Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

January 12, 2011

Shared Memories: The Bad Kind

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.


  1. God, the world is CRUEL!!!
    Jojo, if I got my hands on those bitches now, or that teacher, I'd rip their throats out for tormenting you!

    I'm so sorry you had to go through that, babe.
    I know how cold and alone those years were. My bullies were in every school I went to (I was the new kid twice a year!!!) and always cause I was fat. The reason kids turn out aggressive is because they realize nobody is there to protect them.

    Its so unfair.
    But it IS a good thing that you now know it was not just YOU. That must take a whole load off.

  2. School's still turned a blind eye in the 80's-90's too.I never had teachers THAT creepy though,geez. What a sadistic asshole.

  3. At least SOME things have changed for the better, although in the UK now we've (naturally!) gone WAAAAY too far the 'other' way. It seems every adult is now seen by the authorities as a potential'threat' to children. There was a story not so long back where a lady flower arranger (yes, flower arranger), was asked to have a police record check because she 'might' have contact with children in her church. After 30+ years of flower arranging without managing to harm anyone at all, she refused and resigned instead, because they told her it was either the police check or she'd have to go. We just can't seem to do 'sensible' over here!!!

  4. They bully others because deep inside them they're the one helpless and weak. They try to avert their real problems to others by trying to show them how strong they are but they really aren't. I feel sorry for those people. They're blinded with showing off how strong they are but they don't realize how weak they are to admit the truth.

    Hoping that bullying will stop in all parts of the world.

  5. These people rely on their victims being too scared to say anything.

    Abusers may have been abused themselves, but plenty of abused people don't turn into abusers There's no excuse.

  6. It's funny, but this post was about my 5th grade teacher, but everyone is relating to the bullying part of the story.

    I often wonder if the girl who targeted me was abused. Or maybe she was jealous that I was friends w/ her brother and sister? But that wouldn't make sense b/c I wanted to be her friend too but she wouldn't have it. Her brother and sister would even say to me, "I have no idea why she treats you like that. I've told her to stop. She won't even tell me why she doesn't like you."

    I wish I could locate her to get some closure and find out why she hated me so much. Her family moved the following year and I've no idea where they went. One of her toadie friends that year is on FB. Interesting to note that both those girls left me alone after the ringleader moved.

  7. Wow. CREEPY. So many creeps out there! shivers.

    I had a teacher sort of like that in middle school. He was a Free Mason too.... not that one implies the other, I just remember thinking he was particularly assholic and secretive about not explaining the symbols on his ring!

    Sorry you were terrorized like that. I am not sure things have changed so much though. I think that stuff still goes on, creeps find ways to be creepy and kids are still essentially treated like second class citizens. I think there are more alternatives now certainly, but actually taking the action is still scary and you never know how the politics of stuff like that will shake out.

    In any case, I'm glad you are getting support and that you've connected with others about it.

  8. Sorry, JoJo, I think we all mean, the teacher was a bully, too. I know I did.

  9. It's interesting that the "ringleader" picked on you and that her brother and sister didn't have any reasoning into why their sister treated you that way. Being that she was in the 6th grade and her siblings were in the 5th grade with you, she might have felt that you had that time with them during the school hours that she didn't. And, maybe since she was the eldest, that at home she was the dominant force in their lives. She couldn't control them at school and their companionship with you was seen as a threat to her. The teacher is a bigger mystery. I would be curious to know what ever became of him. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Quite the opposite with me, my memories of my 5th grade teacher are one of the best ones I have. My math teacher. I was a total failure in the subject yet he took the time to help me. Even stayed after school with me. He was very encouraging and made me feel special. Some people aren't cut out to be teachers and view it as just a job not realizing they are helping to shape young lives. The fact that this incident has remained with you all of these years is a testament to that which has caused you distress. I think in the end, you were noble to share your story which has caused a dialogue with others that experienced the same as you and could help others.

  10. Wow Nantz, that is an excellent interpretation for what I experienced. I didn't know much about their family, but I got the impression that money was scarce, and looking back, there may have been abuse or addiction present in the home. My 4th and 6th grade years were fantastic, but 5th not so much. I had a math teacher like yours in 6th grade. I ended up babysitting for his kids once I was in high school.

    I was so close to Jan's brother, Donald, in 4th grade. Me, Don, Terry and Kevin were like the 4 Musketeers that year. Then Pam was in my class in 5th grade and we were friendly too. I wanted so much for Jan to like me, I really did. I thought if I did what she said and gave her my lunch money or whatever, she'd finally like me. She acted as though I was disrespectful to her or hated HER and that's why she punished me. That was not the case. She took advantage of my weakness for whatever reason, possibly as you said b/c her brother and sister liked and stood up for me.

    I would really, truly like to find her and ask her what exactly her problem was. I don't know where they moved and their last name is so common. And the girls may go by married names now. None of them are on FB that I can find. I have looked on Classmates from time to time. Oh, and the 5th grade teacher IS on Classmates as faculty of Sandwich Elementary. I shuddered.

  11. Maybe as you said, that there was an addiction and/or lack of money going on in her home that made Jan feel powerless and out of control. Picking on your vulnerability and weakness gave her back some of the power. In actuality, it seems as if her behavior was a reflection of how lost and scared she felt herself. Like I have said many times, everyone has a story and it's hers you don't have all the information on. It's peculiar that her siblings weren't the same way, but maybe Jan being the eldest she was put upon more. I'm only 10 months apart in age from my twin brothers but still felt like their was this sense of responsibility of setting an example.