Talking about the Civil War led me and Emily to recall the ninth grade social studies teacher who shared his weird conception of it with us. While that was memorable enough that I still have a reaction to his view some eleven years later, this man will always live in my mind primarily as…
That Crazy Teacher Who Grabbed My Tongue That Time.
Yeah. In the course of some contentious interaction — possibly about my ardent belief that all homework assignments came with an invisible-ink disclaimer stating that, “You are required to hand this in, unless your name is Elizabeth” (it’s amazing how my teachers could never remember having written that part, when I saw it so clearly on each assignment!) — I stuck out my tongue at him, and he, literally, grabbed it, with his hand.
That was not appropriate.
Can't touch this.
(Image from the Oral Cancer Foundation.)
So: clearly, our teacher was weird. This was his only semester at our school*, and he complained bitterly to us about not being rehired. At the end of the year, everyone was signing yearbooks but I hadn’t bought one, so I handed this dude a sheet of looseleaf paper and told him to write something to me. He wrote that if the building burned down, I was the only person he’d save. (A friend told me at the time that this was a huge compliment because it meant he thought I was destined for greatness. This is a window into the kind of crazy teenage logic that has turned Edward Cullen, for instance, into a romantic icon. Just sayin’.)
The really crazy part? I remember this teacher sort of fondly; I’ve found myself wondering occasionally, over the years, what he’s up to. I mean, I somewhat hope it isn’t teaching young kids, but… who knows, maybe he got his shit together.
Here’s the thing: now being an adult (at least in some nominal sense), I think about the idea of this happening, and it’s horrifying. But at the time, it was… well, pretty much the most interesting thing that happened to me at school that week. The biggest impact it had on my life was that (as this was the height of the Spice Girls craze) all the older kids on my debate team started calling me Violated Spice.
So, I’m clearly speaking from the perspective of having been a very lucky kid, to whom nothing really bad ever happened. …Which actually is not to say that nothing ever happened at school that genuinely disturbed me. Here’s one: in sixth grade (different school), this gross, gross man was supposed to introduce our unit on Health. He did this by having us line up by birthday, girls on one side of the room and boys on the other, facing each other — and then leering at the girls’ line as he said, “As you can see, age does not necessarily coincide with development.”
I can remember very clearly being absolutely horrified by this — and humiliated, too — and looking at other girls in the class who clearly felt the same way, although we never talked about it again. (And it certainly never once occurred to me to mention this to any responsible adult.)
But my point is, this experience stands out because it was so rare for me. And because it was a one-off disgusting experience that was not repeated and that was not important to my life over the long term. So, I get why parents worry — because things can happen to kids that really do knock their lives and their happiness off track. And I’m damn lucky that nothing like that ever happened to me.
But that leaves me in an odd position where the adult version of me would flip the fuck out if some tween-age girl told me stories like these ones that actually transpired at my schools; yet when I look back on my own life, they’re a little bit… funny. And I guess I’m not really sure what to make of that.
* Actually, none of my first five social studies teachers at this school stayed employed there beyond the semester in which they taught me. As a sociology blog I read would say, “Correlation… or causality?”