Let My Laughter Resound!
“I’D RATHER BE CALLED A ‘COW’ THAN ‘MAAM’!”
It was the second day of my sophomore year. I had barely started, what would become my education at the Fountain High School for the next three years. I, of course, was in the underclass, and I felt all alone as I walked up and down the long hallways. I, frankly, had some apprehensions regarding my classes.
Of course, I did not know any of the teachers, and I wondered if I had what it would take to ‘tackle’ the various academic challenges (subjects). I tried to ‘ward off the fear’ that I felt, as I stared into the classrooms that seemed so ‘foreboding’, and as I stared into the faces of hundreds of students, all of whom seemed to be preoccupied with their own lives. I did not spot one student whom I felt would give me the ‘time of day’.
They seemed either to be indifferent towards anyone but themselves, or they seemed to be proud of themselves (the upper class men) as they strolled the halls with their ‘nose in the air’. As a Christian, I wondered if there was anyone who had any sympathy towards those values that were important to me! In short, I already felt ‘out of place’ in this ‘spread-out structure’ in what was labeled ‘Fountain High School’. Do I really have to be here for a combined time of three years?
With these thoughts in my mind (at least subconsciously), I had ‘butterflies in my stomach’ as I entered the algebra I class, for the second day of school. The teacher had not yet entered the room, but all the enrolled students for the course, were already seated. While the teacher was still absent from the class, I decided to get up from my desk, and walk over to the pencil sharpener, to sharpen my pencil.
As I was walking back to my desk, the regular hall bell rang, and, with no warning, the teacher, who had just entered the room, looked at me and she yelled at me (with her shrill voice), “What are you doing?” I was trembling (inside) and I (the only one who was walking towards my desk) answered, “I was sharpening my pencil, maam!” And then she quickly, with anger in her voice, verbally pounced on me! ‘I’d rather be called a ‘cow’ than ‘MAAM’!
Shocked, belittled, downgraded, totally embarrassed! I was ‘shaking in my boots’! I thought to myself, “What did I do that was so wrong? I simply got up to sharpen my pencil, before the class began!”
As a new (sophomore) student, in a brand new environment (new school), with no knowledge of this new teacher (except for this embarrassing outburst), and with no acquaintance with any fellow students – during that long hour in that Algebra class, I, frankly, felt inwardly crushed emotionally and mentally confused!
I wondered (in my mind, while I was supposed to keep my mind on Algebra) during that difficult hour of instruction, why this long-time teacher would treat me with such disrespect (on the second day of class). Why did she choose to bring great embarrassment to me, in front of aII my classroom peers? How would she like it if she were in ‘my shoes’?
I thought that the way she treated me was below the dignity of a teacher and a teacher who had taught in this high school for decades! Why did she pinpoint me (a brand new student, who already had many emotional traumas) to ‘zero in on me’ with such verbal abuse? And all of this in front of several other students? I, obviously, thought that if this is the kind of teacher that I have for Algebra, I am not sure that I want to be in her presence for many class sessions!
Most of these above-mentioned thoughts were probably on the subconscious level, but (even though this incident happened a long time ago), I feel sure that these thoughts properly describe my overall thought processes. Frankly, I was totally shaken and disturbed when this little (‘old maid’) teacher ‘let me have it verbally’.
This little ‘old maid’ teacher was like a ‘military officer’, and her commanding voice (scream) could be heard, all the way from one end of the long hallway to the other end of that long hallway. When she spotted (from a distance) some student that she perceived was in some way ‘unruly’, she would let that student know, by her shrill and piercing voice (much louder than anyone would imagine, coming from the mouth of a little woman).
Without seeming disrespectful, I must say that her face matched her ‘army-like demeanor’. Her countenance had some similarity to the countenance of a ‘bull dog’! That seems unkind to make that comparison! There were definitely some differences between this precious lady’s face and the face of a bulldog. However, probably most persons who had contact with her, would not be drawn to her because of her countenance.
A piercing and a harsh voice was quite compatible with a forbidding and forlorn face! Perhaps the two unusual features of this woman – voice and face – were developed into a militaristic voice and face, as a result of her long practice as a disciplinarian who often roamed the high school halls at Fountain High School, looking for students whom she perceived were ‘breaking the rules’. However big the students were, the students – including football players – knew that they must ‘bow and scrape’ to this little (‘old maid’) teacher!
