Thursday, November 15, 2007

Learning Lessons, Part 1

It is a miracle that I am not at this very moment bussing tables at the fried chicken shack while my three children by three different men are home alone in our trailer making crank calls and trying to figure out how to fix themselves a pot of store brand, boxed macaroni and cheese. Had my kindergarten teachers had their way this is exactly where I’d be, because, as you may recall – I am a retard.

Luckily I have an ass kicking grandmother who raised holy hell and had me removed from the Resource Room and placed in the regular classroom. I’m sure my dear mother would have done this too, but bless her heart, she was in jail when I was in kindergarten and as such could not use her one phone call a week to cuss out the school principal. Now, just because I went back to the regular kindergarten did not mean my problems had ended. Alas, my problems had just begun.

You don’t think the teachers backed down and admitted their mistake do you? Of course they didn’t. People hardly ever admit their own mistakes. Instead, when caught in error, most people just try even harder to prove that they weren’t wrong. I don’t know what the hell is the matter with everyone. It’s ok to be wrong you know. These teachers were embarrassed and even more than embarrassed they were full on furious that my grandmother had yelled at them and undermined their authority. Who did Jewel Holland think she was anyhow? You know that Jewel always did think her shit didn’t stink. Look how she came in here all actin’ like she was better than everyone else when her granddaughter is plainly a retard. These women were not happy, so of course they took it out on me because they were resentful that I had somehow indirectly made them look stupid.

I got in trouble for something every day. I got sent to the principal and almost paddled on numerous occasions, but of course I never did anything wrong, and by the time first grade rolled around I had learned to despise school. I tried everything to not have to go to school, but by the grace of the Good Lord above I got a very kind, dear first grade teacher who currently attends Mommom Jewel’s church and has led a very nice life.

Second grade was an entirely different story. My second grade teacher was a 70 year old black lady of the sort who loves to tell people that she don’t take no mess off of no chirrun. Mmmm Mmm. See, I’m all for not takin’ mess off of nobody, but you can “not take mess” a little too far and Mrs. Inkwell crossed the line well over into just plain abuse. You can tell she was the kind of woman who reveled in beating children’s asses with switches at every chance she got. Her own children probably couldn’t sit down until they were eighteen. People like Mrs. Inkwell often talk about sparing the rod and all that nonsense and they are always the people defending the person who dislocates their toddler’s shoulder in the middle of the K-Mart. “You better believe he won’t ask for no pack of Now and Laters again!”

Back when I was in second grade corporal punishment was still legal so Mrs. Inkwell regularly slapped children across their faces and smacked their hands. I don’t remember learning anything at all in second grade. I don’t remember cupcakes at Christmas, books we read, a class play or anything pleasant at all. I remember getting hit in the mouth and sitting trembling in terror while that old bitch did nothing but yell. If she taught now she’d get arrested.

My teachers were all the same – bland, bitter and boring. I have never in my life encountered a more joyless group of people than schoolteachers and I think having gone to about nine or ten different schools in many different areas, that I am an authority on this subject. Whether I attended Millpond Middle out in the middle of nowhere or my fancy, elitist private school in New York, it was the same shit everywhere. In Millpond the teachers complained that the kids were all dumb hicks who were just going to go work on a farm anyway and in New York all the teacher griped that the kids were spoiled and coddled and their parents were going to pay their way into the Ivy Leagues so who even cared. If I had gone to an inner city school the teachers there would have blamed the ghetto culture and called the kids thugs, because no matter where you go the teachers all have the mentality of “us against them.” They look at their students like enemies. They act like no matter who they’re teaching that nothing they do will ever make any sort of a difference and so they stop trying and do nothing but complain and wait for summer.

I don’t know why teaching attracts such resentful, self-righteous idiots. Maybe they like the authority. It seemed to me that most of my teachers were on a power trip. You can tell by the way they all get overly involved in school politics and gossip and act like they’re working for the damned CIA or something. They all use acronyms and talk about government programs and then the conversations all inevitably go towards how they don’t make money, and then they’ll drag out a very well worn soap box and heave themselves up on it and start talking about how horrible the kids are today and how they deserve to make what doctors and lawyers make. I acknowledge that teaching is hard and yes, it is an extraordinarily important job. It may well be the most important job that there is, and yes it would be nice if they got paid more, but doctors would reply that it would be nice if they only worked nine months and got lots of time off too. But I’m not going to get into a whole debate on how much teachers make. They knew when they got into the field that they wouldn’t end up millionaires.

