Saturday, October 28, 2017

Piss- Poor (as Opposed to Econimcally Poor)Teachers and Their Legacy - Think of Trunchbull


Mrs. Moore may have been slightly
more subtle, but Trunchbull and Cruella had nothing on her when it came to sheer diabolicality.

Life is treating me with relative kindness at the moment.  I'm off the dreaded Augmentin and onto Ampicillin. Montezuma continues to extract his revenge, but I'm at least not doing my best Linda Blair imitation.  Projectile vomiting is bad, as I probably don't have to tell you, but it's all the worse when you are the adult, and no matter how sick you are, the vomitus is not going to be cleaned off the walls unless you do it yourself, 104-degree fever and all. Al things considered, adulthood has been a positive change in my life, but there are those occasional times, such as when you're  painting the walls with the contents of your stomach, that it would be really nice to have mom or dad there to take charge.

I'm missing a bit of extra work time, but my hours of work were nearly double what they should have been for my initial two weeks.  I was having fun and learning a great deal as well. Also  extra time was built into my sub-internship for me, and, if necessary, I can substitute another stint in either surgery, pediatrics, or pediatric surgery next semester. it's not likely to be necessary as far as my superiors are concerned, but I want to feel prepared. it makes more sense to me to spend the time in the areas in which I want to concentrate rather than to pick up a clerkship in urology. it's not that urology is unrelated to pediatric medicine or surgery, but there will be others I can consult, and I'll cover it in my residency as well.

With everything going along so sunnily even in the midst of my illness, from which i am recovering quite nicely, I for some reason feel the need to share a memory of something that happened to me as a child that was not tremendously positive.  Both the positives, the negatives, and the ordinary happenings in one's life combine to make a person whom he or she is, but it doesn't make the negatives any more pleasant to remember.

Some of you may remember my least favorite teacher of all time -- Mrs. Moore, who ridiculed me for many things, but most noticeably for having taken a school picture in which I looked unkempt. It might have helped had she not asked the two children from the fifth grade (one [me] from our class and a boy from the class next door)  who were absent the several days before when the mile run was conducted for PE testing to complete the mile run just before pictures. Still, both my parents and I would have forgiven her had she not made such a scene about the quality of my appearance in the picture.  My father really should have written a note excusing me from the mile run for that day, and probably would have had he known it was happening. The entire fifth grade ran the event together, but Matthew probably  never thought to mention it. I had been absent for six prior days with croup and was questionable even as far as school attendance for that day, but it was picture day, and if a student was absent on picture day, he or she could get re-takes but would not be in the class picture. I showed up at school, crouped my way through the mile run, then took my picture with my hair wild and my face wet with perspiration. Our district typically took school pictures in mid-September, and the weather often made it not far from the 100-degree mark by close to noon.

Maybe six days before the school picture incident, Mrs. Moore was reading to the class after lunch, as was customary. The book she was reading at the time was these Little Town on the Prairie, which was a sequel in Laura Ingalls' Little House series. This particular volume was filled with excitement as Little House books went. Almanzo  Wilder's (Laura's eventual husband) sister was hired to teach at the one-room Walnut Grove School. She took a particular liking to Laura's nemesis, the incomparably evil Nellie Oleson, and used every available opportunity to  torment Laura and her little sister Carrie.  Even the boys were typically interested in this Laura Ingalls volume.

On the particular day, however, for some reason the boys in the class were especially obsessed with the upcoming San Francisco Forty-Niners game. The Niners, I believe, were scheduled to play the Atlanta Falcons that weekend. While we were clearly within Forty-Niner country in northern California, and that was in the day when most kids still rooted for the local team, some kids doubted the Niners' ability to take the Falcons and were not apt to pass up what they saw as sure money.. Now you have kids in Florida cheering for the Vikings, kids from Seattle rooting for New England, and vice versa. Usually the kids are front-runner bandwagon jumpers who follow whatever teams are winning. Still, some children choose teams from out of their region and stick with them. That wasn't nearly so common in my day.

Anyway, against both school rules and local statutes,  money changed hands over the game. Making bets at recess was risky. The principal had heard of the gambling operation and had his eagle eyes on any potential. bettors or bookies.  Any money that changed hands at school had to happen inside the walls of the classrooms. Had the gamblers just passed notes, which was not a difficult thing to do in Mrs. Moore's classroom, all would have been well. Those who wished to hear the story could have heard it, and the high rollers could have made their wagers. Instead , the boys whispered their offers of odds for bets.

Mrs. Moore had little patience for children talking about things other than the story while she read aloud. Actually, she had little patience for anyone talking even about the story. Questions about what was read weren't welcome, and discussions were even less welcome.  Even though Mrs. Moore drew a salary as a teacher, she wasn't a legitimate "teacher" : we learned next to nothing in the time we spent with her.

