Trash-talking teachers

Trash-talking teachers June 5, 2011

(Tim encouraging a player who missed a shot that would have given the Dawgs an important win. You did your best, buddy.)

I’m married to a teacher. He’s that old-fashioned kind of teacher that some students groan about– a teacher who lectures. Oh. I don’t mean lectures as in do this or do that. I mean lectures from a wealth of knowledge about topics like the Battle of Gettysburg or the finer points of the Constitution.

Constitutional history, in fact, is his area of expertise. You want to get him talking just bring up the Federalists or James Madison. Tim has a Masters in History from WSU but lately he’s been teaching Language Arts. He’s certified in that, too. I tease him that the only reason he got saddled with teaching Language Arts is because he’s married to me and the administration thinks that he ought to know how to write simply because he sleeps with me.

But the truth is Tim is just flat-out smart.

If there is something he wants to learn, he reads about it, exhaustively. People in trailer parks don’t use the sorts of words he knows. But then again, he doesn’t use the sorts of words they use in trailer parks or newsrooms.

He wears a suit coat and tie to class every single day, unless it’s game day, in which case he wears whatever game day shirt the coaches are supposed to wear. He has never worn a pair of jeans to class in some 28 years of teaching. He doesn’t even own a pair of jeans.  Tim is perfectly suited for the world of boarding schools. He has an air of diplomacy and decorum, unless, the game is going badly, in which case he can take on the demeanor of Bobby Knight.  A referee once gave him a technical for yelling when Tim had laryngitis so badly he couldn’t talk much less yell — He just looked like he wanted to scream.

Students who take his class often say it prepared them the most for college. Whiny parents often complain that Tim should be teaching college.


You may not know this but I have a teaching license, too. When Tim and I married the plan was that I was going to teach and he was going to seminary. The journalism/writing gig was never part of our plans.

I am proud to be married to a teacher and a man with as much integrity as my husband possess.

Sadly, not every teacher possesses the sort of academic or personal integrity he does. I have been at social events populated by teachers and come home shaking my head. After one such event, I told Tim that if I were the parents of young kids and had seen the display of behavior that I saw that night I would have jerked my kids out of school come Monday morning. I’m not going into details but suffice it to say,  it was just sorry.

I was reminded of something my mama, the prison nurse, once said: “Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which one is the prisoner and which one is the prisoner guard. They both act the same.”

Seems like there’s a crop of teachers out there who don’t act much different than their worse students.

Did you see this oped in the New York Times: When Teachers talk out of school?

Apparently a New York City Math teacher, Christine Rubino, made callous remarks on her Facebook page following the drowning of a student during a field trip to the beach. She had nothing to do with that particular drowning but the next day on her Facebook page, she commented: “After today, I’m thinking the beach is a good trip for my class,” she wrote. “I hate their guts.”

Don’t even get me started.

If that wasn’t horrific enough, there was the first-grade teacher in New Jersey who posted on her FB page that she felt like a “warden” caring after “future criminals.”

Criminal is the right word for this sort of behavior.

Crying shame might be apropos as well.

But I’m not talking about the students, y’all.

If you have read my memoir (and if you haven’t, shame on you!) — After the Flag has been Folded — then you already know that the first thing I did after learning my father had been killed in Vietnam was to enlist Mama’s help in writing a letter to Mrs. Eye, my teacher at Oahu’s Helemano Elementary. Mrs. Eye wasn’t the first teacher who made an impact on my life and she wouldn’t be the last. I think sometimes about the letter she wrote back to me — and how difficult that must’ve been for her. How she must have struggled. For all I know she was a military wife herself. Perhaps her husband was in Vietnam, too.

Teachers & preachers & Sunday School helpers kept me out of jail.

I’m not saying I was an easy kid to teach. Mr. Smith, my chemistry teacher, once chucked an eraser at my head when I happened to tell him I didn’t believe in atoms.

“What does that mean?” he asked. “You don’t believe in atoms? How can you not believe in atoms??? They exist!!”

“Yeah, well some people choose not to believe in God even though he exists – I choose not to believe in atoms!” I retorted.