I’m sorry that teachers don’t make a lot of money, but I’m more sorry that most teachers abuse their position and suck ass at their jobs. Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about.

My stepmother was a teacher. She was bossy, smug and self-centered. She believed herself better than each of her students and their families and well, she probably believed herself to be better than everyone else in the entire world, including that shriveled up Catholic, Mother Theresa, feeding those stupid people in India or wherever she was. My stepmother lived to humiliate children in her classes so that she could demonstrate (to whom I have no idea) that she was an intellectual and an authoritarian. Her worldview was (is) all about dominance and control. She believed that children’s spirits and wills needed to be broken. She was another one spouting off “spoil the rod” and in the end, this supposedly Godly woman encouraged a man to abandon his own child so that her children with him wouldn’t be negatively influenced by a willful, sinful girl with a criminal mother married to a Jew. I’m sure God was very proud that she did all that in His name and that someone like her was responsible for shaping the minds of impressionable students.

After I got out from under my stepmother’s rule I went to go live with my parents and went to about eight more schools in the next four years. Every school was the same. At the fancy private school I got a detention for crying in class when we read the end of A Tale of Two Cities where Sidney Carton sacrifices his life for the woman he loves. Obviously I hadn’t been paying attention if I was sitting in class crying and you didn’t expect her to believe that something as silly as an old novel would make a fourteen year old cry. At my next school I got suspended. I got expelled from another school and not for any real infraction. I was quiet, obedient and shy to a fault. They suspended me for writing incendiary essays (one was a biting satire of my wealthy classmates) and for cutting class because I was too shy to tell the male gym teacher I had my period and didn’t want to do gymnastics. I got yelled at for being bad at math. One teacher reduced me to tears because he said I spent my time staring out the window instead of concentrating on trigonometry. He made me write a report on the tree outside the window and read it aloud to the class as they all snickered and whispered. I ended up getting expelled from that school while my dad sat in prison.

When we moved to Florida it just continued. Teachers did not understand that I couldn’t stay for detention because I had no one to pick me up because my dad was in Eastern Europe doing God knows what and my mother was so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed. They didn’t understand that the reason I was late was because the electric and water were shut off again so my plug-in alarm clock didn’t go off and my mom was having such bad panic attacks that she couldn’t drive me to school so I had to walk three and half miles and ended up getting in to class at 10:30. And dammit, when you have shit like that to worry about when you’re fifteen and shy, the last thing on your mind is your Social Studies group project on the damned Puritans.

When I turned sixteen I had had enough of jackasses in comb-overs and wide ties yelling in my face about how I didn’t try and how I was lazy and how I would never get into a good college. I reached my limit of frumpy cunts in jumpers and sneakers looking down their noses at me, rolling their eyes as they wrote up another in-school suspension. You know, not a single one of them ever once ever thought to take me aside and ask if everything was OK at home or if there was anything they could do to make things easier for me. None of them recognized the signs of a kid in trouble, or a depressed teen who would have loved if someone showed her a little attention, and they didn’t see it because they didn’t care. All they could think was “These kids just don’t try. They’re lazy and disrespectful and never going anywhere so to hell with them.” And so I dropped out of school and became a big ass fucking loser because I had been beat down by the world and they had all finally succeeded in breaking my will and stifling my spirit.

When Evil Ex dumped my sorry behind and I ended up stuck down here in my parents’ guest room working at a strip club I had definitely hit the rock bottom, mud pit of Loser Hell. I’ll give you all a big clue as to how to tell when you reach this point. You turn into a compulsive liar and you start avoiding people you know because you can’t bear to tell them how pathetic you really are. I told my grandparents I worked in a restaurant. I even came up with the name and the things on the menu. I described it all in detail and concocted imaginary coworkers. I told people I had gone to some college, which was actually sort of true, but I exaggerated it to make it sound better than it was. Of course I had graduated high school. I even said I read Milan Kundera and had a subscription to the New Yorker because it sounded smart. I desperately wanted to be smart, but I was acting really stupid.

