The Ones Who Hurt Kids More Than Help

Let’s talk about teaching then. Let’s talk about my kindergarten teacher Miss Keller as I’ll call her, who looked like Woodrow Wilson and was forever calling to us children   “Attention, children! Children!” in her fluty Brahman voice.

She was nice enough I guess– except to our classmate Francis Christmas. whom she punished.

Francis was one of only two Black children in the class.

I fervently hope that was not why she singled him out but he was forever being punished. Once she forced him to stay behind the piano, trapped by it bulk in one sealed-off corner of the classroom, while the rest of sang our songs about bluebirds and apples. All the while, he had to stay back there in his isolation.

I remember him yodeling away, singing his own songs, in what I see now might have been  a cheerful effort to keep his spirits up.

He wasn’t afraid of her I don’t think, even though she also brought him to the cloak room sometimes and secluded him there. I remember seeing him when we gathered there to suit up for Recess, his shirt collar suspended from one of the old brass hooks. She didn’t actually affix him to the hook, did she? Let me be remembering wrong!

And yet I have this visual still in my mind after all these years. Did he pretend to be hanging himself, again in some valiant pretend-jolly way that helped him save face?

I can’t say for sure that she did these things,  busy as I was trying to eat all the nice salty white glue I could get my hands on, those little dabs of the stuff that she passed out on little tabs of yellow paper when it was time for Art.

No, I can’t she ever made me feel afraid.

My feeling-afraid came later, as I said yesterday when we kids had to watch as our chums the boys were being paddled by our middle school teachers. The sound of the paddles whizzing through the air was bad enough, and the resounding slap when it hit the open hand that the boy was ordered to open wide and hold out. Worse yet: each boy’s effort to smile even as tears of pain sprang to his eyes.

The feeling-afraid came again to me again when we kids heard tales of our older cousin who began at this Catholic high school for boys where all the teachers were monks. The he lived in fear of was Brother James, let’s call him, who when he caught one boy searching inside his desk when he shouldn’t have been, took its wooden lid , opened it as wide as he could and slammed it down hard on the child’s head. My cousin told his parents about this and the news percolated down to us younger kids. He left the school shortly after.

Dark thought indeed.

A reader named Jacqueline said in a comment on my school-related post from yesterday that “if we are to learn then we need to be inspired, not shamed.”  True words, Jacqueline-from-Scotland and very well stated!

Tomorrow, some more positive tales I hope

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