They knew that this shrill and commanding voice must be obeyed! If they got on the ‘wrong side’ of this woman, they were ‘in for big trouble’, they were ‘in hot water’! After all, not only were all the students in submission to this ‘little commanding military officer’ (the one who knew just how to ‘yell’ at students, down the halls, and, certainly knew how to command perfect silence in her ‘study halls’), but all her fellow teachers and the principal himself were in submission to her ‘military-oriented ways’!
On that second day in that algebra class, I felt all alone, I felt defenseless, I felt abused by a teacher that I believed acted out of her emotions instead of out of her reason, a teacher who needlessly embarrassed me for no reason, in front of my peers. Perhaps my feelings were ‘justified’ (at least to some extent). But I soon found out that this teacher had her ‘own reasons’ for acting in the harsh way that she did.
I soon found out that this long-term teacher, whose demeanor seemed like the demeanor of harshness and rigid discipline, had a handful of students that she especially ‘favored’ as ‘elite-type’ students. You might call these few students her ‘pets’ – students that were her ‘favorites’! One student in that algebra class (that I enrolled in) was one of her ‘pets’. The teacher had a ‘special liking’ to that particular student. She was a junior student, and so this student had known the teacher the previous year.
Of course, I did not know this girl junior student (in the same class), but I found out soon that this junior girl went to the teacher, at the end of this class session, and that she had a ‘talk’ with the teacher (regarding the incident of that very hour). She reminded the teacher (respectfully but openly) that she (the teacher) had failed to communicate the ‘rules’ for her class, on the first day of school (yesterday).
One of those rules, among others, was the rule regarding the quietness of the students, and the rule that every student is to be in his/her desk, at the ringing of the bell. This student reminded the teacher that she had assumed that all the students knew the rules, but that, in fact, she had never gone over the rules with her class, the very first day of school!
To the credit of this ‘harsh teacher’, she felt terrible that she had treated me in such an inappropriate manner, during that particular class session. To the further credit of this ‘harsh teacher’, she went downstairs (of the school) to have a visit with my mother.
My mother worked as a ‘school cook’ in the lower level of this school, and this teacher (as well as several other teachers who worked in the high school) really liked my mother. They had a ‘good relationship’ with my dear mother.
The teacher who was a friend to my mother, communicated to my mother, regarding the incident, in which there was a lack of understanding between her (teacher) and me. My mother was not the kind of person who easily was offended, and (even though I never knew the exact conversation that mother had with this well-known teacher), I am sure that my mother was (as usual) very conciliatory.
To the further credit of this ‘harsh teacher’, this teacher arranged a time for her to walk with me, a few blocks, on my regular route from the school to my home. After a half century, I honestly don’t remember the content of that unusual conversation, between that ‘little-understood’ teacher and me. But, whether or not she actually apologized to me (I don’t remember), the fact that she wanted to walk with me, and to carry on a friendly conversation with me – this loving act on her part, meant a great deal to me!
At the time that I was yelled at, in front of my fellow students, I was startled and I was shaken and I was embarrassed, and, if I were honest, probably I was a little angry! As the years have come and gone since that time (1960), I have occasionally recalled this long- ago incident (when I was a mere teen). When I recall that algebra course (my second day in the class), and when I remember the strange statement from that eccentric teacher (l’d rather be called a cow than maam) – I have had to ‘laugh’ and ‘laugh’!
There has been more than one person who has also ‘laughed’ with me when I have recounted my experience with this ‘military-type teacher’ – the teacher whose voice quickly silenced everyone in her presence, and who, if you disobeyed her voice, she (with the full ‘backing’ of the principal) would ‘put you in the dog house’.
I have to ‘laugh’ now when I think of the powerful (piercing, soul-shattering) voice of this little woman, but, at that long ago time, you would not dare to ‘laugh’ at her commanding and her demanding voice! Another example of ‘implicit humor’.
I can smile now, even laugh, when I recall an experience in my life which, at the time, was certainly not ‘laughable’. The ‘distance’ which the elapse of time brings gives a new perspective to my life! During one of my crisis times (facing me when I was a teenager), I had no reason to laugh! No reason at all!
After I got through this difficult ’emotionally-erupting’ experience (caused by a woman whose face resembled a ‘bull dog’, but who probably wanted a face that resembled a kind shepherd dog) – I say, after I got through this ‘algebra class’ experience, and after I found some type of reconciliation with the ‘harsh teacher’, I found some peace! Now, years later, I can really laugh!
“Biblical Foundation For The Sanctity Of Human Life!”