Sunday, October 20, 2013

Our Fearless Leader

 This, in more of a Pilgrim's Progress sort of way, is what my 2nd grade teacher looked like. Even for a rule follower like myself, Mrs. Roach could be and was frequently terrifying.

A stern, pale, and skull-faced woman of late middle age who pulled her hair back in a no-nonsense bun, my teacher wore what were commonly referred to as "cat eye" glasses and her mouth was a horizontal slash of red, courtesy of the House of Avon. She wore dresses with slips underneath, silk hose and high heels with pointy toes. Every single day.  Mrs. Roach pulling her Pontiac into the teacher's parking lot in a pair of stretch pants would have have been no less shocking than discovering an aproned minotaur in a hairnet serving up tater tots in the cafeteria on Hamburger Day.

When it was time for math, you did not ask why and then pretend to lose your pencil. You had at least five other Eberhard Fabers (always sharpened) in the "side pocket" of your desk which you lined with a brown paper towel so that pencils and crayons didn't fall through the holes. When it was time for handwriting, you did not cleverly substitute the capital "S" in your last name with a treble clef  (even though they sort of looked the same) unless you wanted it circled in red pen with a note to erase and do it over. When it was time to read aloud, you did so in hopes of hearing a "Nicely done!" before she selected another victim student.  That was high praise enough. We didn't need or expect a 21 gun salute and an application to MENSA.

When accused of chewing gum in her class you did not roll your eyes and say, "I don't HAVE any gum" in an exasperated tone which--although-- technically true because you were chewing something, it wasn't gum. It was Captain Crunch. Because you didn't have breakfast that morning (As if that was somehow her problem or responsibility. But go ahead and suggest to her that it was her responsibility and then wait for the Apocalypse.) Better yet, have your parent do it. Same result.

You did not try to be the class clown by burping words to the Pledge of Allegiance or ask her if this was her "real hair" or if she dyed it.  When she asked for your homework you did not fix her with a smarmy grin and tell her you didn't do it because "I was busy".  The only notes you wrote in class had damn well better be from the assignment on "How to Write a Letter To a Friend" and not to your actual friend who had a different teacher altogether who wouldn't have cared if that same friend spent a brief moment of class time reading your synopsis of last night's episode of "The Monkees".

If you were told to carry a sealed envelope home to your parents, you were clueless about its contents and you did not ask. It could have been a letter about a PTA matter or a request to have you publicly flogged. It mattered not because it wasn't any of your damn business because it wasn't addressed to you and hiding it for two weeks inside your copy of Encyclopedia Brown wasn't going to make it go away.  Later, your parents weren't ever going to go all Liza Minnelli crazy when questioning Mrs. Roach like she was at her own trial because you didn't bring the note home. Why?? Because that was a parenting issue and your parents--God love them--were smart enough to know it.  However, your ass would be--as they say--grass even though the note was about being a homeroom mother, you paranoid maniac.

Had the internet existed back when you were a kid, Mrs Roach would have been listed on Wikipedia as the country's seventeenth line of defense. Just ahead of the Boy Scouts.

Mrs. Roach was a teacher, not a convenient doormat to be stepped on by lazy-ass parents who expected her to offer free tutoring for class days missed because of a surprise birthday trip to Carlsbad Caverns which necessitated lying about being sick for two days so that it would be excused. She wasn't about to be trifled with or disrespected during professional development seminars by being asked to remove her teacher hat for the day and pretend to be a student learning the same shit she was already teaching in real class. One didn't tell Mrs. Roach that she would be taking and grading work from any and all children who had sufficient time to turn in their assignments but didn't do so....for five weeks.

And if someone told her that she would be expected to tiptoe around a mentally ill student who hears voices that tell her to do bad things and if said student was demonstrating those bad things in class and began to otherwise act strangely like having a conversation with her own shoe, and that she--Mrs. Roach-- was required to halt the educational process for everyone else in the class, hit the panic button on the wall and then step ALONE(?) into the hall with said mentally ill student and wait until help came? Well...Mrs. Roach would have poured those people a big old glass of OH HELL NO and stood calmly while they drank it down with a side of KISS MY ASS cookies. Guaranteed Mrs. Roach did not have to aid her nightly sleep with  five melatonin and a martini chaser because even though she was required to dress like June Cleaver and she was paid like crap and the moral turpitude clause in her contract prohibited her from being seen buying or consuming alcohol, she was respected. By everyone. Or they did a really good job at pretending. Period.

It's not hard to see why my colleagues and I look wistfully into the rearview mirror and sigh before pouring ourselves another stiff drink. Even on a good day, I'm forced to behave less like Mrs. Roach and more like the friendless kid who converses with her sandwich. We live in an era where teachers are everyone's whipping boy and--like my friend Nance says, no one's boss. I live for the days when I can say "no" or "yes" and actually be granted permission to follow through on my own decisions. Sure, I'm allowed to wear pants, but only in the literal sense. Never in the figurative.

But I can hoist a glass and so I do. Here's to you, Mrs. Roach.


  1. I am shocked by what other parents put up with. One of my kids had a boy with bi-polar in her class in fifth grade. The day he threw a chair was the day I put my foot down--I am so sorry for his problems, but my child's safety is not negotiable. He needed special schooling and he left to get it. I am not unsympathetic to issues of mental illness, but it cannot be prioritized over the safety of others. Sounds like a rough patch for you--hope next week is better.

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  3. I am blessed with some amazing kids this year. However, public education is still headed down the tubes. Teachers know why, but no one will listen to us.

  4. And? Parents say nothing because they don't know. Health laws are geared to protect one at the expense of many. And so it goes.

  5. Or they say nothing because they are too busy defending their own little darlings.

    I loved Encyclopedia Brown when I was little! Polar bears and penguins don't both live at the North Pole, you know. And squirrels never back down trees - they go forwards. Take that, Bugsy! Or whatever Encyclopedia Brown's nemesis was called...

  6. My son has a Mrs. Roach this year and I love every old-school bit of her. In fact, I hope she doesn't retire any time soon because she evens the keel.

  7. Well said, and sadly, so very true. I loved, loved, loved so many of my kids. The vast majority of them, as a matter of fact. And I loved the basic description of my job: it was glorious to stand up there and chat about the things I adored, books, grammar, writing, and life. The rest of it was hell and bullshit. When the balance tipped too far into hell and bullshit, that was when it all got downright crazy. Do you know, back in the day, I never even TOUCHED my teachers? NEVER, EVER, EVER. They were like gods to me.

    I loved every single teacher I had up until eighth grade, when I got a few scary and lazy ones in junior high. But, on the whole, I loved the majority of them, even in college. It's a habit I have; I fall for smart people.

    I found that, even in Today's Sphere of Education, it is still possible to be Old School. I did it. It comes with considerable conflict, but once you establish yourself, and as long as you are fair and consistent, you can be true to yourself and your kids.

  8. I wish we could identify where we went wrong, as a society. A lot of well-intentioned movements (boosting self-esteem, attachment parenting) seem to have gone horribly wrong.

  9. Girl, you are on a roll. Your writing is ace (you've got your mojo brewing) and the blog looks great!


Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.