Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Bully

I've always hated bullies.  My sense of justice just gets all offended when someone bigger, stronger, more powerful or smarter picks on someone who simply isn't equipped to fight back.  My junior year in High School, I met the worst bully I had ever know, in the person of my U.S. History Teacher.

I shouldn't have even been in her class.  It was a Freshman subject, but I had transferred from another state, and had not had it yet.  This teacher liked teaching scared, vulnerable Freshman.  But I wasn't a Freshman, not scared and not vulnerable.  She didn't pick on me.

She was a poor teacher.  U.S. History had the potential for being a great, interesting class (we wouldn't have appreciated it, we were teenagers, but she could have tried!)  Her class consisted of reading from the textbook, aloud, in turns and then answering the questions at the end of the section.  Homework was the same routine, read a section, answer the questions.

Reading aloud has never been difficult for me.  I love to read, have an extensive vocabulary and can usually muddle through pronouncing difficult words.  Not everyone was so lucky.  Several students got nervous when reading, causing them to trip over their words.  Some students couldn't pronounce all the words and some were just plain slow.

Her classroom had an odd arrangement.  There were four long rows of desks that faced her own desk, and three short rows that faced the long rows and were sitting to the side of her desk.  The slow kids, the poor readers, the ones who stumbled over their own words, or mispronounced things sat on the short rows.  These were her favorite targets.

If someone was reading slow, she'd lean on her podium and dramatically drum her fingers on it with a "we're waiting" look on her face.  She made faces when people stumbled when reading, causing the class to laugh and the poor reader to squirm.  But the worst was always if you mispronounced something.

There was one boy in the class, James, who was slow.  He wasn't with the Special Education kids, but he was probably pretty close to being eligible.  Just like many slow kids, James was unpopular.  Some of the kids called him "Booger".  But he was such a nice guy.  He was always smiling, always tried hard and I just never could be mean to him, it seemed too much like kicking a puppy.

But picking on Booger got big laughs, so our teacher did so nearly every class. Every time it was his turn to read, without fail, he would mispronounce something.

"Noooooo, James" she'd say, in a voice dripping with sarcasm.  "It's gov-er-N-ment, NOT gov-er-mint," she'd say, and roll her eyes as our classmates tittered.  He would smile, re-pronounce the word and soldier on through the drumming of her fingers and her mocking faces and the laughter of his peers.  He never acted like he disliked her, and I never was even sure if he understood that she was being awful to him, which, in my mind, made it worse.

I never did confront her about her treatment of poor James.  In truth, I'm not sure that I had any idea how to do that.  But, to this day, I get perverse pleasure from the fact that I ticked her off and still got an "A" in her class.

Homework, though unoriginal and useless, was required in her class, every night.  If completed homework was not brought to class, we had to fill in a form.  I was generally a conscientious student, but for some reason, one day, I had no homework and was required to complete her form.  And, that day, I was in no mood for her.  The question on the form read, "Why had you chosen not to complete your assigned homework?"  I thought about half a second before responding:
I had better things to do than waste my time on moronic busywork
and I passed my form to the front.

I then watched as she leaned on her podium as we read in turns, idly marking checks on completed homework and 0s on forms.  I knew when she reached my form, because she suddenly stood up straight.  Then she went scarlet and then purple with anger.  She stalked out of the classroom while a student was still reading.  I sat, as my befuddled classmates wondered what to do, and felt an odd cross of horror and elation.

She stormed back in, holding my form plus a copy of my form.  She waved them both at me while barking to me to stay after class.  Those seated near me gave me sympathetic looks, fearing for me, but strangely, I wasn't afraid.

After class, she hotly informed me that a copy of my form was going in my "permanent record".  She said that my bad attitude was going to prevent me "from going anywhere in life" and that I would be "lucky to pass her class and not have to re-take it as a Senior",  She pronounced the last bit as vengefully as any Disney villain, but I shrugged and walked out.

The next week we got progress reports.  I had a solid B in her class and promptly decided to use my marks to torture her.  Several times a week, during class, I would pull out my calculator and all my papers, averaging my grades according to the rubric in the curriculum.  She would glower at me as I cheerfully determined my grade.  I turned in only the assignments that were absolutely necessary to keep my grade rising.  My final grade in her class was a 90.  An "A" that I know it pained her to give.

It didn't solve the problem, but I felt victorious nonetheless.  I thought I had fought her and won.  I hope to teach my girls that there are all kinds of fights out there to win.  This time, I picked the wrong fight.  I should have been fighting for the underdog, the poor bullied boy, not my grades.  I hope they'll choose better.


  1. This story, and your image at top, reminded me of a great children's book called "Ugly Fish."

    I don't know how old your kids are but you might appreciate it.

  2. PS I am following you on twitter via flgirlnewlife.


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