Pretty soon I had the magnificent revelation that if you are doing something that you have to lie to people about then you definitely ought not be doing whatever it is you’re lying about. This is an excellent rule to live by. If you feel like doing something and before you do it you’re already coming up with a story to cover it up – DON’T DO IT. Whatever it is will lead to bad things. Likewise if you are currently doing something that you are lying about, immediately stop doing it. The other side of this magnificent revelation is that you need to honestly own up to everything all the time if people ask you. For instance - “Did you pose naked when you were 24?” “Yes I did. Didn’t I look hot?” Because if you lie about this, someone’s going to dig up those pictures. So own the stupid shit you already did and get over it and don’t do anymore stupid shit and you should pretty much be fine for the rest of your life.

So one day I was sitting at the door of the Bubblegum Kittikat, working a rare day shift. Inside though, it was always night, and through the red and yellow flashes and strobes I took a look at someone more pitiful than me – a 55 year old stripper. It was then that I realized that I needed to stop cutting cigars and calling cabs and cashing out the dancers at the end of the night, and that I needed to make a dramatic change.



Christine said...

Since I am a rare visitor, I had to go back at read your "retarded" story. I am not going to defend teachers by any means but at that time, they didn't have to resources or the knowledge to address children who did not fall within the normal for standardized tests.
Most people (MOST) go into teaching because it is an easy major and you get holidays and summers off. Very few get involved because they just want to be around other people's rug rats all day. They certainly don't do it for the money.

Anonymous said...

"So own the stupid shit you already did and get over it and don’t do anymore stupid shit and you should pretty much be fine for the rest of your life."
Therein lies the truth. I'm not sure that it is even possible to avoid doing stupid shit though.
I know that you could become fabulously wealthy writing t-shirt slogans, greeting cards...

Anonymous said...

I was a teacher and I can either respond to this with shock and resentment or I can just say I am sorry that all of your teachers sucked, but some of us care. I got out of teaching because of the parents, not the kids.

I have been the only adult a 10 year-old girl would talk to as her mother died of cancer. I have purchased Christmas presents for students who had none. I have caught countless reading disabilities and helped the kids rise above them. And I am not the only teacher who has done these things. Good ones are out there.

You have a right to express yourself however you wish on your blog, but I hope you are one day able to let go of resentment. Didn't you say YOU teach at a college?

Anonymous said...

I'm not one to normally comment but as someone who works in education - i find the vilification of the entire profession a bit hard to take. I dont deny there are bad teachers out there but the VAST majority of teachers i know, teach because they love working with kids. not for the sake of some power trip - to be honest i cant think of meeting more than a handful of teachers of that sort in more than 15 years working in education and they were without exception, older teachers from the time I would have been in school. I wish I could fix the problems you had going through school but I cant I wont even ask you to reconsider your view of the profession - obviously you are set in your opinion, i would just ask you to consider that maybe there are good people in education who try to help kids - despite the fact that obviously we werent able to help you.

One other comment:
Christine --- are you a teacher or in the profession? Because you will be the FIRST I've ever met who's described teaching as "EASY" --- BTW, most teachers also work a good 12 hour day between the lesson planning and grading --- not to mention weekends . When you add up all that extra time outside of the classroom - it's amazing how the number of hours they put in suddenly can compare with any normal 9-5 job. For those not in education - there is a great deal of planning and preparation that happens before any teacher steps in front of a class - a fact that many seem to conveniently forget when adding how much time a teacher actually works.

Anonymous said...

I liked your blog when you were still with the HOA, but I've become completely addicted since you started writing about your life. Some of the worst things often happen to the coolest people, and if they survive it, they're that much more interesting for the wear.

jessica said...

Wow - I am so sorry that your experience included so many hateful, lousy teachers. All of mine were not terrific, but most were adequate and several were very good, bordering on outstanding. And I attended 3 grade schools in 2 different locales, finishing high school in quite a small town (pop. abt. 800). My schooling was in the 50's and 60's and corporal punishment was still an option.

Now I did encounter a few nuns (for my confirmation classes - I did not attend Catholic schools!) who didn't seem very loving, who still employed that ol' smack-hands-with-a-ruler tactic. But not used very much unless they were really pushed by a smart-ass-talkin' teen boy.

