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.
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.