Audience Participation Friday: Mean Teachers

Sally Apokedak suggested this topic. Blame her.

The great majority of teachers (including both of my sisters) are angels who care very deeply for their students and don't get paid nearly enough. Today we aren't talking about those teachers. Today we're going to talk about the meanest, most awful teachers we've ever known. (Teacher Appreciation Week is in early May; we'll get this out of our systems now, then circle back that week to talk about teachers who changed our lives for the better).

My third-grade teacher was named Mrs. Crawley, and she almost deserved it. It was her custom to put a mark by your name on the chalkboard anytime you talked or wiggled or otherwise caused a distraction. She did it with neither fanfare nor recrimination, rarely even pausing her lecture or math problem, just tick, another mark by your name, and every mark represented a recess spent inside. One mistimed anecdote could easily cost you three ticks--more than half a week's recess--if you couldn't stop yourself. And not everybody can stop himself in the middle of a good anecdote. There were boys in Mrs. Crawley's class--and I was one of them--who found themselves in October with more ticks by their names than there were days in the term. You could only work off one tick per day (two, once she started making us stay in from PE too), but on any given day there was no limit to how many ticks you could get. Mrs. Crawley quickly ended up with a handful of boys with nothing left to lose, third-grade desperadoes who were liable to do anything.

Mrs. Crawley specialized in public humiliation. Just before the Christmas report card came out, she went around the room and made everybody stand beside his desk to say what grade he thought he deserved in conduct. When it was my turn I stood and said, with wavering confidence, "S-minus." Mrs. Crawley threw back her head and howled like a werewolf. Or laughed. It was hard to tell which sometimes. "Pshaw!" she said. "Jonathan thinks he should get an S-minus in conduct. What do you all think?" And everybody laughed, even Mark the Veterinary Calvinist. They were afraid not to. I laughed my own self.

But my humiliation was nothing to poor Clifford's. We had a pair of restrooms between our room and another third-grade room. Clifford asked permission to go to the restroom, and Mrs. Crawley granted it. Then, out of the corner of her gimlet eye she noticed that Clifford had gone into the girls' restroom. I don't suppose he meant anything by it. It was empty, and I imagine he was curious to know the difference between the two rooms. We all were. But Mrs. Crawley stormed back there like a hurricane and dragged Clifford out by the ear, yelling, "You want to be a girl, Clifford? Is that what you want? Well we can fix that Clifford. We can fix that right up. I'll bring in a dress tomorrow and you can put it on and wear it for the whole class." And would you believe she did? It was the only time I remember her ever going to any extra trouble for one of her students. She brought a dress the next day, and Clifford put it on, and he slouched shame-faced around the room while we looked down at our desks.

One last Mrs. Crawley story...A near neighbor of ours was involved in a deadly shooting (not on our street, thankfully), and when I heard about it the next day I was pretty upset, as you might imagine. I was sitting at my desk crying about it when Mrs. Crawley called out from the front of the room, "Jonathan, what are you crying about?" "Well, Mrs. Crawley, my neighbor got shot and killed last night." Mrs. Crawley thought on that for a second, and I thought maybe she didn't know what to say. But Mrs. Crawley always knew what to say. "I don't see why you're crying," she said. "No bullet hit you, did it?" Strange to say, that made me feel a little better.

I'm sure you had some terrible teachers of your own. Why don't you tell us about them?