Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nightmares of Arithmetic

When I was a little girl, I was a rather plump little thing. I had two older brothers who spoiled me and were always buying me Crispy Crunch chocolate bars. You can buy them only in Canada, and they are still my favorite. I try to avoid them, however. Later, when I was in my teens, I became almost anorexic. I was too busy to eat. I was always very active when I was a child -- swimming, ice skating, bike riding, hop scotch, skipping, hiking ... Home was just a place to hang my coat in between activities. But still, I was never what anyone would call skinny. When I was in grade four, I had a teacher by the name of Mr. William Foster. Mr. Foster was mean, he was cruel, and he was ignorant. He was not only a teacher, he was a pastor in an evangelical church, so there was no excuse for him to be mean, cruel and ignorant. He was always hitting the little boys for no reason, and I once caught him with his hand up a little girl's skirt. He was not a nice man, but we were taught to respect our elders. Teachers, parents, ministers, their word was law, and we did not question them. They were the big people.

The other night I had a dream -- a memory really -- about an awful incident that happened to me when Mr. Foster was giving us an arithmetic lesson. We were learning about multiplication, division, and reduction. He called me up to the front of the class and explained about reducing fractions. He then turned to me and said to the class, "Some numbers cannot be reduced at all -- unlike Johanna here, who could reduce by about five pounds." I remember the feeling of tears welling up in my eyes, and my face turning red. I went to sit down, and Mr. Foster said to me, "Wait, I am not finished with you yet..." So, I stood there while he went on to explain about reducing fractions for what seemed like an eternity. When I finally sat down, my friends were very kind and sympathetic to me. One little boy named Jimmy hugged me. Years later Jimmy and I worked together in our first after-school job in high school, and we practiced our high school French as we worked. I would say, "Merci beaucoup" to him, and he always called me "Little Beaucoups".

I was never what anyone could call a "bad little girl". I had lots of friends, I liked everyone; there was no reason for Mr. Foster to single me out like that. I had always treated him with respect. Why did he do it? I will never know. What causes someone to be cruel to other people -- especially to a child?

I had forgotten about this incident until my dream the other night, and it felt as painful as it did when it happened. Even to this day, I have a phobia about arithmetic. But, as I go through life, no matter what faults I have, I will never be unkind to people. Perhaps I did learn something from Mr. Foster, after all.


Marguerite said...

Jo- So sorry that you had to be on the receiving end of this mean- spirited man's insecurities. Sometimes it is learned behavior that this type of person exhibits or sometimes they feel the need to control others and do so through intimidation. But, whatever the reason, " what goes around, comes around" and you can rest assured that he has "gotten his", by now. I am glad that you had the support of your friends, after such an assault.

ZB said...

You are all chubby-chubby, but cute. Nice to know about you from your musing. There are such men all around us. We will never know why they do it. Keep musing.cheers:))

Leslie: said...

Oh Josie! That's terrible! As a teacher myself, I always always always!!! tried to be kind to every child, especially to those whom I saw others bullying. It's so gratifying when I run into former students and they (usually the girls) will run up to me and hug me - the boys will speak to me, too, but it's more the "high-five" kind of thing. Teachers like Mr. Foster are hopefully a rare thing, but I hope that all of that type of breed will be caught out and stripped of their certification by the College of Teachers. He was cruel towards you for no reason other than that he had power and control and used it in a negative way. You were the innocent victim and I do hope you're feeling better by now. Hugs!

lovelyprism said...

Some people should just never work with children. Unfortunately I've met a lot of them lately. I don't know what possesses them to to be educators. In the town where I live, it seems more likely that they are people who needed to be in a position of some level of power and the only people they could really bully are children. I'm so glad my daughter has graduated, I only wish my son didn't have to go to school here too. I actually chose to live here because the education system has such high standards, but nobody warned me how the children were treated. I feel so guilty for exposing my children to that.

Susan English Mason said...

