The Mean Teacher. How Mean? Really Mean.


“I am VERY scared…”
 
We move to New York when I am five.

It is the middle of May, and the kindergarten year is almost over. I am very sad that I won’t end the school year in Chicago.

My kindergarten classroom there had a miracle happening in it: In the back of the room, inside an aquarium, a tadpole was growing legs and arms! The teacher said it was going to be a frog soon, and its tail would fall off.

 

Half Tadpole Half Frog

Now I Won’t Ever Get To See It.


 
On my first day in New York, my mommy takes me to the door of the kindergarten classroom and pushes me through it. I don’t know what to do.

Someone tells me to sit down at a very long table where other children are sitting. Paper is being passed out. The children have already been told to do something with the paper.
 

Kindergarten Boys Writing At Table With Crayons

See? They’re Already Getting to Work.


 
They all start to write on it, and I don’t know what to do.

Scared Little Girl

I Am VERY Scared I Will Get In Trouble For Not Doing What I’m Supposed To Do


 
I look around me and try to do what the other children are doing. Then, I hear the rest of what the teacher says to do, and I feel better.

After the teacher takes our papers, she looks at them and gets very mad.

“Whose paper is this!? Who did this?!” she yells.

It is my paper.

The teacher takes me outside the door of the classroom. We stand in the open doorway under the big American flag while she yells and yells at me.
 

Angry Teacher and American Flag

I Look Up At The Flag So That I Don’t Have To Look At Her Face


 
Scared Frozen Little Girl

I Am 5 Years Old, and I Don’t Know What I Did Wrong


 
It turns out that THIS is what I did wrong:

The first direction the children were given, the one I didn’t hear, was “Write your name.”  I had copied what another child was doing, and so I had copied another child’s name.

Annadora Perillo was that child’s name. I hadn’t recognized those Italian sounds as a name. Most everyone in our Chicago neighborhood had been Polish.
 

Happily, Annadora and I Wound Up Becoming Best Friends. Here We Are in 3rd Grade. I Have No Front Teeth, But I Still Have Annadora


 
Mrs. Armano was that mean teacher’s name.

She used to throw things at us: Pencils, chalk, and once, a big dictionary that she threw at Lloyd Calmenson’s head.

I never thought to tell anyone. Maybe New York teachers were like that.

Two years later, my little sister had Mrs. Armano’s daughter Mrs. King for HER kindergarten teacher.
 

Angry Big Head Young Woman

Look Familiar?


 
The daughter threw things at the children just like her mother had. But my sister was smarter than I had been. (Those of you who read my post The Best Toy Ever, Troll-La-La-La-La may notice a pattern here. Grrr.)

My sister told my parents about Mrs. King, and the other kids told their parents, and Mrs. King got fired.
 

Satisfied Young School Children

I Feel Good About That.


 

ADDENDUM–What YOU Can Do

When I was a teacher, I told my students’ parents that they could enter our classroom at any time, as long as they did so quietly, stood or sat silently at the back, and held their questions until I, not they, felt I had time to meet with them. In public schools, you may learn that you have the RIGHT to enter your child’s classroom to observe, as long as you do not do it overly-frequently or disrupt learning.

When teachers know that a parent may drop into classroom, lunchroom, or playground at any time, children are safer from bullies–adult- or child-sized.

But be prepared: You may discover that your own child is the bully.

 

Not MY Child

Not MY Child!?


 
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13 Comments

  1. Paul

     /  2014/05/30

    That too helps to combat bullying. Did you have any parents do that? If so did you find that it disrupted the class?

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    • Most parents did not take me up on this, for reasons I can only guess: 1) Some did not care overly much about their child’s schooling except in its value as a free baby-sitting service; e.g. some would not miss their “stories”–soap operas–for anything. Totally serious. 2) A few worked too hard or could lose menial jobs if they attended daytime school conferences. 3) Some other caring parents seemed reassured enough just by the offer.

      A few parents did drop in each year. Mostly, they were just curious. Sometimes, though, they were the parents whose children were the most difficult, ready to blame me and the chaos in my classroom. No chaos was found.

      Visits were not disruptive. Children either smiled and waved happily and got back on task, or started guiltily and got on task for the first time that day.

      Belligerent parents may try to engage you as soon as recess or lunch hits, but if you really don’t have time or energy for them and prefer to schedule a conference or do a phone calle or Skype: “I’m sorry. This is the only personal and bathroom break I get.”

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  2. I’ve been in a lot of my daughter’s classes over the years and what I discovered is that it is amazing I have a child, since I’ve taken a patent dislike to so many other children. I’ve had to control the urge to step in and haul some kid up by his/her shirt collar while snarling “Knock it off!” I’d be a horribly impatient teacher with a low tolerance for misbehavior, but I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t be mean. Or throw stuff. Wow.

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    • Just from reading your pieces, I cannot imagine you ever being mean-spirited to any child, no matter how ill-behaved they were due to poor parenting.

