Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Thank You to the Poor Role Models

I remember I couldn't stand the woman, but that manifested itself in the mind of an eight year old as abject fear rather than hatred. In fact, after being instilled with the concept of respect for adults since I could remember, I didn't think I had a right to pass judgement upon her like that--to not like her.

Mrs. Haynesworth--I'll never forget her. Because of a cruel twist of fate I would be placed under her supervision as one of her elementary school students twice. The first time was in first grade. I didn't have her as my full-time teacher. At the time, we shifted classes for math and we were organized in classes based on ability. The worst day of the week was Friday, and ironically enough, it was "game day." The class was divided into two teams--the X's and the O's. We would line up on either side of her cleared desk while she sat in the middle. She had a game cylindar in which she placed a pair of die. She'd shake them, then roll, and she would tell the student on either side of her to add or subtract the two numbers that appeared on the face of each dice, and the first student to write the correct sum on the board first would win a point for his or her team. Sounds simple. And yes, it was. However, she was absolutely notorious for berating students if they got the answer wrong or were sluggish to respond. Once, that happened to me. I had been absent during for the lesson that taught us the fact that subtracting a number from itself equals zero (yes, elementary concept, but then again, we were between 7 and 8 at the time). She rolled the die and two sixes came up. The other student rushed to the board to write the answer, and I, not knowing what to do, didn't make a move to respond. She demanded why I didn't know the answer, and before I could explain my having not been present to learn the concept, she hissed the result of the equation and a quick explanation. Then, she stopped and folded her arms over her chest. "Well?!" was the statement. I slowly made my way to the board and drew an '0' on it and then took my place at the end of the line. I remember how long that felt--it felt like ten or fifteen minutes when in reality, I think it didn't last more than two. I received sympathetic looks from my classmates, but that didn't alleviate the utter humiliation.

Luckily, she was subjected to the onset of pregnancy about mid-way through the year and had to disperse on maternity leave. We had a long term substitute in her place in the form of a Miss Boisclair, who was certainly an improvement on the attitude although she insisted upon donning long, parrot-shaped earrings a little too often as part of her set of wardrobe accessories.

Years went on, and I approached 5th grade. A vacancy among the teachers there opened up, and the aforementioned Mrs. Haynesworth took the place given the child she had to leave for was by then, between four and five. I had a one in three shot of getting her, and lo and behold, it happened. Instead of only an hour or so a day, I would have to deal with her in charge of the classroom five days a week all day save an hour when, in that case, there was a reversal of previous fortune and I would be transferred to another group for math in the same fashion as before. At least this time, I had the safety of an ally in the form of my best friend, Lindsay. This time, we saw how she operated in the classroom all day. She certainly had a "favored few" that enjoyed her sugary-sweet smiles and words of encouragement. However, neither Lindsay nor myself were among them--in fact, we were generally ignored. It wasn't until we completed a few projects to the glowing praise of the other two fifth grade teachers that she grudgingly acknowledged our contribution to the class. Given we had allies amongst the other instructors throughout the school by that point, it wasn't as easy for her to dislike us anymore or pull the same kind of thing she did when another "Game Day" came around.

The truth of the matter is that she was a very poor teacher--one among a few that I recall. She was in her early forties and probably not particularly happy. She was a socialite from an upper class, local society that taught people to favor some and snub others based on ludicris standards. This is what I know now, but it is surprising to me to think that way about an "adult" even to this day. I had a right then not to like her and to pass judgement upon her actions if I were treated unfairly, and looking back, I certainly have a right now. But it is always odd to reconsider those people that you "respected" in the past who truly didn't live up to that respect, but yet, as a child or given your position at the time, you had to give it to them. As you get older or your situation changes, it forces to to give some real color to people from your past. If I could go back to that time as I am now, I could have been one of her colleagues, and she wouldn't have out-done me age-wise by too great a margin. If I had seen her act the way she did to her students, I wouldn't have had a great deal of respect for her, and I probably would have thought that she was in the wrong line of work. But those are thoughts that do creep into our heads when we are in a position where that respect must nontheless be given. Many times, we are afraid of those thoughts because they break down all the golden rules of conduct that we were taught.

The good thing about this is the idea that no matter who you have respected in your past, either because you truly throught that person deserved it or simply because that person figured as a superior in your life at one time, you can learn something from them. Unfortunately, it may not be how to become a better person in a direct sense. Instead, if you look back, a person like that can teach you how NOT to be. We all have role models that did something--or maybe a number of somethings--that demonstrated to us how to be better people and what that means. The best lesson that can be learned here is what it means to be worthy of that respect. I am sure that to this day, if she is still around, Mrs. Haynesworth hasn't thought once about whether or not she was worth the respect that we, her young pupils had to give her. It was probably enough to her that we gave her the respect in the first place. To her more thoughtful students, of which I am sure I am not the only one, we can look back and reconsider what she may have done or said that made her unworthy and how we as people can avoid making those mistakes in our own lives.

