a breakfast serial

One bite-sized story every morning to uplift, motivate, or provoke thought.

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!]


  Alphatoda wrote @

wow, i can’t belive i’ve actually experiened that, only she was an english teacher… >.<

  Jorie wrote @

As a rule-follower, it’s always surprising to be yelled at in front of a group of people.

  “A Lesson in Humiliation”: A Guest Post I Wrote – wrote @

[…] Check out the guest post I wrote for her today about a childhood experience, entitled “A Lesson in Humiliation.” […]

  Larry Who wrote @

It has always bugged when adults hurt a youngster’s feelings for no real reason, except they can.

  Jorie wrote @

Exactly! I remember being so startled because I had been such a “good” kid throughout elementary school and always played by the rules. So to be yelled at in front of the entire grade for a minor slip-up was definitely humbling.

  on thehomefrontandbeyond wrote @

agree with Larry–and Jorie, I think you are like me and puzzled when someone does not take to you–but it is a hard reality that she taught you that day that probably helped the same way when I heard from a “friend” that everybody does not have to like you, you know — hard lessons to be learned, but we learned them

  Jorie wrote @

Such a good point! It really was my first experience with a teacher who just didn’t “like” me. Of course, there were more after that, but Mrs. Fuller certainly paved the way. After publishing this story, I heard from a schoolmate who vividly remembered Mrs. Fuller yelling at her in front of the class for wearing a dress on gold-panning day. HA. I sense a pattern.

  laceyjbrown wrote @

Aw that’s so sad!

  Jorie wrote @

Haha, I lived to tell the tale. It was a good lesson to learn, that not everyone in life will like you or give you the benefit of the doubt.

  Rebecca @ Blueberry Smiles wrote @

I think she was out of line….she could have taught you that lesson in a way that wasn’t so mean……But I think we’ve all been there and had very similar, memorable things like that happen in elementary school

  Jorie wrote @

Yeah, I was definitely in the wrong but it did seem like an overreaction! If it were my mom, she would’ve just told me now I would have a cold head on the hike as a lesson. I’m sure it’s not easy chaperoning 60 kids on a field trip, though, so my patience would’ve been thin too.

  travelsandtealeaves wrote @

My first grade teacher brought green apples and cheese sandwiches in for everyone, and we got to pick which one we wanted. When I said, “I want an apple, not a cheese sandwich because I don’t like it when cheese goes warm” the teacher ranted at me and made me wait until the end and get whatever was leftover.

These things always scar a little, don’t they?

  Jorie wrote @

Haha, awww, that’s so funny that you remember that specific story. These things definitely do scar.

It’s a little traumatizing the first time you’re yelled at by an adult who is not your parent. Especially when it was an earnest mistake and not something you meant to do.

  kerrycooks wrote @

What a mean teacher! Completely unnecessary to yell at you

  Jorie wrote @

I thought so too, Kerry! In her defense, though, I can’t imagine working with fifth graders all the time. I’d lose my sanity.

  kerrycooks wrote @

I suppose…… 🙂

  Jorie wrote @

HA, I don’t know why I’m even bothering to defend her!

  kerrycooks wrote @

I’m sure somewhere, she knows she was wrong that day!

  Veronica wrote @

I think we all have an innate desire to have others like us, especially someone who is looked up to as your teacher, so it hurts even more to be disciplined/rejected by them. She really sounds like she had a bit of an ego trip going on but I wonder if she noticed your teary eyes and felt bad. You never know what’s going on in a person’s head and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. The good thing that happened here is you no longer wasted time trying to please someone who was petty enough to humiliate a student and be so obvious about having favorites.

  Jorie wrote @

Such a good point, Veronica! This was the first elementary school teacher who thought poorly of me, and I think all year I struggled with that relationship. In the long run, she wound up teaching me the most valuable lesson of all: to move on and forget about those people you’ll never win over.

  Suzie wrote @

Wow! For a “teacher” to humiliate a child that way is sad. Unfortunately not uncommon as we’d like to hear either. At least you learned something that day and from reading your story it’s obviously stuck with you and you turned out to be a very nice person. Poo on Mrs. Fuller! 😉

  Jorie wrote @

Hahaha, thanks, Suzie! It definitely turned out to be a lesson in social interactions and I’m glad I learned it sooner rather than later.

  Rachel wrote @

Ok, first of all, let me state that this teacher is RUDE teacher who as I recall only had a few select favorites! Jorie, you didn’t have it bad. At Taft I forgot my t-shirt to make the stained design. She not only yelled at me in front of my entire group but made me sit and watch all my friends make there shirts. She wouldn’t let me walk back to get it so I had no shirt. I was so upset that a mom of a friend of mine actually made a design from her daughters shirt and they gave me a shirt after the trip to make me feel better..ha. Needless to say there is a perfect example of a teacher I WOULD never become!

  Jorie wrote @

HAHA I remember this story now. Oh, Mrs. Fuller. Lots of memories…

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