The Bad Teacher

Occasionally in conversation, someone tells a story about a teacher they had who turned them off a particular subject or activity forever with just one sharp remark or action.  I have such a story, too, but the ending is different.

I attended a two-room elementary school with grades 1-4 together in one room and grades 5-8 in the other.  Mrs. Gibbs was the teacher for grades 1-4.  I always finished my homework as quickly as possible during the school day, so that I had free time to pull out my paper and crayons and draw.  It was my reward to myself!

One afternoon during 4th grade, I was so engrossed in drawing a tree (yes, I still remember that it was a tree), that I didn’t notice Mrs. Gibbs had walked up behind me.  She suddenly barked “What are you doing, drawing and coloring?  That’s for first-graders!  Are you a first-grader?  You pick up your colors and go sit with the first-graders for the rest of the day!”

I was shocked!  I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such a rebuke, and tears welled up.  Back-talk was not tolerated, though–this was in the era when every schoolteacher had a paddle–so I hastily gathered my pencil, colors and paper tablet and moved to an empty desk among the first-graders.  All the other students were surprised, too, and none dared to say anything.  There was no laughter as I obeyed.

This is the point where most people’s story ends with “And I never drew/sang/liked arithmetic/read aloud/jumped rope/spoke up again.”  But I finished that tree.

Mrs. Gibbs retired at the end of that year. It’s a good thing. That was the kind of incident that squelches creativity, interest and learning in too many children.  If I wasn’t so stubborn and so eager to draw, it might have done me in, too.

I sometimes wonder how many people’s entire life trajectory was changed by a bad incident with a teacher.  I hope some of them find their way back through a positive experience later on.

Followup Aug. 24:  check out this TED talk–it’s what I’m talking about!

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