Thursday, August 21, 2014

What do you mean by mean?

Lots of students are running around today picking up their schedules.  And I imagine they are curious about the teachers they have been assigned.  Maybe some rushed home to figure out who this Fritch character is and stumbled across my humble blog.

I know I am always nervous about the first week or so, and most students are as well.  The question that seems to be on a lot of minds is, "Is she mean?"

My knee jerk reaction is to reassure you and tell you not to worry.  Mean?  Who me?  Of course not!  But then I start thinking about it, and I wonder if even if those teachers who ARE mean think they are not mean. So who's to say?

I can tell you I am not as mean as Ms. Ewing, my 8th grade algebra teacher (I am sure she has shuffled off this mortal coil by now, so I use her real name).  Although I eventually became a somewhat talented algebra student, it happened by accident and despite Mrs. E's machinations.

What do we mean when we say a teacher is mean?  Most can probably agree that a teacher who uses humiliation is mean.  A teacher who is inflexible can be mean.  A teacher who yells.  A teacher who does not seem to have a beating heart.

Mrs. Ewing was all those things, and this is one of those cases where her outer appearance totally matched her temperament.  She styled her hair in a shellacked and immovable bob, and she wore a variation on the same outfit every day: high heels; stockings; a pencil skirt long sleeved silky patterned blouse that tied at the neck, and to complete the look...a pinched mouth.  A picture of compression and control.

The adult me DOES have a little sympathy--dress codes have relaxed since then and I'd no doubt be in a chronically sour mood if I had to wear pantyhose every day. sympathy does have limits.

Mrs. Ewing assigned homework every single day, which was bad enough, but the worst thing she did was to grade our tests and then call students up to her desk, in front of the class, to come up and retrieve their scores in order from highest to lowest.  A humanities-oriented mind since a young age, I came up in the bottom three every time.

I heard her laugh.  Once.  Then I wished I had not.

In addition, I left class with no more concept of what algebra DOES than I did when I began.

Now, if this strategy had made me work harder, maybe it could be defensible.  But all it did was convince me that I would NEVER grasp the concepts.  And that's one of the key things that makes me remember her as a "mean" teacher.  That and the fact that she seemed to regard middle schoolers as subhuman life forms. 

Side note:  my personal preference is for slightly scary teachers; even as an adult I like a dance instructor that is stern and direct, giving me corrections on my form, rather than vague praise; I prefer an exercise instructor who is more like a drill sergeant than a cheerleader.

I don't know exactly what this says about me--probably nothing favorite teacher ever was my high school French teacher, and she was terrifying only because her class was challenging and I wanted so much to impress her.

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