Incorrect. Wrong. You Don’t Fit Here.

The media focus on bullying has got to remind a lot of adults of incidents when they bullied or were bullied. I know it reminds me . . . .

In March of 3rd grade we moved to a new house, and I was forced to change schools near the end of the school year.

I went from a secure position in a classroom led by a decent teacher to . . . Miss Slack’s classroom.

“Introduce yourself to the class.” The young blonde teacher nodded to me as I stood there next to the desk she had had someone vacate for me. It was in the middle of the classroom, in the second row.

I said my name aloud for the class.

She sighed with an exasperated spout of air. “Where did you go to school? Why did you come here in the middle of March?”

“Um, I go to Gull Road School. Miss Dixon is my teacher. We moved here.”

This time, instead of making a disgusted noise, Miss Slack looked at the rest of the class and rolled her eyes. OK, maybe she didn’t actually roll her eyes. But it felt as if she were making fun of me. She was putting me on display, and her manner was disdainful.

“Sit down. Open the red book to page twenty-four.”

I tried to find the page the rest of the class was on, but words and numbers blurred beyond recognition.

Ten minutes later, Miss Slack announced the beginning of reading period. The kids scrambled around the room, dragging and pushing desks into three circles. I looked for my reading group, the top one that I’d always been in. But Miss Slack pointed to one of the smaller groups and said to me, “Luanne, join the middle reading group.” Apparently the large group was the top group. I was being put in the bottom half of the class in reading. Me, the best reader every year.

I glanced at her in surprise. I had heard the principal assure Daddy that my new teacher already had my records and that there wouldn’t be any “gaps in her education.”

“Luanne, you might be used to being smart at your old school, but here we have a whole class full of smart students. There isn’t any room in the top reading group, so you will have to join the middle one.”

That afternoon, we worked on multiplication. I was the first student Miss Slack called to the board. She asked me to multiply 33.16 x 48.12 on the board. “To see where you’re at,” she said.

I did my work, carrying over and counting places for the decimal. Now she’ll see I am a good student, I thought.

“That’s not correct,” she said, when I was finished.

I looked back at the problem, feeling a thick crease between my eyes. I wasn’t sure where my mistake could be.

“You must make a box around the answer,” Miss Slack said. “Jeremy, go to the board and show Luanne how it’s done.”

Jeremy drew a square box around my answer. “Now it’s correct.” Miss Slack nodded for us both to sit down.

At the end of the hour, Miss Slack asked me to do another problem. The problem was easier, 7.04 x 15. I finished it and turned to sit down.

“Incorrect!”  Miss Slack gloated. “What’s wrong, class?”

The whole class sang out that I had forgotten to box my answer. I hadn’t redeemed myself at all, but had made myself out to be stupid and a fitting target for the teacher’s cruelty.

Next post: Part II of this bullying story.

Note: because this happened many many years ago, I don’t remember the exact problems I worked on the board. My memory tells me they were decimal multiplication, but I could be wrong about that. In the way of memoir, I just made up the multiplication problems here.

I’ve asked myself many times if there was some way that I had shown any arrogance that would have caused this teacher to treat me this way, but I was brand new and very shy and scared. Maybe my shyness irritated her.

Most of the pieces I share with you won’t go into my book, but they are from the same stock of memories.

Were you ever bullied by a teacher?

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56 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

56 responses to “Incorrect. Wrong. You Don’t Fit Here.

  1. Bullying has many forms and shapes. Your story shows how easy it is to affect a child’s life. Any sort of disrespect for another through verbal darts is abuse. I’m sure that it’s hard to share such memories.

    • Luanne

      Children are sensitive beings and when a teacher does something cold or thoughtless or divisive it is magnified many times over than if a classmate did it. The teacher is the leader who shows the class how to act. Thanks for your kind comment, Sally!