In any event, one too many boy whispered a bit too loudly regarding an offer of odds to another boy. Mrs. Moore slammed her book shut. "I'm not reading ANY MORE!!" she declared. "You children obviously aren't interested!" The daughter of the class's room mother, to whom Mrs. Moore felt more obligated to be less brutal than she was to the average student, pled with Mrs. Moore to continue the chapter. It was the  part where Carrie and Mamie something or other, who shared a desk, were unconsciously rocking it as they read. Miss Wilder told them to rock the desk as hard as they could. Mamie left the desk, leaving skinny and anemic little Carrie to fend for herself in rocking the desk.  Carrie grew paler by the minute, and Laura spoke in her defense.

At that point, I let loose with a cough that wasn't actually a cough. I was a croupy child, and had a bout with  croup that was apparently just at its onset. The sound of croup is not easy to describe to one who hasn't heard it. (You can probably find it on YouTube now, just as you can find videos of people cleaning the wax from their ears. Hell, you could probably locate a video of someone passing a kidney stone. Nothing is too sacred for YouTube anymore.) The sound of croup is something like the sound of a seal making its barking-like noise,  followed by difficulty and noise in taking in air, known as stridor..  I then crouped again. In both instances I tried to muffle the noise,, but it's a deep and penetrating sound not easily  quieted by a small hand or two.

The average compassionate and humane teacher might have been mildly concerned and probably would have sent a child with such symptoms to the school nurse.. Mrs Moore especially should have been so, as she had raised three children to young adulthood; chances are that she had heard the sound of croup before and knew what it was. Instead,  Mrs. Moore once again slammed Little Town  on the Prairie shut, glared at me, and said, "Some children don't care if they spoil it for everyone."

My classmates  turned and gave me death glares. Jeffrey Keiser, who sat directly in front of me, told me he hated me, He was from what was probably the most pious Presbyterian family in our town. Had I possessed the ability to talk without going into another crouping fit, I probably would have asked him the rhetorical, "What would Jesus do?" The croup only got worse. Mrs. Moore finally told me to take a chair out and to sit outside the room to do my work. Not knowing what else to do, I followed directions. At that point in my life, teachers were right and held ultimate authority.

I remember having increasing difficulty in breathing. I'm not sure I completed any work, though it hardly  mattered as I was usually several weeks ahead of everyone else in the class on work that was years below my ability level.. The school dismissal bell finally rang. I moved the chair back into Mrs. Moore's classroom and gathered my belongings.  I somehow made it under my own power to the gymnatorium where an after-school program was held for children whose parents worked.  The director of the after-school program heard one  episode of croup with the stridor, took one look at my blue-purple fingernails and lips, and dialed 9-1-1. I was hospitalized for two days and recovered at home for the next four days.  Again, my dad or uncle should have written a note excusing me from PE, but I don't think it occurred to either of them that a child who had been hospitalized due to croup six days earlier that came on at school would be called upon to run a mile, and our typical PE program consisted of foursquare and tether ball, neither of which would have been much of a risk to a child recovering from a respiratory ailment..

I made it through the picture, looking utterly colorless except for the bluish-purple of my lips, with a sweat-drenched face.. This time  the photographer noticed that something was amiss. He alerted Mrs. Moore, who assured him it was just Alexis being Alexis. My brother's teacher, there with her class because they were next in line for pictures,  overheard, took one look at me,  and immediately summoned the school nurse. After another ambulance trip, I this time spent three days in  Children's Hospital..

Mrs. Moore never called, sent a card, or otherwise inquired about my well-being. (The previous year, a ten-year-old boy in her class had been tragically killed in a car accident. When a collection was taken up among faculty members to send flowers to the family,  Mrs.  Moore declined to contribute. "I never liked that kid," was her explanation, according to my aunt's sister, who also taught at the school.) When I returned to school, Mrs. Moore reminded me that I was responsible for all the work missed in my absence. I tore the pre-completed pages from my workbooks, took the compositions from my folders, signed and dated everything, and handed the work to her. As it ended up, I had given her two extra weeks worth of work, which for some reason didn't please her. 