      Before I moved to Los Angeles many, many years ago, I thought I liked children. Now I know I have trouble liking children who act spoiled and rude, and often the parents who create them. And such children and parents are all over the country these days.

      When you say you would have a low tolerance for misbehavior, what do you mean? Because you have to tolerate it. In America, you are not allowed to do anything, and the children know it. I had a boy who was going to punch me my first year of teaching, and another child said “Go ahead–What can she do to you anyway?” The kids know they can get away with almost whatever they want. Parents will not discipline even by withholding privileges such as television, school officials will not even by withholding access to Art or afteschool sports.

      (But: That day of the “What can she do to you anyway?”, I looked at him and said “Try it. You’ll find out.” He decided to back down. I was a very scared 1st year teacher, but there was no way I was going to let some puny 10-year-old brace me in my classroom.)

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  3. Yemie

     /  2014/05/30

    Jeez! I literally cringed reading through this piece! I have a daughter who’s turning five in July. She absolutely abhors being yelled at, so I can only just pretty much imagine how you musta felt when your teacher turned dragon, spitting fire and brimstone. So much for your first day at your new school! But hey! You made a new friend, Annadora. That musta been real cool! Lol

    Moreover, disconcerting’s the fact that the mean teacher’s daughter literally became her! Good thing she was ratted out and given the boot! I have me a little tattler and I encourage her to talk to me ’bout events at her preschool and well, she pretty much brings me up to speed gleefully each time. I’m blessed to have her attend a great school with an even greater staff, compassionate and passionate ’bout their jobs and callings. Of course, her last school was a total landslide, an absolute disaster! Pathetic would be putting it mildly! Once I realised all the faux pas in the system they run, I ditched the fees I paid for a session and removed my baby ASAP!

    You’re a breath of fresh air and I absolutely dig the humorous approach you employ in addressing topical issues and societal vices! Those illustrations are wayyyy cool! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  4. Wow, Yemie, I bet with your little girl almost five (Happy early Birthday to her!) and your bad experience at that last school, this one DID strike close to home. Congratulations on getting her into a fantastic new place. You and she are fortunate there, and she is lucky to have a mom who cares.

    It’s great she talks so freely and in such detail about her day with you. I hope you two always stay close communicators like that!

    (I also do hope you were kidding when you said she’s a “tattler”,–She’s pretty young for that! lol. If she is starting in that direction, though, it’s a good time for a home lesson about it–tattling for real over the long haul will make her very unpopular with other children and unhappy with herself, because she won’t learn problem-solving if she always goes to grown-ups.

    Hmmm. I guess an anti-tattling lesson might go kinda like this:

    “Why are you telling me what Ellie did? (1) To stop her from bothering you? Are there other ideas you could try first before asking a grown-up for help? (2) To help Ellie? What a NICE thing to try. Are there other ideas you could try first to help her before asking a grown-up for help? (3) To get her in trouble? Are you mad at her?

    Gee. You probably didn’t need ANY of that, but now I feel like doing a tattling post!

    Oh and THANK YOU for the great compliments!!

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    • You know what, Yemie? Tattling really SHOULD be talked about as part of this Bullying series. Because like one of the links I included pointed out, children get confused when they’re told not to tattle, and they think they’re not supposed to get help when they’re being bullied, or someone else is being bullied. So I hadn’t planned on it, but now that you said the word, and got me thinking, I will at least touch on it–thanks!!

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    • Yemie

       /  2014/05/31

      Thanks for that enlightenment, I did need it and I’d put all you’ve said here into hindsight and see what I can do ’bout the whole tattling issue. Also looking forward to your piece on tattling. That’d make for an interesting read, I’ll bet! Can’t wait and thanks again!

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  5. Welcoming parents into the classroom is an interesting solution and sounds like a good idea. Sadly it does seem like most parents consider education a realm they aren’t meant to be involved with– at least not during those hours of the day.

    It’s weird to think back on instances of bullying that I can recall. In school and also in my church youth group I can remember adults supporting and egging on the bullying… maybe because it helped them somehow maintain their own power in a weird way. That’s really very sad. I’ve seen some people epically screwed up because of having to go through such things.

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    • That is interesting about the the times you saw adults egging it on–especially in light of something I learned while I was looking into info for the next post in this series (which you will read about but which may not get posted until after a couple of lighter posts–need a break and so do my readers). Hey–maybe you should write a guest post about those incidents!

      And I AM one of those epically screwed up people. But, as I keep saying in order to make it true:

      “In a GOOD way.”

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  6. Wow, what a story. Not all too crazy, unfortunately. I grew up in NYC, btw. (And I ended up a teacher in PA.) Wish your class had told your parents. Great ideas for accountability. And cool pic of tadpole. =)

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    • Thank you for the “great ideas”! I can’t take credit for the picture–I do like it, also–searched a bunch before choosing that one, because it is close to how I remember the one in my first Kinder classrooom, although that one was a little further along in its transformation.

      (Sorry for the long-delayed response–was away from WP for weeks–my weird-life multi-illness self does has to do that sometimes. Very happy to be back again!)

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