    • Hi Luanne! What a nasty introduction to a new school. I hope writing about it helps with closure. People wonder why this teacher chose to enter teaching. She probably didn’t, not really. I always knew early in life that I wanted to teach, but several people I went to school or University with ended up in teaching because their first choices (often law or medicine) didn’t pan out. I don’t think they turned out like Ms Slack, but I see her as an extreme case of a miserable and angry failure who transferred her resentment to children simply because they were easy targets. I was just having a discussion on this topic yesterday at work. I learnt that in Finland, teaching is a highly regarded, well paid profession like medicine or law, and you had to undergo psychological testing and rigorous interviews to check your mental suitability for the job, besides having had to achieve very good marks. None of these were in place when I entered the profession, nor is there likely to be changes to the recruitment approach in my country. Sadly. Ms Slack would not have made it into teaching in Finland. Imagine school without Ms Slacks…

  2. What a disgraceful teacher!
    Luckily, I was never bullied by a teacher. Near the end of the 3rd grade we moved as well. And a classmate (Brigitte was her name) was really nasty. She was the only one, though…

    • Luanne

      Karen, isn’t that amazing that a student is nasty to a new student? There are so many other options as a way to respond to a new student!! I’m so sorry about Brigitte! There was one girl in my class who wasn’t very nice that year, but the trouble I had with students was on the bus (come back Thursday for that part of the story haha)!

  3. What a creepy experience. I was a pariah for most of grades 1 through 9. A teacher cannot necessarily control such things and, maybe, thinks that if class hostility is aimed at a scapegoat, others, including the teacher, will be safe.

    • Luanne

      Wow, WJ, that is a fascinating thought. Scapegoating. I hadn’t considered that, but I think in some cases that might be the cause of teacher bullying. In fact, in the case of Miss Slack (I wish I could track her down and confront her hah), maybe by rallying the kids to tell me I was wrong, she was mustering her troops and giving herself a feeling of power and control. I especially think this now that I read what someone who was in that class says: that Miss Slack was a mean teacher in general.

  4. Lisa Ercolano

    I was really shy as a kid, and didn’t like reading aloud in class. In third grade, the teacher asked me to read a passage in our social studies book (I remember it was about a boy name Pimwe in the rainforest) so I did. Apparently, I read too rapidly because she snapped “That was too fast! Read it again — slowly this time.” I read it again at a pace I thought was slower, but no, she didn’t think so. She made me do it three more times. I was utterly humiliated.

    • Luanne

      How hard is it for teachers to understand that treatment like that is destructive, especially for shy students? That is so sad, and think of how good a reader you are! She was using you as an example, maybe? Or did she think she was “teaching” you? One of those “teaching moments,” huh ;)? Lisa, do you know if that teacher taught for many years after you?

  5. Wow, what a horrible example that woman was teaching your class. I had a Spanish teach in college who seemed to make it his goal to humiliate me in front of the class. I had always done well and enjoyed Spanish class with other professors, but this man intimidated me to the point where I couldn’t learn. I failed the class. It was a terrible experience.

    • Luanne

      She was! Jill, that is such a shame. How that instructor acted to you is exactly why I can never understand how people get 4.0 GPAs. I could never get through an entire degree without feeling, if not bullied (and sometimes I was in college), put in a position where the instructor makes it impossible to get a perfect score. What a shame for you that Spanish, a source of pleasure for you, was ruined by one incompetent and nasty person. What is wrong with some people?! Actually I just read this quote this morning–it has so much truth:
      “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
      ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
      But how does that help children being bullied by a teacher?

  6. When we moved to Atlanta, I was put into a private school. The rules were so different. We weren’t allowed to bend over and pick up a pencil if we dropped one. Or go to the pencil sharpener. We had to raise our hand for everything. We weren’t allowed to smile. We weren’t allowed to talk to the person next to us at lunch time. Once, a wasp got after me in the cafeteria and I was sent to the principle’s office for making a scene. All I had done was wave my hand at it and duck. I hated being the new kid everywhere I went after that, and being in foster care meant I changed schools often. I think teachers should be taking extra care to help a newer student feel accepted, not ostracizing them.

    • Luanne

      Oh man, those rules are so restrictive that I think that is cruelty to children. What a horrible school. Teachers ought to be especially conscious when a child is in foster care that they don’t put the child on the spot and make him or her feel like an outsider. I have a soft spot for kids in foster care and wish I had known about CASA volunteering (being advocates for children in the foster system) when I was younger. I’m not in a position to do it at this point in my life.

