Babu read out loud: “Miss Short embarrassed me. She called me a tomboy for sitting on the arm of a chair.” She looked up at me with eyebrows scrunched and lips pouted. A pointed look. It said: “See what I mean?” Maybe a modern teen would just say “da fuck??”
I’m sending this out as a warning. I’m sending it to those of you who are joining the education profession because “it was easier than doing something else.” Or because “you couldn’t get work elsewhere” or my favorite “I wanted summers off.” You exist. I’ve talked to you. I’ve clearly had teachers like this and I hate to admit it, have worked with teachers like this. Even still, you are not as bad as the ones who become teachers for revenge, to reverse the power they never had against their classmates.
When I teach, I try to be careful of everything I say. In order to do what I need to do, I have to work hard to pry apart egos to get through while simultaneously never damaging one. That’s not my job. My job is to teach, and we all know we teach more than our subjects. We lead by example and trust me, we need no more bullies. So don’t be one. Because if you teach that way your students will see you for what you are and either know it’s wrong or use it against you.
AND when your students are 98, and you’re long gone, they’ll remember your cruelty. Because you matter to them.
Babu tried to explain to me again today about her teacher. I prodded her asking her why she wrote so much of Miss Short and not her other teachers. She said: “Because she always embarrassed me.” and I realized I was reading the passages wrong. Her casual seeming comments about her teacher were noted, and so often, because they stung. Babu remembered her picking on a boy who sat in the back by the wall, but she couldn’t remember what she picked on him for. And she remembered she also used to pick on a Polish boy but for what it eluded her. Both nice boys, Babu told me with emphasis on the word nice, making it take long to say.
But I remember. She picked on the boy in the back for leaning his head on the wall and leaving grease marks. She picked on the Polish boy for his stutter and made him read out loud to the class and then point it out. His stutter! I remember this because Babu has been telling me these same stories for years and as time is slowly passing for us, she is forgetting what these boys, and herself, were picked on for but she remembers them, their kindness, and their pain at being ridiculed this way.
I remember much more detail about what happened to me in Ms. Caswell’s first grade class. Maybe when I’m 98 -if I get there – I wont. Maybe all my memories of students who I created a safe space for will blot out those memories. They haven’t yet.