One Moment In Time

I did not like my first grade teacher. Not one little bit. I am not quite sure why she chose teaching as a profession because I don’t think she liked any of us, either. I admit that I went into the year with a bad feeling, due to the things I’d heard about her. She quickly proved the stories were well-founded if not entirely true.

Like the time, right after Christmas vacation, when she was asking us all what we had done over the holiday. For me, Christmas was already in the distant past and my birthday – on the third of January – was far bigger on my mind. I told her – and this was in front of the whole class, mind you – that I’d celebrated my birthday with my family. I was very excited, and smiling.

She asked me if I’d had a birthday party. My smile slipped a little. I said “no”. She asked me why. I said I didn’t really know and by now my smile was entirely gone. She then said, and I quote (at least as it appears from my memory), “You’re supposed to have parties and invite your friends. That’s only fair because they invite you to theirs.”

I then proceeded to cry.

The truth was, we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, and spending funds on things like birthday parties wasn’t really high on the priority list. I don’t think it really ever bothered me except for that year. We always had great celebrations as a family and I was never deprived of anything! Suddenly my teacher made everthing seem otherwise.

But that wasn’t the end of my teacher’s meanness. Later on in the year we were learning how to do macramé. Remember that stuff? You braided rope in a certain way to make things like decorative flowerpot holders, or wall hangings.

Well, we had made a short macramé thing, and my friend and I stayed in at recess one day to finish up our second macramé project. Why we were allowed to stay in alone in the classroom, I do not know. We got our projects to the same length they’d been with the first project, and then we wondered, “Why is it that our rope still is so much longer?” We shrugged our shoulders and decided to cut the rope to the “proper” length and be done with it. Wouldn’t our teacher be proud of us?

She wasn’t. In fact, she yelled – at me in particular for some reason, even though we’d BOTH done it – there, in front of the entire class, she hollered.

“Why did you cut your rope?” She refrained from saying, “you idiot”, though I’m sure she was thinking it.

“Ummm, we thought we were supposed to?”

“Well, you weren’t. You ruined it. Your entire craft is destroyed.”

And then she threw it in the garbage.

I opened my mouth to retaliate. To tell her off. To chew her out. I literally opened my mouth…

…because you see, the one fantasy I had imagined over and over that year was telling off my teacher. I imagined up conversation after conversation, where I brought her to task, gave her what for, told her my opinion of her and her meanness.

And here, in real life, was the perfect time to truly live my fantasy.

So I opened my mouth, all ready to say the things I had imagined over and over and over.

And then a little voice inside my head said, “Shut your mouth, Gretchen. Now.”

And I did. I literally shut my mouth. I kept silent. I kept out of the principal’s office.

I have been known, even today, to imagine up retaliatory conversations with people who have ticked me off. Only now I know that’s probably not the most healthy way to spend my time.

I have even been known to open my mouth and actually say the things I’m thinking – though I almost always regret it later.

Funny how I remember that moment in time – as if, somehow, I’m a different person because I kept my mouth shut that day than if I’d opened it and gotten into trouble.

“Two roads diverged in a wood…” and I took the one less controversial. And that has been the story of my life.

2 Responses

  1. Oh, Gretchen, this story makes me sad and angry all in one. It greatly troubles me that a teacher like this would be allowed to teach and that you and other children were subjected to such abuse and bullying. That’s what it was. I can also point to several teachers in my life, one in specific, who bullied his students. But because we both live in Minnesota, I will not get into details about that horrible experience.

    I would encourage you, when the situation warrants, to speak your mind. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that keeping silent is not always the best. Individuals who treat others with disrespect need to understand that such behavior will not/should not be tolerated and is unacceptable. It is empowering to stand up for yourself and for what is right and not to simply “take it” to avoid conflict and to be nice. I’m sure you know that.

    Thank you for writing this powerful and thought-provoking post.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Audrey! I have atually gotten better about speaking up – though sometimes it gets me in trouble! I let things brew and then they burst out! Not so good. I don’t care as much about what others think of me any more…though I still am a peoople-pleaser at heart! Life is all about balance, isn’t it? I think I often am sitting on an off-balance teeter totter!

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