That’s when Mr. Smith chucked that eraser and I ducked.  (Come to think of it, a lot of people have chucked things at my head. There’s still a can of refried beans in the wall at the house on 52nd Avenue in Columbus that Mama pitched at me. I ducked that time too.)

A teacher who throws things at a student now will likely face a lawsuit, so I’m not recommending it. I’m just saying I didn’t exactly possess a teachable spirit as a kid.

Still, I had teachers who believed in me. Teachers who saw past all my tough-girl demeanor to the broken-hearted mess that I was. Teachers who took the time to encourage and challenge. Teachers who saw something in me I couldn’t see in myself.

Listen, I know that teaching is so much harder than the general public realizes. Mostly because the general public makes it that way. Parents mess up their own families and then push their kids off on teachers with the mandate to “fix and educate ’em.” Far too many kids are being left to raise themselves. They come to school hungry for food, attention, nurturing, and all manner of instructions.

Even so, there is never, ever a time when it is okay for a teacher to say he or she hates their students.

Any teacher who trash-talks a student is better suited for a job as a prison guard.

Or maybe as a prisoner.

What about you? Who was the teacher you loved best? What did you best love about him or her?

Who was the worse teacher you or your child ever had? What were they lacking?

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  • kim

    Best: Mrs.Furr. She taught me 4th and 5th grade and most everything that I count on as a teacher myself. I’d be honored if you would read my take of her story.

    Worst: easy. A contemporary that demanded respect but offered the students none in return, much less any to prime the pump of that back and forth flow.

  • I have been so fortunate to have many good teachers in my life. How to pick a favorite? Probably Mr. Arnot, my fifth grade teacher who, although not the best communicator or knowledgeable, showed me on a regular basis that he cared, even years after he had me in class. God bless all teachers, but especially great teachers like Mr. Arnot and your husband.

  • Debbie Derrick

    I remember my 8th Grade teacher, Sylvia Stryker, she would take us downtown, in our dresses and white gloves and taught us so many things, in and out of the classroom. I don’t remember any really bad ones, as I could have been part of the problem, if you get my drift. Thanks Karen for bringing this memory back to me, and giving me a big smile..

  • Karen, I had terrible teachers for the most part. A first grade teacher who took an unopened pack of gum from me that my grandmother gave me at lunchtime and then chewed it during class. A third grade teacher that would grab boys by the shoulders and shake them; she knocked one kid’s glasses off and broke them. An eighth grade teacher who set me before a teacher “tribunal” to discuss a behavior problem — that one of the teachers present knew I had not been involved in. A ninth grade English teacher who pulled me out of class to suggest I get counseling after I read an original short story to the class (all of us were assigned to write stories and read them; mine was sci-fi in the tone of Ray Bradbury, who I was obsessed with at the time). A tenth grade teacher who saw me writing in study hall and read over my shoulder, then took the notebook from me and got the class’ attention so she could grab that “teachable moment” to explain what plagiarism is (it didn’t matter that she was watching me free-write). I hated all of my grade school/high school teachers, with the exception of a few who just left me alone.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Tony: That is so horribly sad. Really. I wonder how many students share your experience? Far too many, I would imagine. How many students feel like they simply fade into the background at school, at home, everywhere?
      I am so sorry that you didn’t have one teacher who poured their gift into you.
      I had my share of bad teachers — Mr. Smith would rank right up there — but I also had more than a handful of teachers who pulled me aside and told me I was worthy. They didn’t actually say those words — they just taught me that through their actions.
      I wish you could have had that.

  • Who took that picture of Tim? It’s a great shot! The more stories I hear about him as a teacher and a coach, the more he reminds me of my wife! Very nice post Karen!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Photo was taken by staff at what used to be the now-defunct Hermiston Herald.

  • Peg Willis

    Worst: Mrs. Hamner, my 4th grade teacher, who knew I was cheating every day on Math, but did nothing about it. It took me a long time to get over that bad habit that could have been nipped in the bud.
    Best: Annie Sullivan, whom I never met personally, but who showed by example what can be accomplished by good and committed teaching. She was Helen Keller’s teacher.
    I am a teacher. I think, next to a mother, it’s God’s highest calling. I’m blessed and proud to have been both a mother and a teacher.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      And you, Peg, have lived up to that high calling.

