputation for inclusion.

    I get really really upset when I hear “terrible librarian” stories…We really aren’t all hags who run around and shush people! So I hope that classroom teachers reading this don’t feel affronted, unless of course they suck, then they should be affronted. The message to all teachers should be to encourage the fledgling talents of all your students and that discouraging words from teachers are very damaging. They need to be reminded of the power over and influence they have on kids. Kids don’t need to be coddled, they need to be encouraged.

  3. As an out-of-work teacher (who doesn’t miss it for a second) I am horrified by what these teachers got away with. Did they hate kids that much? How many kids did they crush along the way? So, so horrible.

    I too have had some real ‘winners’ and when I worked for the police, received more than one call about seriously incompetent (even borderline abusive) teachers. And I’m out of work??? I suppose it’s best that I’m not teaching. I would never want my extreme dislike for the occupation to leech out in any of these horrible ways. I doubt it would, but still.

  4. Currently, I have had great teachers ( except one, who had a 2 year old daughter and was pregnant, and wasn’t as bad as the ones you had, so I forgive her) especially for the teacher I have right now, who is just awesome. Also our enrichment teacher, who has time for everyone. I love Matilda. Hammer throw, anyone?

  5. As I now am responsible for teacher education in my new job, your post is very disheartening. Teaching is a calling rather than a job, but too few teachers hear that calling and too many aren’t up to the task. My track record growing up in Regina was not quite as bad as yours, but mediocrity was status quo. I’m trying to make a difference by encouraging my students to teach through drama, and to let go of the teacher-driven model in favor of a more creative, open-ended curriculum co-constructed by teachers and their students. But the problems in education are huge, as in any huge bureaucratic governmental program…all we can do is demand excellence from ourselves and the teachers we encounter along the way. And to offer other ways of being in the world and engaging with young people than the horror stories you describe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s