  7. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    When I was in the 7th grade I had a home-ec teacher who couldn’t stand my name, which was a nickname, which was Gogi. She ridiculed it in class, asking questions like, “What are you going to do when you get married? Are they going to put the announcement in the paper, Gogi Morris gets married?” (Yes, this was the concern back then). I now use Gogi as my grandmother name. Every time I hear it said lovingly by my son and daughter-in-law, my husband, and Aubrey himself, the name is redeemed. Sharing bullying stories is hard because that judgment of inferiority stays with you; thank you for leading the way.

    • Luanne

      Gogi is such a cute, hip name. She must have been jealous as all get out. Good for you for redeeming your special name. What a mean, unhappy person that teacher must have been. Now you’ve reminded me about how I didn’t get alone with my 7th grade home ec teacher!

  8. Ian

    Hi Luanne–this story gave me a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. What a terrible teacher! How on earth was that supposed to make a shy, new student feel welcome in a new classroom?! My wife and I were both quite shy students growing up, and we have often compared stories where peers and other “helpful” people try to make you less shy by teasing and other dubious techniques. It is almost as though many in our society think that there is something wrong with soft-spoken introverts and would never look at the perspective that it may be the other way around or that different people simply behave differently in different situations.

    • Luanne

      Ian, it seems incomprehensible to me that an adult who is a teacher by choice would treat a child like that, but I’m sure that has been much worse, unfortunately. I know that HSP is not the same thing, necessarily, as introversion, but when I read the book last year I was blown away by seeing myself on the page. And the writer talks about how our society does not value HSPs, and yet they fill very important roles. I think this is true for introverts as well. (Many or most HSPs are introverts). http://www.hsperson.com/ is a website about the book and here is a post I wrote about it: https://writersite.org/2013/03/18/the-highly-what-person/

      • Ian

        Aha! Very good posting on HSP, Luanne! I had told my wife about Elaine Aron’s work when we were first together and she really identified with it (and so do I to some extent). And, naturally, our son fits the profile very well too. Early on we learned to ignore other people’s advice that our son was “too sensitive” or “spoiled” or whatever, and be guided by the advice found in Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Child”. For a boy who can tell the difference between bulk quinoa versus a certain brand due to its different taste and texture, the strategies for HSPs work much better!
        I’ve often thought that writers may be a certain subset of the HSP personality too!

  9. How sad. I can never understand people like your teacher, who would deliberately demean a child, especially one who was new and vulnerable. I don’t remember any incidents of being bullied by teachers or others as a child. But I remember my son telling me how in fifth grade he had told the teacher that he wanted to be a marine biologist. And the teacher just laughed at him, and said he’d be lucky to graduate from high school. I was so angry, but I never confronted him–we were moving anyway. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad you knew how smart you really were before being put into this woman’s class.

    • Luanne

      Deborah, that makes me so angry to hear that he said that to your son. That reminds me of something else. While I was “at risk” in some ways for some reasons, a child who struggles in school is at even more risk when a teacher treats him this way. The words of a teacher are very weighty to children. They can burrow into the heart and be inspirational or be like bricks thrown. I’m so sorry that your son had to hear that. It’s just beyond imagination.

  10. While I was bullied by my classmates, my husband was bullied by a teacher.

    His third grade teacher announced the first day of school that she did not like boys. They were disruptive, didn’t pay attention, didn’t learn.

    My husband is truly a brilliant man, for the record. He got an A minus once, or so I hear. I’m not sure I believe it though.

    Anyway one day in October he finished his work in math, and picked up a book to read quietly while the others finished. The teacher got annoyed, then looked at his work and found it correct. She gave him more, which he did again correctly. Getting more and more annoyed, she decided to squash him. So In front of the class, she had him turn to the end of the math book, and do the problems there. He did them right. She never forgave him. Of course, he never forgave her, either.

