a breakfast serial

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Archive for October 23, 2012

a lesson in humiliation

< by Jorie of themidwestmaven.wordpress.com >

My elementary school’s fifth grade was divided evenly among three teachers, but everyone wanted to be in Mrs. Fuller’s class. She was the “cool” teacher.

Mrs. Fuller was the only fifth-grade science teacher, so we all visited her at some point during the school week. She demanded attention, not just with her voice and hulking presence, but also with her go-to outfit: billowy, floral print muumuus.

Her science lessons were the stuff of legend. She turned off the lights and taught the creation of the universe by microwaving an egg until it blew up. In her class, we created solar ovens and cooked hot dogs. We made a sandwich of chips, licorice, and Nutella to represent the inner parts of a cell.

She was the favorite teacher of many of my classmates and had a cult-like following. But Mrs. Fuller had her own favorites, and despite my best efforts, I simply wasn’t one of them.

Each January, the fifth grade went on a sleepover field trip to Lorado Taft, a rustic lodge in middle-of-nowhere Illinois. Throughout the year, we were repeatedly told by Mrs. Fuller — always a chaperone — that Lorado Taft was a capital-p Privilege that could be revoked at any moment.

On the day of the field trip, we were all packed tightly on the charter bus, our belongings stowed safely below. Mrs. Fuller climbed aboard and scanned the seats, taking attendance. Her icy blue eyes alighted on my bare head.

“Jorie,” she said, quietly, putting down her clipboard. “Where’s your hat and scarf?”

My stomach flip-flopped as I realized that my hat and scarf were in the cargo hold below the bus. She had explicitly instructed us to carry all our cold-weather gear with us because we were going on a hike immediately upon arrival. In the hubbub of packing, I had forgotten. I told her where they were, in a meek voice.

It may have been the prospect of heading into the wilderness with 60 fifth-graders for three days, or her intrinsic dislike for me, but she snapped.

“JORIE! How many times did I tell you to bring your mittens, your hat, and your scarf ON THE BUS? Everyone else followed the directions! Do you think you’re above the rules?” She threw up her hands in frustration. “Now, you’re going to hold up all the buses, and we’re all going to be late because of you.”

Ten years of age is too old to cry in front of your friends, but I blinked back hot tears. A teacher had never yelled at me before, and in that moment, I hated Mrs. Fuller with an intensity I didn’t know I was capable of.

I slinked off the bus to retrieve my belongings — as 60 pairs of eyes followed — half-expecting the bus to just pull away without me. The field trip went smoothly, but for the rest of the school year, I stopped trying to win over my science teacher. I did my work and kept my head down, and when friends raved about Mrs. Fuller’s latest amazing science demonstration, I just scowled.

Because when I think back to Mrs. Fuller, I don’t think of her science experiments. I think of my first lesson in public humiliation.

Click here for another story by Jorie.

[Note: Mrs. Fuller’s true name has been changed to protect her anonymity – we know teachers lose their cool sometimes!]