The title may be misleading as this blog is not going to be a rant about teachers who gave me ‘F’s’ through my school years; there’s not enough time nor interest! lol This blog is about teachers who failed me as teachers; people who left such a mark on me, that I remember them to this day. The good teachers seem to fall by the wayside, but the bad ones…leave indelible marks I’d say.
The starting point of this blog is in Augusta, Georgia in 1967 when I was at the tender age of 5. I’m not sure how or why, but my Mom managed to get me enrolled into public schools a year earlier then the state allowed. This was an all inclusive school; one building, with everything we needed inside, but the playground. It was grades 1-12! The name of the school was A. Brian Merry and it was located on Boy Scout Road. I grew up right next door to the school, across a large field.
My first grade teacher was a blonde haired woman named Mrs. Vanover. She was tall or seemed it to me and she was not nice. Anytime I did opposite of what she wanted, she’d take me into the bathroom and beat the shit out of me. Each class had 2 bathrooms; girls and boys. Many times it was for my spelling; it seems that at 5 years old, I spelled all my words the way the Brits do and that got me in trouble a LOT. I remember one time in particular, now this was in 1967 mind you, she asked us to draw ‘something.’ I have long forgotten what it was she had asked of us, but I clearly remember I drew a Pirate Ship with Pirates. Kind of cool I thought, but Mrs. Vanover was not impressed. She grabbed me by the hand and off to the bathroom we went; and I was paddled so hard, it would be child abuse today. Needless to say, my 1st Grade year was a disaster. I failed everything and it was suggested I stay back and re-do 1st Grade; and I did. My second 1st Grade teacher was wonderful and nice and I passed with no issues. I think her name was ‘Shelley’ as best I recall.
The next teacher on the list is a Mrs. Smith at the same school in Augusta. I’m not sure what grade it was, maybe second grade; this was during my Mom’s business period. Perhaps I should say MY business period as she made me wear suits to school and carry a brief case. I think it was second grade now. We had started to change classes during the day from one subject to the next and this was my Math teacher. She’d start each day with Roll Call and then go into any Sports that were in season. I remember clearly she loved Football and spent much of our class time discussing the previous night’s game. Well I got so frustrated cause I wasn’t learning math that I told my Mom about this and she promptly went directly to the School Board. Well let me tell you this didn’t do my ANY favors. I remember standing outside of school one morning after this, waiting for them to unlock the doors and who of all teachers came to unlock the door, but Mrs. Smith. She not only unlocked the doors, she came out and grabbed me by the arm and carted me into her classroom and chewed me up and spit me out. Needless to say, I failed math this year.
I managed along fine and left that school after 5th Grade when my Dad retired from Civil Service at Ft Gordon, GA and we moved to West Melbourne, Florida. Starting school here was wild to me. The school had been an all Black high school and was transformed into a integrated Middle School. It sat right in the center of what was then called ‘Colored Town.’ This was in 1974. This school was a shock to me because it was all open air walkways and there was no AC in the school that I recall either. It had ‘many’ wings to it and was open to the surrounding neighborhood. (Now its surrounded by 8 ft tall fence topped with barbed wire). For the most part my teachers here were good I’d say; all but two. Another thing that was odd to me in this school was that students were ‘phased.’ Depending on what I’m not sure, but I was in Phase 4-5, (the smarter kids). Phase 1’s were the kids who picked their noses all day long and had little command of the English language (NOT foreigners though!)
I’m not going to try to recall the particular grades these two teachers were in as I don’t remember, but I DO remember them and their practices. The first was a Mr Wilkinson (sp?). He was my teacher for Science and I”m sure any of my friends who read this will remember him. He was married to one of the female Phys Ed Coaches. (She was a number too let me tell ya) He’d sit mostly at his ‘desk’ at the front of the room and talk. He did get up on occasion and write on the chalk board, but mostly I remember him sitting. lol Now his peculiarity was each day to pick a different student to rub his back. Whomever was picked got an ‘A’ for the day and you stood behind him, while he sat on his stool, and rubbed his back and shoulders. He was a nice guy, very mellow, and laid back. This back rubbing thing always perplexed me, but I did pass his course and rubbed his back as he picked.
