|These kids are a bit larger than we were, but the overall essence is the same.|
Last night's diatribe was really just a prelude to tonight's anti-tribute to someone who is arguably the worst teacher in history. This is quite a distinction, as the woman faced stiff competition from the nerd in my fourth grade classroom who went ballistic whenever anyone made the sllghtest fun of his rather amusing name, not to mention the evil incarnate Mrs. Moore, who allegedly chose a different student each year on whom to unleash her venom. The eight grade English teacher of whom I know write had quite an act to follow, and she did so with flourish.
I've mentioned this woman before. She was the one who had the students do presentations throughout most of the year so that she wouldn't need to actually teach anything herself. She's the one who was allegedly in charge when I gave my infamous book report on The Essentials of Proctology, which, I've been told, was a major topic of discussion at my hgih school class's three-year reunion 9which I did not attend; who ever heard of having a 3-year reunion?) even though it happened in middle school and not high school.
Most of the year, actually, didn't even consist of student presentations. We mostly chased each other around the room and threw things across the room at eag other while our teacher kept herself current on the latest editions of Cosmo and Vogue. I was once written up for taking my book outside and sitting beside the door to read because I didn't want to be injured while all manner of mayhem went on inside the classroom. The week earlier, I had been hit in the eye with a flying pencil and still had a patch on my eye because of the corneal laceration that resulted. The principal took one look at the referral and invited me to come into his outer office to read anytime the noise and activity level got to the point that I could no longer tolerate it.
It was a nice gesture on the part of my principal, but an even nicer gesture would have been for him to have gone into the classroom and restored order. He did actually try that the first two weeks of school, after the first two days of class were a clear indication that our teacher showed deficits both in instructional methods and classroom management skills. The principal taught the class for the next two weeks with the teacher sitting in the rear of the classroom allegedly taking notes. I could see that the only actual notes that she was taking were notes in the margins of her fashion magazines concerning various styles and combinations of separates that she was considering adding to her winter wardrobe collection.
After two weeks of the principal teaching our class, the so-called teacher took over again. Her first act as a teacher was to announce that we would each be required to analyze some work by the author Willa Cather and would present our findings to the class the following week. She then took us to the school library. It was not our day to be in the school library. Our teacher and the librarian carried on a loud and extended argument while the librarian checked out books for the class that actually was supposed to be in the library at that time. Meanwhile, I consulted the library's database to discover that the library theoretically owned three works by Willa Cather: O Pioneer!, The Song of the Lark, and One of Ours. I checked the shelves, and only The Song of the Lark and One of Ours were present. No record existed of O Pioneers! having been checked out. Its location was one of life's great mysteries.
Even though it wasn't our class's turn to check out books, I was allowed to check out One of Ours because i was on good terms with the school librarian. I was holding the single copy of the only other Cather volume available in our library and offered it to anyone who was interested, but there were no takers. Clearly, no one else in the class had any intention of even starting the assignment, much less completing it.
I asked the teacher exactly what she wanted by way of a presentation focusing upon the Cather book I checked out to read. The teacher was vague at best. "Make it your own," she told me. "Show us all how it relates to you and to your life."
Set in the time of WWI and the Spanish Flu, One of Ours dealt with a man (the character was actually supposed to have been a composite of Cather and of a cousin of hers who enlisted in WWi and was killed in battle in France) who was essentially dissatisfied with his lot in life as a Nebraska student and later farmer and husband. He was freed from an unhapy marriage when his wife took off to care for her ailing sister, who was a missionary in China. He eventually found fulfillment by enlisting in the U.S. Army.
Reading the book as a twelve-year-old was bad enough. I was an avid reader and had been reading works considered to be for mature readers for several years, but nothing about this book struck my fancy. If it barely held my interest, I was unsure as to how to create a presentation to hold the interest of a class that was more accustomed to holding spitball wars and drawinf X-rated comics than to listening to anyone speak about anything. My teacher, however, was threatening to fail me if I did not come through with a presentation, which was to take place on the day of her first formal observation and evaluation. This was hardly fair, as no one else in the class was reading works by Willa Cather or, for that matter, by anyone else, unless one counted the porno magazines that a few of the boys were smuggling in or the self-authored X-rated comics. (This was before the teacher got the idea to bring in the girlie magazines herself in order to hold the boys' attention and give herself a few minutes of peace in which to read her fashion magazines with fewer distractions.) Life, however, is inherently unfair, which I had long since learned. It was up to me to devise a presentation that would temporarily keep my teacher from being fired.
i knew that the only way to hold my rowdy classmates' attention was to directly involve them. For three days prior to the presentation, I brought my parents' video camera (this was before all of our phones took such high-quality videos) and directed various classmates in acting out scenes from the Cather novel. i wrote up large cue cards on poster boards because none of the dullards were going to memorize any lines.
The only scenes that were done with any emotion whatsoever were the love scenes (not actually in the book but added on the basis of artistic license), the war scenes, and the scene where the wife left to go to the aid of her sister. I actually rewrote that scene, showing the sister arriving in China and having the two sisters turn out to be lesbian lovers, which was displayed in graphic detail in the video by two students, one of whom was actually a male in drag. That was the scene that garnered the most attention. My video reenactment wasn't in any way that true to the novel, but since the teacher hadn't read the novel, the point was moot. and at least the class was quiet when the video was being shown because they all wanted to see and hear their own performances.
I thought I had delayed the inevitable in keeping Ms. X from being fired. Little did I know that unless the woman had assaulted or molested a student, she was there for the duration of the year. The district had to pay her since she was under contract and had neither assaulted nor molested any of us (in truth, she was too damned lazy to do either), and the district wasn't about to pay two people to perform a single job. Our educations were sacrificed in the name of the almighty dollar.
Later in the year came the proctology book report, the assigned readings of Hustler, Oui, and Playboy, and other more controversial teaching practices. Once we wanted to have a party in class that day. Our teacher told us if we could come up with the goods, we could have it. Hardly anyone had any money. The teacher allowed us to go door-to-door in the community collecting funds for "school supplies." The good people of our town coughed up something like forty-seven dollars. Someone went to a store next to the school and bought chips, donuts, and soda. Because it was a two-period class, we had ample time to party after collecting the cash and making our purchases.
One time a child has a seizure in the class. The teacher was so freaked out that the paramedics had to take her to the hospital as well as the student. Had it not been for a couple of us whose parents had medical backgrounds, 9-1-1 wouldn't even have been called. God only knows what otherwise would have happened both to the child who had the seizure as well as to the teacher, who was over-the-top in hysterics.
Once a couple of non-mainstream students (most of us were the children of professionals who were relatively closely supervised when we were not in the jungle of this woman's classroom, but a couple of the kids were wild no ,matter what their setting) brought drugs to class. The rest of us were so afraid that we were going to be found guilty by association and be arrested that we left the classroom and joined a physical education class that was playing softball. The P.E. teacher asked what the problem was, and then called the principal. I beleieve the two students were arrested. The teacher pled ignorance and actually got away with it.
Through the grace of God, everyone who was in that class is still alive today. (Claire was not in that class.) As for the teacher, I haven't a clue as to her whereabouts. She could be working for the Republican National Party, she could be incarcerated in Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, or she could be dead. We never heard a thing about her after her contract was not renewed for the following year. Chances are that, whatever it is she's doing if she's doing anything at all, she is no longer teaching, since she never taught even when she was under contract to teach.