I do enjoy your writings and was taken aback by this latest posting. I still know some folks who really care about kids and continue to teach in spite of the hateful attitudes ("my kid can do no wrong") that they encounter. Bless 'em for continuing to perservere. That's my 2 cents' worth.

Leonesse said...

I remember thinking on many occasions that I was not an idiot because I was poor. Amazing how often that was. In my life, however, school was where people were 'normal'. A respite from insanity. A place I could just do my work and get praise.

Thank you for blogging.

Anonymous said...

If you don't write a book about your life, I would be sorely disappointed. There is so much to learn from your experiences.

Wide Lawns said...

I knew people would have very strong comments about this post, but remember there is still another half of this story left to tell, so before you fly into a rage and start typing like a maniac, wait for the second half because you'll probably change your mind.

And before you freak the hell out, please recall that I just raised over $3,000 for teachers, ok.

Unknown said...

Yes, you did raise all that money for teachers, but where is the picture you promised? Did I miss it? ;)

Wide Lawns said...

I have not forgotten the picture. I'm working on it.

Anonymous said...

I'm hooked and can't wait to read the second half of this. I've had some wonderful teachers and some horrible teachers, and I definitely can relate to the part about not being able to concentrate on boring school work when your home life is in turmoil. I love the passion in your narrative.

Not to distract you from writing part two,'ve been tagged. Check my blog for details.

Anonymous said...

As a child and youth worker student, i have to say: most teachers in that older generation are not trained in any way about social or family problems. These older teachers honestly do not have the training in childhood issues to see the signs of a difficult life, nor do they realise how that can effect a student academically.

Sauntering Soul said...

I have also experienced a mixture of good and awful teachers over the years.

I can't wait to read Part 2!

gulfsidebo said...

You finally started getting to school on-time when you had me to pick you up. Then again, I wasn't a poster child for getting to school on-time. I had at least a detention or two every other week for sitting in my car and drinking my coffee. You'd be surprised how difficult it was to get to Horticulture class (my favorite class in HS) on-time without having my coffee. Some things never change.

Kate (pereka) said...

I've never had a teacher that I can truly hate (I mean, I've "hated" teachers, but age and experience has tempered my feelings). But adversity breeds creativity and you have that in spades. I'm so excited to read the rest of your experiences.


MP said...

i think i should have became a teacher..

Anonymous said...

Ugh...bad teachers! They can really leave a bad taste in your mouth, can't they? My Kindergarten teacher had two 'teaching" tactics:

1. Yelling
2. Screaming

I hated school for YEARS after that. Fortunately, I had some really great teachers as well so it wasn't all bad. My tenant is an AWESOME 6th grade teacher at a very poor/'ghetto-ized" school about 45 minutes from here. She teaches 6th grade and I salute her!

Can't wait to hear the end of your story!

Green said...

I am temping in the building next door to the one I happily worked at for almost two years. I want to lie every time I run into a former coworker because I'm embarrassed that my last day was May 31st and I still haven't gotten a new permanent job yet. So mostly I look carefully when I'm walking during my lunch hour and try to avoid running into anyone from that firm.

Anonymous said...

Unreal, some of the comments here. You are telling about something personal and traumatic and they ride your ass for that.
It's like that time I was sexually abused as a kid, which wasn't even as bad as when I told a family member about it and she called me a horrible little liar and told me never to talk about it again. I actually never did for two decades afterwards, out of utter shame. I reminded her about this just this last summer. She was so upset, not because I was abused when still a child, but because I had the audacity to make her look bad for calling me a liar.
Some of those commenters remind me of her. That self-righteous indignation so self-centered that it overrides compassion and sympathy for others. Sometimes I wish people would just listen instead of taking one little detail and blowing it all out of context and taking it so personally as if it's more traumatic to them than it was to you. Those kinds of people, I filter out of my life as completely and as utterly as possible.

Anonymous said...

My second grade teacher punished any infraction by making you go to the front of the room and bend over while she beat you with a wooden paddle.
(That was 1987, rural NC)

Ms Gill...big black woman. Fury of force!

About Me

Blog Archive