Before I start, I must explain that this teacher was not only my teacher in the first grade of elementary, but then also again in grade four. It was two of the worst years of my childhood and to this day I still have trouble with authority.
She was probably in her 30s at the time but of course, when I was young I thought she was in her 50s. When I grew up and went to my school reunion 20 years later, she was still there. She looked exactly the same as I remembered her.
She remembered me, approached me, gave me a hug, and said it was good to see me again. I guess we had very different recollections of our times together.
Just a trigger warning that this story contains stories that include verbal and physical abuse as well as painful memories of lost toys and confidence. Viewer discretion advised. (I've always wanted to say that)
I grew up in the 80s and I was in the first grade when things like Michael Jackson, Back to the Future, and yo-yos were quite popular. I used to wear leather (fake) pants to school because I loved dancing to Billie Jean.
I was actually a very shy, quiet, small child. Even to this day, I am quite small, standing at just 5' 3" which is even shorter than the average height of a woman (I'm a man, by the way).
Throughout the first grade, there were many things that happened that not only made me get even quieter and shier but actually made me scared to go to school. The first was regular bullies.
Since I was a small boy, I couldn't really defend myself. My parents were also very nice but passive people so I had never been able to stand up for myself or defend myself. There were boys in my school that for no reason at all would trip me, kick me, pull my hair, throw me to the ground, or punch me.
I learned to run...really fast. I was so fast that I won first place in track and field and my nickname was the mouse. I had figured out how to use my size and speed to escape trouble. Of course, I couldn't run away from the biggest bully: my teacher.
My first-grade teacher, let's call her Miss Temper, looked like a witch. I know that sounds cliche but she always wore black skirts, black sweaters, had a black scarf, and black thick-rimmed glasses. She had dark black curly hair as well. And her eyes looked like she could kill you with a stare.
I was often verbally abused by her but she did that to everyone so I wasn't too hurt by that. We would all have to stand in a line and wait for her to mark our math work. Each student usually got a lashing or a tsk tsk when we made mistakes.
I will admit, I sucked at math. I think there were two or three kids like me who always got scolded. She would stay stuff like,
"What is going through your head?"
"Why is this so difficult? A baby could do it!"
"This is the worst I've seen. Go back and do it again."
Stuff like that. But one time when she was really fed with me she grabbed my arm, pulled me close to her face, and said, "Are you a mental midget? I'm surprised you can tie your shoes. You will never be able to do math so just give up and get out of my class." Then she threw my math sheet across the room.
There were many situations like that, and many times she would grab my shoulders, squeeze my arm, slap my head, or push me down into the chair. But I think the most memorable (not in a good way) is during her storytimes.
Miss Temper liked to sit in her rocking chair with a black shawl, get out a book, and read to the class. She read the same four books over and over again though and I got bored.
One day my 6-year-old idiot brain decided to get a black crayon that was in my pocket and start drawing on the carpet. I drew a big square, then a triangle on top. Then some windows and a door for my house. I was in the middle of making a chimney with smoke when I realized Miss Temper was standing over me.
She pulled me up, took me into the hall, yelled at me, and then threw me back. I fell into the shelves where kids placed their boots, jackets, and umbrellas and fell to the ground. I don't know what she said to me, or exactly what happened but I just remember the blood on my lips and pain in my head.
I am not sure if it was after this incident or another one, but eventually, I told my parents that I don't like Miss Temper and she always yells at me and hits me.
My parents called the principal and told them I was being treated unfairly and being scolded by Miss Temper and the principal told my parents he had never gotten complaints from other parents so there was nothing he could do.
So I was pretty much told it was my fault for not following Miss Temper's rules and everything would be fine if I was a good boy. I guess in today's culture we would say victim-blaming. But in the 80s that was how it was.
In second and third grade, my teachers were friendly, kind, and I enjoyed going to school again. I just had to keep away from the big kids. I think when I was in 3rd grade I wasn't fast enough and a group of grade 6 boys caught me, lifted me up upside down until I fell out of my pants, and left me in the field wearing only underwear during recess.
All the kids were laughing and I was crying. Finally, some teacher gave me back my pants and the boys were sent to the principal's office. But that was life.
In fourth grade on my first day of school I found out I had been put back into Miss Temper's class and I couldn't breathe. I went home and begged my parents to call the school and change classes.
Unfortunately, there was only one fourth-grade class as my school was small. I even tried to be moved to the ESL class by pretending I didn't speak English. I am a visible minority so it almost worked. But then one of the teachers who had me before ratted me out and told them I was fluent in English.
There were many days I pretended to be sick so I could stay home but my parents were old school and forced me to go to school. Unless I was puking, bleeding, or unconscious, skipping school was not an option.
That year since I was older, I was able to understand more clearly the hate Miss Temper had for me. She was mean to many kids, but I feel I was one of the most targeted. Despite being the smallest, quietest, and least vocal boy in class, I was always bullied by her.
On one occasion she saw something in my pocket and asked what it was. I pulled out my pink yo-yo that I had saved up a month's allowance to buy and she took it. She said I wasn't allowed to bring toys from home to school. She put it in her desk and to this day I still haven't got it back.
She often would say stuff like, "I can't believe I have to deal with you again this year," and "I thought as you got older you would get smarter. I guess just like your body, your mind is tiny."
All the kids around me heard her. Sometimes she would attack them too. But no one ever said anything. Not to her, the principal, their parent's or anyone. It was just her teaching style and we were being disciplined.
Had this happened in today's culture, she would be fired, possibly facing charges, and I would probably be in therapy. I guess times have changed a lot. Some people look back on those days and enjoy how easy life was without the internet, smartphones, and social media. The good ol' days of synth-pop music, Spielberg movies, and Atari games.
And though I did enjoy all these things, I was always afraid of adults. Rather than feel comfortable and protected by the men and women around me, I was always on guard, waiting for someone to scream at me or throw me against a wall.
I guess to this day, I gravitate towards being passive, avoiding conflict, and steering clear of people in general. I have some acquaintances, a few friends, and really only communicated with immediate family. I don't have strong relationships or friendships with anyone around me and am always waiting for the shit to hit the fan with someone I know.
My mind automatically runs away from trying to be close to people because I am afraid they will bully me, try to hurt me physically or mentally, or will think I am some "mental midget" that is nothing but a nuisance. I am always the first to end a conversation, leave a party, or avoid inviting anyone to anything for the fear that they will think I am annoying and wonder why I stay and bother them.
I don't want to be a burden to anyone and throughout my life, I have found that the best way to avoid any negative feelings is not being in a situation where it might happen.
I was pushed around, injured slightly, and felt belittled but compared to many other children who suffer abuse and violence from other kids, teachers, or parents, I didn't have it too bad.
Yet, I still have lasting effects from those experiences so it scares me to think how much suffering those who had it much tougher than me must be going through.
As society progresses, hopefully, these things I faced will be a thing of the past and children everywhere will be able to enjoy their childhood and not fear that adults around them mean them harm.