Here’s another story from Esther about what happens when a teacher tries to use good old fashioned shaming methods on kids these days.
Nobody in this story comes off looking good. Not a single person. Including me. I was an obnoxious brat. Then again, I was a fifth-grader, and the others in this story were adults.
I had the same fifth-grade teacher that my sister had – Miss Ulrich. When my sister was in fifth grade, four years before me, I heard every day when she came home and complained about Miss Ulrich. She unfortunately had a completely incompetent English teacher that year too, Miss Weinstein, so she was very frustrated, as was my mother. For a full year, I heard my mother and sister talking about all the stupidities my sister had to endure.
My mother’s stance on it was essentially, “yes, this teacher is incompetent, but you still need to respect her and behave properly. Keep your head down, get through the year, talk to me and I’ll correct any mistaken information she gives you, and you’ll be done soon.”
Some of the things I remember needing to be corrected from Miss Weinstein’s lesson: La Salle is not pronounced the same as “sally”; Columbus did not cross the ocean on yachts; the “ch” in yachts does not sound the “ch” in chutzpah.
So the year was over, my sister moved on to sixth grade, I graduated to second grade.
But when I started fifth grade, on the first day I came home in an uproar. “My teacher this year is Miss Ulrich! She’s a terrible teacher! Breindy said so! She hated her! How will I survive this year!”
My mother attempted to calm me down – Breindy didn’t hate her, she was a fine teacher, don’t worry, the year will be great.
I wasn’t convinced. Unfortunately, for all my emotional immaturity, I was quite bright. And I simply could not forget the full year of complaints and aggravation my sister went through. My mother continued to try to convince me not to let my sister’s experience destroy my year. She tried to convince me to give the teacher a chance. It didn’t work.
Looking back, I can recognize that this teacher wasn’t really any worse than most others. The words that come to mind are “plodding” and “unimaginative,” but that doesn’t necessarily make her a bad teacher. But I went into it angry and annoyed, expecting a terrible year. So that’s what I got.
It all came to a head one day when I was bored (I was almost always bored in class, especially hers). I had read a story over the past Shabbos in one of the teen magazines, a story which had a small but significant detail about how annoying it was to a teacher when a student was rattling coins in her hands. So guess what I was doing…
I was really on a roll that day, and when the rattling of quarters didn’t garner very much of a response, I started rhythmically kicking the front leg of my desk. The girl in front of me (who I detested because she was a goody-two-shoes) complained to the teacher. I defended myself – I’m not actually kicking her desk, I’m kicking mine. She has no right to complain.
This poor teacher. She really was incompetent, and didn’t know how to deal with that. And as emotionally immature as I was, as I said, I recognized that. And I scorned her for it. Now I can kind of feel bad for her, for having to deal with a kid like me, for not having the skills to deal with a kid like me. But fifth-grade me was like “come on, dude. There’s such a simple way of shutting me up. Are you really going to just give me a desperate look and move on?”
But yeah, that’s what she did. I continued kicking the leg, but got bored of that soon.
And then it was time for tehillim. We always went around the room, each girl reading one possuk from that day’s perek.
Miss Ulrich said “everyone take out your tehillim, and make sure to read loud and clear. Everyone except Esther Shaindel, because she’s not really part of the class.”
Now, again, as an adult, I can understand this. As a teacher, I’ve said stupid things I regret. Also as an adult, I can say that no teacher should ever get to the point of such desperation that she says something like that. In any case, as a fifth-grader, all my stupid antics flew out of my head and I was hurt. All I felt was hurt.
So I put my notebooks into my backpack, put on my coat (we kept them on the backs of our chairs) and made my way to the door.
Miss Ulrich got there before me. I could see the terror in her eyes. She couldn’t let a student just leave school. She’d get in all kinds of trouble. I think I knew that. She stood in front of the door with her hand on the doorknob, bodily blocking me from leaving.
I said, quietly, holding back tears, “I’m going home.”
“Go back to your seat,” she said.
I just looked her right in the eye and said “I’m not part of the class. I’m going home.”
“I didn’t — I mean –” she stammered. Then she moved aside.
I went out the door and down the stairs, taking care to avoid the exit where there’s a camera and a security guard. I wasn’t sure if the door was alarmed, but I got out. I just blindly walked home – a ten-minute walk if I walked slowly. It was weird, walking home in middle of the day when I had no doctor’s note, no permission slip… The streets were quiet and calm, with hardly any people around.
I got home, and my mother understandably freaked out a little. I broke down in tears.
Now, again, in retrospect, I know how ridiculous this is. I was a brat, I got what was coming to me, and now I was acting like the wronged party. But also again, I was a fifth-grader. So yeah, as smart as I was, don’t expect emotional logic too much.
Once my mother realized I had left without permission, she called the school to let them know I was safe – as she told me, they were probably worried, and she wanted to make sure they knew where I was.
I sat and played with my baby sister for comfort the rest of the day.
The next day, we had an appointment with the principal Mrs. Pipiklech, Miss Ulrich, me, and my mother. While my class had recess, I sat in the principal’s office. Mrs. Pipiklech lectured me for a bit, then made me apologize to Miss Ulrich. Miss Ulrich sat mostly silent throughout all of this. Then Mrs. Pipiklech asked me to wait outside while she talked to my mother.
When I got back to class afterwards, some classmates told me how Miss Ulrich had said they shouldn’t mention any of this to me because “Esther Shaindel feels really bad about it, and we don’t want to remind her and make her feel bad about it again.” I laughed at that. I felt like a sensation, a celebrity. I didn’t feel particularly bad about kicking the desk, or about leaving school without permission. I felt bad about being told I wasn’t “really part of the class.”
Later, I don’t remember when, my mother told me that when I left the room, Mrs. Pipiklech got really mad at Miss Ulrich and made her apologize to my mother, and that my mother gave Miss Ulrich a piece of her mind too. I wish I’d seen any of that happening. I wish someone had acknowledged to intellectually-bright but emotionally-stupid fifth-grade me that the teacher was indeed wrong. That no matter how obnoxious and idiotic I had been, she should never have said the things she did.