My English Teacher - My Role in Her Breakdown

on Sunday, June 29, 2008

I am sure we all have our favorite teachers; they are the ones who somehow filled us with wonder and inspiration about learning and help develop our zeal to excel. Well, my English teacher for Form 1 to Form 3, Mrs. K, was not one of those teachers. (Form1 to Form 3 corresponds to ages 12 to 14).

Instead, I felt that she understood teaching and English in a very narrow context and did not at all encourage her students to wander far from what she perceived as the official playing field. This was particularly the case when it came to creative composition or essay writing. For me and two others, which she would refer to as the Brat Pack, creative composition was an opportunity to be, well, "creative". This was, to Mrs. K, out of bounds.

My two other Brat Pack members were James and Charles. James was a quiet individual, what the girls might call the dark and brooding type. He liked to play the misunderstood teenager but he also had a sharp wit that sometimes came across well in his writing. Charles was an anarchist at heart and loved roughing it up with authority figures like Mrs. K. I completed the trio. At that time, I was reading books and novels somewhat ahead of most of my classmates and my mind was roiling with new ideas and concepts that I did not learn from school. In retrospect, I know now that I was still a dumb kid but at that time, I thought I was smart. Also by this time, my Hippie tendencies were already manifesting and I tended to spiritualise things and to make everything into a search for inner peace.

Well, to Mrs. K, we were pretty much the unholy Trio. Creative composition would be the weapon of choice and our classroom was to be the battlefield. She just did not like the style of our writings. I was always too metaphysical for her taste. James was always too dark and Charles just too weird. She would often single the three of us out and we would be made to stand in front of the class. She would tell everyone that we had submitted the worst compositions from the previous assignments and we would be forced to read our compositions to the class. It was her way of teaching the class what was unacceptable composition and was meant to be a form of punishment by embarrassment to us.

In this aspect though, it was a complete failure. I was quite shameless and did not at all mind reading in front of the class. Charles reveled in the opportunity to demonstrate his defiance of authority openly. James just became darker.

I remember one composition assignment was to write an essay about "The Building". Mrs. K instructed us to describe the building, its building materials and its function. It was to be a descriptive composition.

I decided to write about a young boy who liked to slip up to the roof of his apartment building to catch the sun-rise and at the same time feel at ease with the sounds and smells of the market stalls setting up in the street below. As you can see, very much in line with my "seeking the inner peace" phase. I did describe the building and its surroundings but only in the context of how it affected the emotions of the boy. (Mrs. K's Verdict : Out of context. Essay was supposed to be about the building and not about a boy or the nearby market and what's with all this touchy-feel-y stuff. Do you need to see a counselor?).

James wrote about an incident in the building, a suicide attempt, and how the occupants of the building reacted while the ambulance staff prepared to take the victim away. (Mrs. K's verdict: Out of context. It should be about the building, not about its occupants. And why a suicide attempt? Why are you so dark? I am making an appointment for you to see the counselor.)

Charles wrote about how the building's location near the path of a political rally was ideal for the local traid gang to use as a base to try to carry out the assassination of a local politician. However, the police found out and sent in some special police commandos but their presence was accidentally revealed and that resulted in a running gun battle between the crooks who were trying to escape and the police. As the fight raged along the stairwell, numerous building residents and a number of sub-plots get caught in the crossfire. (Mrs. K's Verdict: What?!?!?! I am not even going to bother with the counselor. You watch too much TV and are beyond hope!)

At the end of Form 3, we had to sit for a major national school examination. In those days it was called the LCE or Lower Cambridge Exam. There were two English papers that we were required to take. Mrs. K boldly predicted that none of the Brat Pack would score a distinction(highest category) in either English paper. In fact she predicted that we would barely pass. Something even possessed her to say in front of the whole class that she would eat her own shoes if any of us scored a distinction in English.