The class then received a lecture. "Some of you think you're smarter than the teacher, but you're not."
It was one of many of her themed lectures, one of which was "Some of you are not pretty at all, but if you would just be sweet, others might forget how homely you are," An acquaintance in the class with whom I had little in common but who was neither an enemy of mine said to me at recess  after that particular lecture, "I don't understand why she always looks  directly at you when she gives the speech about being homely. You're not exactly Miss America, but you're not really any uglier than anyone else here.." Backhanded though the compliment may have been, I took the words as the consolation they were intended to be. Another favorite theme was, "People who think they're sick all the time will never get anywhere in life. They may fool their doctors, and they may fool their parents, but they won't fool their bosses when they have to work, and they'll never fool me."  Another was, "Premature babies do not have to grow into weak individuals. Just get over it." For the record, I had been the only premature baby in the class.  Another favorite topic was, "Our culture has some sort of fixation on thinness. Thinness does not equate with beauty. If you're very thin, you are NOT pretty, and you need to do something about it, and by that, I don't mean that you need to eat candy." At four-feet-four-inches and forty-one pounds midway through fifth grade, and, incidentally, known for my love of candy., I was by far the skinniest kid in the room. and Mrs. Moore always glared directly at me when she made this speech or any of the others. Probably the most damning thing she ever said to or about me was that because my mother was a school psychologist and my father was a medical doctor, I thought I was better than the other children.  She said this to me in front of the class, but the worst part was that she apparently said it to the other children individually when I wasn't present. Near the end of my association with Mrs. Moore, several parents telephoned my mom to let her know of these indiscretions. I suppose I could have told my parents about some of the things that were said before, but it never occurred to me to do so. The teacher was always right.

Eventually the fiasco with the school picture and Mrs. Moore's public ridicule of me happened. I imploded. Other parents called my parents. I was moved not only from  Mrs. Moore's class but from that school to another one in the district into which we had just moved, and I was blessed by being placed into the class of one of God's greatest gifts to children, who was a thirty-ish man named Mr. Thatcher.  My brother and I were fortunate enough to have him the next year in sixth grade as well. Mr. Thatcher  knew how to make learning fun, knew how to make learning happen, and treated children with the respect they deserved. Education never again sank quite to such lows for me. Mr. Thatcher had a wife and young children, a church he attended regularly , and other outside interests, but one would never have known that by the focus on which he placed upon his students while at school.

I'm not quite sure why I felt the need to share this story tonight, part of which I've shared before.  Sometimes something is on a person's mind and a person cannot move on without acknowledging what is bothering him or her.

For anyone who feels called to be a teacher, or even one is limited by default to join the teaching profession because he or she feels in possession of no other professional options, remember this: you can be like Mrs. Moore, or you can be like Mr. Thatcher. Not everyone  has the skills and talents possessed by Mr. Thatcher. Regardless of  talents or inclination, though, anyone can make the conscious choice to work hard,  to put students' needs above his or her own while at school, and to be both fair and kind.  Prospective teachers, the choice is entirely yours to be either the exemplar of all teachers or the Anti-Christ of the same. .Either way, you may never know the difference you'll make.  Despite which path you take, you may read of  former students who are Nobel Prize winners, or you may read of students who have committed senseless violent crimes. You will likely produce impeccably educated students, or you may produce at least a part of a generation of semi-literates. Fate may be beyond your control in some instances.  The students are with you a mere six or seven hours per day Monday through Friday.  Still, you can skew the odds in favor of your students and of their successes.  If you must teach, be dedicated, diligent, and child- or student-centered.  You may never be thanked for all you do, but  knowing a job was well done is thanks in and of itself.

And thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Thatcher. My brother and I took the opportunity to honor you at our high school graduation, but that feels woefully inadequate in light of everything you've done for Matthew, for me, and for probably every other child with whom you've come into contact. I hope some day to make you proud.

I don't own this video. Please allow me t use it if only briefly. Thanks for your generosity.

This video is from the One Voice Choir, under the direction of Masa Fukuda. Thank your for allowing me to use the video,  however briefly it remains here.


  1. Thank you for the funny post, and thank you for posting, period. I had mentally ill teachers as well.

    In my current obsession I found this explanation of pancreatic cancer that I thought you might find funny. Starts at 5:30 la perla

    1. Thanks so much for sharing the link!

      Describing the teacher as suffering from mental illness was the kindest way of interpreting the situation. I wish I had categorized it in that manner.

    2. Seems like dealing with crazy adults is the bane of every child's existence.

      I hope you're feeling better!

    3. I'm still weak, but since nothing is being demanded of me right now, all is well. I'll be ready for work on Monday (a week from tomorrow).

  2. Thanks so much for sharing the link!

    Describing the teacher as mentally illness was the kindest way of interpreting the situation. I wish I had categorized it in that manner.

  3. I desperately wish I could tell the story of my crazy elementary school teacher, but too much info. He was taken away to a mental hospital in the middle of the school day when the other staff finally noticed what he was doing, and never seen again. la perla

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.


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