  • Followed you over from Katdishe’s site, this title was quite the lure. My least favorite teacher was my 12th grade Civics teacher, who told me I would be “a complete failure in life.” Of course I showed him little respect in rebuttal and probably not much before the comment for him to have expressed emotion in that manner. My favorite was the same year, Mrs. Regal who offered a passing grade in math if I could take one of her full punches to the stomach. She was a lady, or women of her word. I knew she really did want me to pass, and though I struggled, she taught me more than any other math teacher.

    I coached a varsity girls lacrosse team for 6 years. Kids know instinctively if the person who’s teaching them cares about them or themselves first. When the kids know that they truly matter to a person, teaching takes on a whole different relationship with the kids. They are just like everyone else, we all want to know that we are special. Knowing God made each and everyone of us in a unique a personal way is what allows us to be able to see things in a completely different manner.

    Hats off to this post and your husband.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks for coming by the blog. Your teacher punched you?

      And you are right — they don’t care what you know until they know you care.

  • My favorite teachers were the male teachers (who sound a lot like your husband); they set the rules, commanded respect, expected my best – called me on it when I didn’t do it, and encouraged me when I needed it. They happened to be the ones others thought of as too strict, too hard, too this & that. I reckon I liked ’em because I needed that void filled — that just dawned on me…

    Having been an athlete back in the day and having been a collegiate student athletic trainer, I have seen my fair share of coaches. Boy do they ever hold an athlete’s head & heart in their hands. It takes a good man (or woman) to lead, encourage, teach, demonstrate, live, and respect — and expect the same from their students and/or athletes.

    My least fav teachers were the wishy-washy ones who changed their opinions and minds and expectations more often than their underwear. (I don’t actually know how many times they changed their drawers, but you know what I mean, right?)

    Oh yeah, I had a college, I said COLLEGE teacher who told me to stand in the corner. When I refused, he told me to wait after class. Two of my fellow male athletic trainers waited with me. When that teacher man grabbed my arms and sassed me in the face, my boy buddies, wrangled me away and we walked out. Oh, I wanted to lay him flat out with a swift upper-cutting knee, but I walked into the big cheese’s office of the math department, told him the story, and within minutes, I had a new teacher (and I went from a flunking student to a “B” student in a week). I don’t know what happened to that nut case teacher, but I reckon he eventually got his clock cleaned.

    By the way, I love that photo. It speaks much.


    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yes, that photo is my favorite of my husband. What I didn’t mention is that the shot was made in either double-or-triple overtime. So when the kid missed it, and thus lost the game it was huge. Nearly everyone in the gym was looking at the scoreboard, while my husband’s first reaction was to console the kid. As a competitor, he knew how hard he would be on himself. I think the photo speaks volumes about Tim.

      RE: teachers. Yes. I agree. A counselor once told me that kids find security in the rules and when we don’t have any in place, kids lack security.

      I happen to think that’s true for most of us.

  • Abraham Clark

    That picture looks like me tommorow after taking his final. Need i remind you he does teach college and he is brutal on us. Never any of this sympathy post axam. I would put my John Hancock on here but he would spend all class telling me all about Mr. Hancock so I don’t want to encourage him. I am going rumming writing his papers.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      AC: Hubby says you are hysterical. Can’t write anything, he says, that isn’t funny. Hope you made the final entertaining. BTW: I know your real name.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    Praying you mean? Brutal? Yeah. Glad I never had him as a teacher!
    Best of luck!

  • Gary B

    While I can’t recall much about my teachers, there are two that come to mind more than the rest. Miss Loretta Herron(Sp)First grade and Mr. Gegleman, 7th grade. Tony Gegleman was a WW II vet who went ashore at Normandy, If I remember right.
    It seems to me that teachers used to be held to a higher standard than they are now.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think it’s a trend that affects more than just teachers, Gary. I bet Mr. G. had some great stories, heh?