The next teacher was another Math teacher; Mrs. Freeburn. An uptight, older white woman, who was snobbish and rude. I was however doing well in her class, Pre-Algebra. I was doing well that is until this one particular test day. She had the desks arranged in a large circle in the room with her desk at the head, so she could watch us take this test. I was diligently figuring out algebra problems when suddenly Mrs Freeburn calls to me and asks me if I realize someone is doing something to me. I’m startled and curious as to what she means by this. Well the guy sitting next to me (Dan R.) had taken the thingy off of the pencil sharpener that held the shavings and had begun to sprinkle them in my hair. I didn’t notice at all. Mrs. Freeburn announced to the class, but directed at me, that if I wasn’t smart enough to realize something was being done to me, then I didn’t deserve to be in her class! When I came to school the very next day and went to her class, I was rudely met with, ‘you’ve been transferred!’ She had not only transferred me OUT of her class, but had me dropped to Phase 1 in Math. Total bitch and I’ll never forget her as long as I live. Her actions ruined me in math and I never did get back up to Pre-Algebra.
I finished off that school and onto high school with all my classmates. The year was 1978 and Palm Bay High School was the school. It was called ‘Palm Bay Senior High’ and was actually in Melbourne as the ‘city’ of Palm Bay was not well established and had no schools of their own at the time. This school was situated within a mile or so of the Palm Bay/Melbourne city lines. Here I had two particularly bad teachers. One was mean as all hell and one was a freak with a fro.
Let’s start with the ‘freak with a fro.’ Now this guy I dont’ remember his name at all, but I DO remember he was an assitant coach to one of the teams at the school. He taught Health I believe and during one of the topics we were discussing, he told us about offspring between sheep and humans. He also told us he was going to bring in photographs for us to look at. I think the entire class went into shock and that was the last time we saw this teacher too.
Palm Bay was picked one year to have some ‘experimental’ classes and the students were all hand-picked for them; one was ‘Western Civilization’ and the other was ‘Humanities.’ I was picked for both of these classes. Mr Grezafi (sp?) was my Western Civ teacher and his only bad thing was he liked to be really graphic when discussing battles and Roman punishments. (I mean really graphic) The other class, Humanities, was taught by Mrs Harlan. An old battle-axe of a women who was very smart, strict, proper, and rude. There are two major incidents with her I recall. One was a project we were assigned to do; a short paper on something or other. I worked hard on it only to get it back with a note written on it. The note read, ‘Gary, I’d suggest you not waste your parents money by going to college, you’ll never graduate.’ I was in shock and don’t think I ever showed that to anyone. This was either our junior or senior year and we were all starting to dream about college. Well my dreams burst quickly here. The second incident was actually the result of her teacher’s assistant; a nameless bitch to me now, but she left another indelible mark. We had taken a test in Humanities (and we used a College Level book) and Mrs Harlan was absent when the graded tests were handed back to us. The assistant teacher decided to call out each person’s grade as she handed them their tests back. Of course when she got to me, she started ‘making fun’ of me before she handed me my test back. She was sure to tell everyone in the class that I was the only student to fail the test and it was obvious I didnt’ study the material for the test. OMG! How small can one person get? Well let me tell ya, I not only took the red pill, I took three of them as i felt like an ant on the ground…I was most embarassed and angry too. I didnt’ complain to anyone about this, but bit my tongue and moved on.
I managed to graduate high school on time after taking 2 weight lifting courses the Summer of 1980 and night courses through my Senior semester. I went on to enter Brevard Community College in the Fall of 81 and didn’t make the semester. I dropped out. The following semester, Spring of 1982, I entered a private business college in the area called the ‘Morris Jr. College of Business.’ Surprisingly I did well and maintained a 3.5 gpa and graduated on time.
I wanted to go back to Community College (cause of transferring credits from a private school, BCC had an agreement with Morris to accept their credits; well some of them) I decided to start back to BCC with a Summer School trip to (West) Germany and attended a single class at the University of Konstance. This was 6 wks long program and I finished and came home to start back to BCC as I was dreaming of a 4 year university at this point; again!
I did finish my time at the community college and had my sights set on a 4 year university; now that i realized I could handle it. I applied to and was accepted at The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. My picked major was, you guessed it, Humanities! I love my alma mater and the time I spent there was most important to me as a person and as a student. I had a few ‘quirky’ professors at FSU, but none I’d call ‘bad’ teachers. In fact I did have many teachers here who were great and I loved their classes!
So basically these were all the teachers I remember, who left a ‘scar’ on me educationally and probably emotionally too. I didn’t necessarily fail the classes they taught, but their actions and reactions to me are still with me to this day. Now mind you I dont lose sleep over this, but do ponder these situations from time to time as I ponder my life.
The following pic was taken at Kindergarten Graduation in Augusta, Ga in the Spring of 1967 from a local Lutheran Church.