I want to say thank you Mrs. Haynesworth and others for showing me a true example of what I would never want to become. It's even more valuable in some ways than the good examples in my life. At least you gave me a picture of what I would be if I chose your example to emulate over theirs.

14 comments:

mist1 said...

Mis Boisclair and I are deeply horrified of our choices in accessories.

As a child, I wore a pair of brightly painted wooden tropical fish. Many times.

Please don't shun me. It was the 80s. I had no taste.

Matt said...

I remember this teacher that picked on me one day in class. Years later I understood that he'd known my father personally and was in some sort of community theater play with him and another teacher.

Since my father was a former Broadway actor, he was a bit more, let's say, confident than this other man. My father showed me a picture of the three of them that was published in the local newspaper. My father's standing in the center and, just as the photographer take the picture, he's holding out a newspaper in one hand and a drink in the other--completely block out the two other mens' faces!

That was on the front page of the newspaper, as it was a great photo.

Now, to think of him, I laugh at the schmuck.

C said...

Bravo - well said. I have often used the phrase "how not to be like someone else." I was fortunate to have most likable instructors as a child and if I did not I don't recall disliking them. Two of my instructors, one for 7th grade and the other for 8th grade, made the greatest impacts on my life. They wanted me to succeed and expected it and so it was from them that I received the dash of inspiration in me to pursue improving myself. They made me feel worthwhile and that's what matters isn't it?

"Angeldust" said...

slskenyon dear...

It appears we all had an "adult terrorist" in our lives ... ouch! I'm familiar with you experience, in my case add an independent, outspoken child to it and, you have disastrous consequences...

I was always an "excellent student", when I had an "excellent teacher" - what a coincidence!


------------- >> *


ahhh, that "blessed" process.
Yes, where would we be without it - in the gutter, I suppose - as it is the only way to grow, to evolve, experience life...
You are so right!

Blessings and joy to you
-.a.-

Truth Hunter said...

Enjoyed your walk down memory lane and your "lemonade from lemons" life lesson.

And, it's always good to be reminded just how emotionally vulnerable children are....

Thanks for sharing.

the superstar said...

I started college majoring in elementary education. I also volunteered to teach a local religious education class one hour a week that year. When I started seeing myself treat those seven boys exactly how I'd hated being treated by my least favorite elementary teacher of all time, I knew it was time to get out. I knew I couldn't be a teacher. I'd be the one everyone hated, not because I'm a bad person, but because I was bad at teaching.

I consider myself lucky to have found out early enough to get to switch my major to music right away. Music? That I'm good at...

Dallas DYSfunction said...

My thrid grade teacher Mrs. Square had a beehive hairdo and horrible scar from a burn on her right arm. After years of therapy, I now honor her by wearing my own beehive.

Historical Wit said...

ha ha, yeah I had a slew of teachers that I hated, but those teachers gave me the lessons that I remember the best. Funny thing when I went back into the public school system years later and saw it from a different perspective.

on another point, I don't respect anyone who abuses their position. and it got my drunk ass in trouble one night. I was at a bar with my boys, but its the kind of bar where you get good drinks in real glasses. So there is always a mixed group of folks hangin out there. I saw this guy who was our special ed teacher. He was a sharp looking guy back in the day who had a bad habit of sticking his stick in the preppy white girls in school. Happened more than once. Well there he was in the bar and immediatly recognized me cause I stick to the mind if you met me. Anyway he said how you doing? and I said you still f&%$ing your students? There was a weird silence and I just stared at him. All mad. Don't know why I was so mad over it, I didn't like the girls he was into, they weren't my frineds and this was like 15 years later. But there I was starting all this crap anyway. So he just walked away. Funnything is last year he had multiple sexual harrassment complaints filed against him. Don't know how it worked out, but I know hes guilty.

captain corky said...

I had a teacher in the second grade who would grab me by the neck and shove my face into a book when I wasn't paying attention. For many years after that I couldn't even look at piece of scrap paper without being reminded of Mrs. McGrory

A couple of years later she was promoted to vice principal.

Wheelie said...

Gosh.

ellesappelle said...

"Luckily, she was subjected to the onset of pregnancy" -- :D

You've got a really great point here. I guess there will always be people around us who don't measure up, whether they are inferior, superior, or on an equal footing to us. So, I suppose what is important is not that we try to improve them by the blessing of our wisdom or company (an effort that often backfires, anyway), but live our own lives in a way that is above reproach.

Easier said than done, I suppose.

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