    • Luanne

      What?! Just like that? She verbally attacked half the class? What I’m hearing here today is making me wonder if we’re missing the boat on how to get rid of bullying in our schools. Asking teachers to monitor the situation is like asking the monkeys at the zoo to monitor the food served to the other animals.
      Great story, btw, Elyse. I mean your telling of it. I’m sure your husband got many more last laughs with her.

      • My husband STILL talks about it. And in fact, our son had a teacher who didn’t hate boys, but thought they were much too much trouble to teach math too. So she didn’t. In third grade. (We did do tables and such with him, but nagged him more about other subjects because he was supposedly doing great in it.) That was in Geneva, and it is the only thing that makes me think that there is a little bit to the idea of teaching to the test … the only thing.

        All that being said, Jacob was really happy in school that year. But I’m sure there was no connection!

        You never can tell.

  11. She’s disgusting. I have a couple of memories myself….

    • Luanne

      There have been so many times, Linda, that I’ve wondered what ever happened to her. If she went on to bully more children, year after year. Today I heard from a classmate who said she was a mean teacher to everyone! Of course, being the new kid I had no way of knowing that and all the attention was turned to me as I had to learn her difficult and arbitrary rules. I’m sorry you have those kind of memories! Do tell though . . . .

  12. ~and it would have been so easy for her to say with a warm smile and a gentle touch, “Welcome to our classroom, Luanne. We are glad that you are here.” That approach can make such a difference to one so new on the scene.

    • Luanne

      Ugh, where is the comment I left you on here? It’s missing! Thanks, Lynne. It would have made ALL the difference! xo

  13. This makes me ill. I’m sorry this happened to you.

    • Luanne

      Thank you so much for your sympathy! I wish I could have known all those years ago that there would be people sympathetic to a girl who had a teacher like this!

  14. All Out Of Excuses

    A great post, thank you for sharing your experience, and to answer your question, yes, yes I have: http://alloutofexcuses.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/teacher/

  15. It is amazing to me that people such as your teacher choose to become teachers. Why? Clearly they do not like or understand children, and they are not good at their jobs. How do you go from the purpose and excitement of teaching and sharing knowledge to ridiculing and demeaning young minds?

    I had a teacher in 7th grade who could not believe that I, with my blue eyes and blond hair, was Hispanic. When he first read my very common Hispanic last name out loud, he looked at me and said, “That can’t be right. You look like you just stepped off the Mayflower.” I told him that many people with Spanish ancestors were fair-skinned, in fact the explorer Cortes had blue eyes. He laughed at me. All this in front of the entire class, of course. For the rest of that long, long year, he refused to call me by my proper last name, or first name, he simply called me, mockingly, “Cortes.”

    • Luanne

      What a sick man. Why do so many jr high and high school teachers think it’s humorous to tease kids like this? I just don’t get it. When I started teaching and when I had kids I realized right away that I had to greatly tone down my natural sarcasm because it can’t come from a position of authority. It’s too cruel. I’m so sorry!

  16. Horrible woman. I had some great teachers, but a few that stand out for their meanness. i don’t know why they go into education with their attitudes.

    • Luanne

      I too have had some wonderful teachers. And my kids did, too. But there are others who stand out for their outrageous behavior. I was going to write something mean about them, but I won’t. What is the point? They aren’t going to change. It has to be something in the system that changes. Maybe if we made teaching a highly sought after and extremely well paid career we could be more choosy about who teaches? Get rid of the destructive teachers? I don’t know. You might have a better idea as I’ve only actually taught college (to future teachers).

  17. Oh, no! I was so horrified at the way the teacher treated you! You did nothing wrong. I believe you were a quiet, respectful and somewhat shy (especially on first days at new schools…) and did not, in ANY way, cause her to be so mean! I don’t have any personal stories to share. My oldest daughter moved after kindergarten to first grade. The teacher’s last year before retirement and she was handing out 5 dittos in the morning, and if students did not complete them by lunch, they missed recess and had to stay in. Did my daughter tell me this…ever? No! At the November parent teacher conferences, Mrs. Q. gave us a pile of papers about 5-6 inches thick in a folder. My ex (God bless him!) grabbed the pile and berated her. He said, “Don’t you believe in the positives anymore in children?” He told her we would give Carrie a sticker for every paper she did, a book for every five that she did and that if Mrs. Q. ever kept our daughter in from recess again, (unless the whole class was inside), then she better watch out! He had his Master’s degree (now has his PhD) and was quite haughty in his mannerisms. I didn’t mind, since she deserved it, and my daughter was always quiet, backwards and not a good speller. She “shone” in other years, with art, writing creatively and math. I think I took up a lot of space here, Luanne!

