All these years, I thought it was just me. 36? 37 years now? Convinced it was just me.
I had a 5th grade teacher who was.....odd. It's nothing that I can pinpoint, but it's just a feeling I had. I didn't like being alone in the class with him, if I was staying after for extra help, or had gotten to school early, before most of the school buses arrived. He made me uncomfortable. He never touched me, or did anything overtly inappropriate, but it was just a feeling I had. He kind of...leered. He sometimes made strange comments which were subtly inappropriate. I just wrote it off as me just not clicking with him. I liked a lot of my elementary school teachers, but not all of them, and he was one that I disliked.
I will, however, share a story with you about that year, to give you an idea of what he could be like. It's something that has stayed with me my entire life because I was so scared, and he seemed so wickedly amused by what he had asked me to do. A bit too amused. I had been having trouble with a bully that year. She was in the 6th grade. She never actually hit me, except sometimes punching me in the arm or shoulder, or shoving me. Mostly she terrorized me with words and threats, extorting my lunch money or making me sneak candy to school to give to her, or else, and she seemed to take great pleasure in the fact that I was scared of her. Back then the elementary school classrooms were divided into "Clusters", separated by 'walls' of bookcases. That year my Cluster included my 5th grade class, the bully's 6th grade class and 2 4th grade classes. We had the same teacher for all subjects from the second we arrived in the morning till the second we left in the afternoon, except for gym, art and music. So this girl and her 2 toadies, also girls, got great pleasure in tormenting me at recess. They were tough girls, the kind you knew would end up as the hardcore partiers once they hit their teens.
I never understood why this one girl chose to despise me, b/c I actually was close friends with her sister and brother who were in my class, and they were constantly telling her to leave me alone, but she wouldn't. One day the 3 of them hadn't come back to their class after recess. My 5th grade teacher told me to go check the Girl's Room for them. Why me? Why a 5th grader? These girls are in the 6th grade! Why the same 5th grader who is being actively bullied by these girls? I didn't want to go. I remember my eyes widening at the request, but I was mute, unable to speak. I got up from my desk and stood there, all eyes on me, my face getting hotter and redder. He came over, smiling in that creepy 'sweet' way. He told me it would be alright, and gave me a shove towards the door to our Cluster. I went out and went into the bathroom. There they were, and I was trapped. They came at me slowly, the ringleader in the front. She put both hands on the door on either side of my head and got up in my face. She hissed through gritted teeth that if I told that they were in there, I was dead. I don't know if I nodded or spoke or what. She left me go without the pounding I was fully expecting. I went back to the class room, sick, stressed, pale, shaking. I sat down without making eye contact with anyone, hoping that I was invisible. Wanting to be invisible. My teacher asked me if they were in there. I whispered, "no", and stuck my nose in my book, my face burning, heart racing, sweating like a pig. He knew damn fucking well what he was sending me into. He knew they were in there. He knew they were bullying me on the playground. Just a wee bit sadistic, don't you think? The girls were busted and somehow, miraculously I was left alone and didn't face sure death at the next recess like I thought. I often wonder if they were told to stay away from me. I don't know. But it wasn't my 5th grade teacher who stuck up for me.
One of my dearest friends, who was also my babysitter in the 70's when I was in elementary school and she was in junior high (we're only 4 years apart and we rode the same school bus) has been posting photos of her old yearbooks from Sandwich from the mid 60's through the mid 70's. It was a small town then, so we all knew the teachers and staff, as class after class would make their way through the same teachers on their way up. It's been so cool to see the pictures of everyone the way I last remember them. Names long dormant in the deepest parts of my mind are coming back as easily as if it were yesterday.
My friend made a comment about the 5th grade teacher that I also had, 4 years after her. She was afraid of him and he'd been pretty abusive. That opened up a dialogue between several fellow female students who also had him for their teacher too. As it turns out, we all had the same experiences with this man. He was 'off'. He terrified. He was abusive. He threw one kid up against a cement wall. Passive-Aggressive. He really did say the strange, veiled inappropriate things I also experienced. None of us complained to anyone. We were all too scared. We didn't want to make waves. We thought it was 'just me'.
Can you imagine the sense of relief I have right now? All these years I thought it was 'just me'? But it wasn't. These are other women who were in various graduating years, not just mine. We all drew the short straw when we were assigned to his 5th grade class. I don't know what happened to him after I finished the year. We 6th graders moved into a different part of the school the following year, then it was off to the 'new' high school after that. I didn't think about him unless I saw my 5th grade class photo, which was fairly often because I've always had easy access to all my class photos. Those feelings would come back and I'd just dismiss it as me misinterpreting things he was saying. I assumed that I was the only person who thought they'd heard what they'd heard, and that no one else felt that way. That I was the only one.
The thought that, deep into the 20th Century, into the mid 1970's, abusive teachers were allowed to keep their jobs shocks me. Kids weren't encouraged to rock the boat. I never told my parents about the things he said because they wouldn't have done anything. Even at age 10, I knew it would do no good. It would have been a scandal. I would have been told to suck it up and the school year would be over soon.
I'm glad that times have changed.
I'm glad that times have changed.