Thursday, July 03, 2008


The other day I was reading the autographs in my senior high school yearbook and came across a message from a former classmate that referenced a student teacher we had had in English class. The classmate had written that she felt no guilt for what we did to THAT WOMAN. I honestly don’t remember exactly what we did, and even though I don’t remember her name, I remember THAT WOMAN.

She was a young, blonde, final-semester college student working on her teaching practicum, nearly ready to graduate and become a high school English teacher. I remember one of her outfits vividly. Think back to fashion in the ‘80’s, how loud and colorful and ridiculous some people’s clothes were. This was the era of stretch pants and long tops, and she had this one matching set that consisted of a white background covered with a colorful array of dots and ovals. One of the guys in class remarked that she looked like she was covered in Jujubes, and so Jujube sort of stuck as a nickname for her.

We didn’t give her a nickname because we were fond of her. On the contrary, we hated her, and here’s why. On her first day of student teaching, she came in with an “I’m-the-teacher-you’ll-do-what-I-say” attitude. That’s the wrong thing for a student teacher to do, especially with a group of 17 and 18-year-olds in the spring semester of the school year who can practically taste their upcoming prom and graduation. We were a group experiencing a bad case of “senioritis” and we were not about to take any flack from an inexperienced 22-year-old who wasn’t even a real teacher. We’d show her.

As I said before, I don’t remember what we did to her; it must have been just the constant day to day harassment—the guys calling her Jujube, the girls ignoring her, the entire class disregarding everything she would say as if she weren’t even there. We were relentless, especially when our regular teacher was out of the classroom (ironically, we loved our regular teacher and jumped at her every request). When our regular teacher would leave the room, we would ramp up the torment. I’m not sure what our real teacher was thinking leaving her alone with us—perhaps she thought that our torment was just affectionate kidding, or maybe she thought Jujube needed to be initiated like a fraternity pledge who goes through a night of ritual hazing. Whatever the case, leaving that young woman alone with us was the wrong thing to do because the mild disrespect that we routinely showed suddenly became outright contempt. I’m ashamed to say now that we had no regard for her feelings, no empathy for the stress she was under while trying to perform and make the grade for her teaching supervisors.

Then one day, I guess Jujube had enough. I don’t know what triggered it, but suddenly she ran from the room sobbing, and we were extatic! We had broken her! She did not come back to class that day, and I think she actually left school early. The weird thing was that she came back a couple of days later. The day after the incident, I remember our regular teacher lecturing us for the entire class period, emphasizing her disappointment in us. The student teacher would be returning, we were informed, and we were to treat her with respect. We complied. As fun as it was to give that student teacher what we thought she had coming, that good feeling was overshadowed by the knowledge that we had sorely disappointed our regular teacher.

When the student teacher returned, we treated her with civility, allowing her to finish the few remaining days of her service without further incident. Her treatment of us was with mutual civility, and I’m sure that she was just as relieved as we were when her last day was over. As class returned to normal, our regular teacher never mentioned our bad behavior again, and she never held it against us.

I can’t help but wonder today if that student teacher ever actually became a high school English teacher. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t. I certainly wouldn’t want the job.


Tony Arnold said...

Wow. You certainly have set yourself up for some karma payback in your classroom. :-)

JMG said...

That's true. But I don't ever come into the classroom with an authoritative attitude, so I haven't had a problem in the nearly ten years that I've been teaching.

Tony Arnold said...

I suspect the young teacher had some bad instructors who told her to go in and take charge and set a tone immediately. What did she know?

It was probably also her way of handling the fear of going into a intimidating situation. And of all places for someone to mess up their first approach. Teenagers by definition are dysfunctional and have their own esteem issues they are sorting through, thus the attachs on hapless victims.

Dysfunctional lives collide and you end up with a student teacher crying.

However, given that your regular teacher did not completely come unglued with you all, maybe the young lady was indeed just a prima donna jerk. It happens.

Great story. One that reminds me why I would not go back to those years.

JMG said...

The only way I would go back is if I could know everything that I know now. But then I'd probably be in trouble all the time because of a big mouth.

JMG said...

What's kind of ironic is that in the same year, we had a student teacher in math class. She was very soft spoken and mild mannered, but we never ran over her. I guess because she seemed to really want to help us learn some math.

Tony Arnold said...

It is amazing how much respect one can get by actually having knowledge and then applying that knowledge for the beneift of others.