12.24.2011

Remembering: When You Shouldn't Be a Teacher

In my career as a student, I have seen too many instances when people that had absolutely no business being a teacher, or in a leadership position dealing with children, do harm with or without intending to. Some of those instances were traumatic for the victims, and those who had to witness them.

When I was in first grade our teacher, maestra Monica, back in 1981-ish, used to employ a particularly dreadful technique, directly associated with a reading and analytical thinking exercise. She used to cause a lot of psychological pain on the students by humiliating them when they made a mistake.

At a chosen time in class she would flip the blackboard over and reveal the paragraph exercise. She would have a paragraph written out, which we needed to copy into our notebooks. However, the trick was that some words within the paragraph were garbled, supposedly, a couple of letters put in where other letters should go in their stead. Our task was to correct these garbled words as we were copying out the exercise.

At the time of reviewing the exercises we wrote out, she used to take an inordinate amount of time to bully to the point of tears, those students who made mistakes. She was merciless. Then, upon getting the student to start hiccupping and/or crying desperately, in shame and anguish, she used to embarrass them by forcing guilt about their crying in class.

Thinking back, I believe the teacher was frustrated with her thankless career, and wanted to extol the anguish into her students. Not really as a reflection of how ignorant and hopeless the students were, but more as a function of how she really felt about herself. She was acting out her own feelings towards herself.

This practice, of bullying people into the point of tears when they committed a mistake, seemed common at the time, as my own mother used to employ similar tactics at home. I believe that guilt used as an instrument of correction comes with the territory, in a Catholic country. Guilt as an authority device is a strong motivator for some.

Another experience which troubled me, earlier yet than first grade, was when I was placed in a Catholic kindergarten class for a very short period of time. There, our teacher refused to answer my question of when we were supposed to come back in from recess. I remember lingering to a nearby room to play the car stunt minitrack, with that classroom's teacher trying to get me to go back to my own room. I also remember my teacher coming in after some time incredibly furious that I had strayed, and grabbing me by the arm all the way back into the right classroom.

I didn't remember what my fellow students looked like, to follow them, and I had forgotten where our room was. I didn't like to be around my teacher because she was unpleasant and impatient.

Someone complained to my mom that I was unruly, after the event, because I remember she had a talk with an authority figure at the school and I ended up leaving after three days, or at least it was within the first week. I felt bad for my mom but I realized I didn't have any business belonging to that school.

Back when I was that small, kids used to get very sick at school. Gee, don't they do now too? But my mom has stood by this statement. She has said there were schools that you were more likely to get very sick at, and so she kept me out of those.

That's some sort of rationalization for something, that I've often wondered about, and never received any clarification on. But it's not that important, so I don't really care. However, the result is that instead of going to the same school, within walking distance from where I lived, I had to commute an inordinate amount of time since a very young age. This incessant, unavoidable commuting seemed to stay with me for a majority of my life.

During a recent discussion, my mom and I realized we don't remember at what time I got out from school when I was in Italy. My grandmother probably came to pick me up, as my mom worked rather far away. I remember sometimes my grandfather would come with my grandmother. Those were real treats, because I dearly loved my grandfather. And now that my grandmother's gone, and my grandfather's been gone a long time, we won't ever know at what time I got out of school when I was in Italy.

When I went to the College of DuPage to get a cheap certificate in Marketing, in 2003, I met a professor who was anything but equipped for the role. He used to assign indecent numbers of chapters in the book for us to read for homework, then answer the questions on a sheet of paper at the end of the chapter. The painful bit, was that we spent the entire class going from student to student reading the chapters paragraph by paragraph. That is the biggest waste of my school-going money I ever experienced.

I understand that professors must sometimes follow the curriculum as it is given to them by their department chairs. I understand sometimes that professors don't have the time to add useful tidbits to the class to make it interactive and multidimensional. However, to be lazy and just read a book, and nothing else, then why charge people for the privilege of what they're perfectly able to do at home?

I could have bought an older edition of the book off ebay at a lower price (instead of the overpriced bookstore) and proceed to read it on my own, at my own pace. I could have looked the book's accompanying website to learn more and find useful material to support the topics. I could have looked up articles on Google News about the companies and topics discussed in the chapter case studies. I could have done a far better job than the professor did.

There were no assignments and no real purpose or use or benefit in taking this class with this particular professor. He should have done something more productive, and something he actually had a passion and a talent for rather than waste our minds and time. Oh, it was a marketing class by the way. And our professor was Irish. I sure was honest and straightforward when it came to the class review. Oh, you can bet your sweet rear end I was.

After many years of Catholic school, I have been witness to religious sisters teaching students, and the various techniques and philosophies they apply to their task. Some sisters have a gift in relating and caring for others. These are the few. Some others are politicians and the particular role they're in is just a stepping stone to where they want to get to--so they have very little time for building rapport with students. These career sisters are also few and far between, thankfully. Others yet hate students, children, their teaching role, the work that goes along with it, and will make certain and sure that everyone is as miserable as they are. Regrettably, there are a high number of these sorts of sisters. So much for Christian charity, the vow of service, and comforting those in need.

When you have to study a subject that doesn't come easy because it's the first time you ever heard of it,  when you need some one-on-one to work through some difficulties, and when you have a lot to juggle during a busy school day, the attitude and behavior (and philosophy) of the people who guide and teach you shape your experience much more than the students.

In school, we are taught to do everything our teachers say and to be respectful. We tend to look towards those in a role of authority in school with hope, with esteem, and with obedience. When these individuals let you down, it's very hard. It's no wonder there's a teacher shortage.