    • Luanne

      Sometimes somebody needs to blow up and be haughty, when it’s for the children! That’s what I learned. While I had a hard time fighting for myself, when it came to my kids, no problem. Mama Bear here, reporting for duty. I’m so sorry your daughter had to go through that and am glad she was able to see what she could do in other years!!! xo

      • I am so glad you were a tough Mama Bear, but I knew you were already! You show your strength and character in your posts, Luanne! I wish that the hurt of the memories weren’t ever there. Non-existing hurts for all children around the world, while I am hoping, I may as well ‘Go Big!’ Thanks for this reply to my story. Thanks for listening to my oldest daughter’s habit of daydreaming and not getting ‘boring dittos’ done! Smiles, Robin

        • Luanne

          Aw thanks, Robin! I wish childhood were wonderful for all children. That’s why I’m so passionate about the situation of foster children and fighting to make adoption the most ethical process it can be. Thanks for stopping by our adoption and foster care blog!! xo

  18. This makes me so mad Luanne! What an incompetent teacher! I can’t wait to read part two. I hope Miss Slack gets put in her place.

    • Luanne

      Faith, haha, I was thinking about you when today’s post (Part II) published. The answer to your comment is not really . . . . Thanks for reading and getting mad on my behalf ;). I wish I had known kind people would feel that way back in those days!

  19. So sorry to read about your painful experience. Sad enough when children bully each other but incredibly disturbing when an adult does it to a child. Hopefully, her behavior was exposed, and she was removed from her teaching position.

    • Luanne

      You know, I’ve always wondered what ever happened to her. A woman who was a girl from my class contacted me after this post was published and said that Miss Slack was a mean teacher over all–to everybody. I couldn’t have known that as a new student, coming in so late. Plus, the whole thing about the boxes on the problem totals was so public and so humiliating. But it makes sense that she was a mean lady. Being a “Miss” I can’t track her because if she got married she would have taken her husband’s last name (for sure, in those days). I hope she didn’t go on to torture class after class of students!!

  20. Luanne, reading your post felt like i was reading a chapter of a novel. I love your style of writing.
    It always astounds me how cruel people get to be the educators of the next generation.

    • Luanne

      Carol, thank you so much for making me feel like heading to the computer tomorrow ;). Should we have psychological testing or something for teachers? Wouldn’t that help to weed out some of these bad teachers?

      • That’s an idea.Teachers like that poison the educational system. The make kids hate school and learning. Teaching ought to be all about helping a child recognize his/her talents and use them.
        Do head back to the computer…who knows maybe what you’re really doing is working on a coming of age manuscript. What you wrote is good background for an interesting character. Have a Happy Weekend. 🙂

        • Luanne

          Carol, what’s strange is when I started to try my hand at memoir a few years ago I thought it was the coming-of-age memories I would use for a book, but the more I worked on the book, the more I realized that I had a more specific story for the book. But I am still so interested in kid and young teen memories and stories, so it’s been really fun to go back to that period and write these last few posts.

  21. Some people just shouldn’t be teachers. I think Miss Slack had “issues.” My heart broke for you while reading this. I remember 3rd grade as being a tough time. I had to move to another school in 3rd grade, although a number of my earlier classmates came with me. Still, I had been able to walk to my previous school (which was literally a schoolhouse); the new school was across the river. I often felt trapped. Well, I’m digressing. Between your and Jill Weatherholt’s blog, I do a lot of reminiscing 🙂

    • Luanne

      Marie, i think 3rd grade is a tough time. There are just some tough years. 2nd grade is a piece of cake compared with 3rd. I love to hear that my posts help others remember their own pasts! That’s one of the loveliest thoughts! Yes to Jill’s blog!!!

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