As it turned out, the three of us were the only students in that class to score distinctions in both the English papers. Ecstasy! Vindication! Jubilation! None of us ever really went up to her and challenged her about eating her shoes and she never raised that subject. In fact, she positively avoided us the rest of our days in that school.

And that is my story about my English Teacher and my role in her Breakdown.


Pam said...

Well done!

Molly said...

Well done LGS! I had a feeling as I was reading that she might have to eat those shoes. How gentlemanly of you three to not demand that she make good on her threat!! This story is proof that even a worthless teacher can't keep a good writer down!

Janice Thomson said...

Good for you Lgs - hopefully, but not likely, this teacher learned something from you three.
One wonders how she managed to acquire a teacher's certificate...

tsduff said...

What a delicious story - about the students "winning" for a change :) She certainly was lacking in her own creative skills.

On a limb with Claudia said...

Good for you! And so well written. What a... tyrant! I never understand why people like that teach. They should be lawyers or nuns.


I'm glad you endured.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...


We were still taught to respect our teachers even the ones we disliked. We would never have asked her to eat her shoes. Scenario might be different today.

Doubtful that she learnt anything from us. I think she missed out on a lot by not realising that teaching can be a two- way street where both parties learn from each other.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Well, I tend to remember the times that the students won. Selective memory, eh?

For some teachers, facts and formulas are all that is important and they forget the need to encourage young minds to think for themselves.

Claire said...

Way to go Squirrel! I think she was 'wrapped too tight' to be a teacher.

the walking man said...

The myth of education is that the person in front of the room is always right. Personally I would have brought her some broth for her shoes to soften up in.

Dr.John said...

This teacher may have done more for the three of you than any other. She pushed you to be what you were intended to be. She gave you the opportunity to demonstrate who you were becoming. Your dislike of her and her methods pushed you in ways you wouldn't have gone without her.
Sometimes the worst teachers are the best.
My daughter's guidance counselor( an idiot) told her she should get married and raise kids because she would never make it in college. Whenever she faltered she would remember him and work harder to prove him wrong. She now has a Master's In Psychology from Leslie in Boston.

kimber the wolfgrrrl said...

This post is a vindication, all by itself, because it really is a great story!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

"wrapped too tight". yes, that would be a good description of her. I suspect her blood pressure rose over the slightest perceived issue.

I hold to the notion that many students may one day excel the teacher. The student should respect the teacher for his/her knowledge and experience but the teacher should also respect the student for his/her potential. That I learnt from another teacher at University.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

dr. john,
I know what you mean in that some teachers challenge us to do better and prove their negative assessment wrong. Clearly in the case of your daughter's experience as you have shared. In my case, she took such an unreasonable negative stand that we no longer felt that we had to prove her anything. She became actually irrelevant.

thanks. Coming from an established author like yourself, I am both honored and humbled.

Joyce's Ramblings said...

There are teachers I remember for good reasons and there are of course some I remember for bad reasons. At almost 75 I remember my 4th. grade teacher the most. It was then I said NO to a teacher and stuck to it. I flunked part of that years teaching the whole year. Each report card had a "P" for poor in that subject. That was 65 years ago and I still get angry when I think of it. Would you say she reached me?
Thanks for your visit.

Anonymous said...

The tyrant in my life happened to be the teacher in English class. I saw her, out of the corner of my eye, actually SNEAKING around the perimiter of the classroom, stalking me like a cougar...closer...closer, and when she brought the yardstick slicing through the air to land forceably on my desk, I was able to remain totally still, as if it hadn't happened at all. The girl who sat in front of me though, jumped into the air, yelled "F**K" and landed in a faint in the aisle.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Well, she certainly struck a chord that you remember it with such passion after so many years!

I give in. Your teacher was far worse than mine and your response far more courageous. Thanks for leaving the comment.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Well, she certainly struck a chord that you remember it with such passion after so many years!

I give in. Your teacher was far worse than mine and your response far more courageous. Thanks for leaving the comment.

meggie said...

Success is the best revenge of all!!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...


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