I can just imagine a cute little tubby Jo! Personally, I believe in karmic justice and am pretty confident that he died, or will die, a painfully slow death. tee-hee.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Have you noticed that people such as your teacher never come off looking like the good guy to any body but themselves? I bet he loved hearing the sound of his own voice, didn't he? He was a bully, you know.

jackc50 said...

i had a teacher like that too......always try to embarrass you. i heard she was fired many years later for being so mean. i think most of us have run into our own ''mr. foster''at one time or another. thank god for the good teachers....jack c

Patsy said...

Jo---- that man should never have been given a teaching credential. The one thing that has to be clear in the air is SAFETY that the kids can feel.

I had one teacher in private school (later I attended only public schools) who scared me simply by staring at me with cruel eyes. Were she to do that now I could handle her, but children are defenseless.

But you are right, Jo. He did teach you something and you are a gentle and good person. If you have a cruel bone in your body I have not noticed it.


Patsy said...

I also am horrible at math, but unlike you, I had a dear, dear, sweet man for algebra: Mr. Bernard Koseki. I think I got a D or a Fail and I was miserable, but I knew that the deficiency was mine, not his. I liked M. Koseki a lot.

I think I am numbers dyslexic... to the point where I do not at all trust my skill at computation


Country Girl said...

To make himself feel powerful, he picked on those who were small.

What an awful person.

I work with teachers and none of them is this way. I hope!!!

The Bug said...

I had an uncle who once nicknamed me Goodyear (for the blimp), and a FORMER boyfriend who was concerned about my weight - didn't want me to sit AROUND the house (as in big as a house). Even now 20 & 30 years later those comments sting. The problem is that some adults don't seem to understand how fragile a child's ego can be. Of course, your teacher could have cared less about your ego. Horrible man!

Anonymous said...

Your story reminds me of Anne in Anne of Green Gables. How her teacher was always flirting with the older girls and how he singled her out one day and embarrassed her.
You were (and are) too cute and anyone who can't see that, they must live a lonely life.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

What a disgusting excuse for a teacher he was! He would never get away with such behaviors today. As for why he singled you out? You were adorable, and based on his vile proclivities, I assume that he had a letch for you and blamed you for it. After all, if you hadn't been so cute, he wouldn't have been tempted, the creep. (HIS reasoning, of course, not mine.) I hope he met with a horrible fate as he deserved.

Alissa Grosso said...

Still to this day I remember my evil second grade teacher. She was such a pill that all the kids in my class despised her, which is actually pretty strange in the younger grades, when kids tend to really like their teachers. Her teacher's pet was actually the nastiest boy in the class, a somewhat demented bully. As I recall, she told my parents I should see a psychiatrist. Thankfully, they had more sense than to listen to her.

My 8th grade math teacher was another joy. From the first day of class he insisted on mis-pronouncing my name. It wasn't at all uncommon for teachers to mis-pronounce my name, but once I corrected them they got it right. He told me he didn't like the way I pronounced it and he was going to pronounce it his way. Sadly, he later went on to become principal.

Paula Slade said...

Oh Jo, I'm so sorry - that teacher was so cruel! I had a similar incident happen in grade two - a teacher struck my hands (very hard) with a ruler because I was using my fingers to count a math problem out, and that too caused an aversion towards mathematics for a long time.

Linda S. Socha said...

What a beautiful child you were!~ Look at that precious expression!!

What a mean spirited man in the guise of a teacher and minister. It is so sad but children have so little power.

Some folks simply cannot contain or deal with their anger so they misdirect it to humiliate others.

If you get that dream again, consider picking something up and bopping him over the head...or picture the class throwing rotten tomatoes at him.


Whitney Lee said...

You were lovely; there's such a contagious happiness in your face.
When are educators going to understand that just because one is qualified to teach doesn't mean they are qualified to work with children? I had a teacher in elementary school who informed me there is no Santa Claus. Why?

Firefly the Travel Guy said...

Its not nice to be reminded of something that you would rather forget and actually had...

Marcella said...

I can relate to part of your school days as I was somewhat plump and my mother was also very plump so I was called "fatty ....." followed by my surname. To this day it has shaped my life and though I'm somewhat slimmer than many of the people I know I still have this self image of being "fatty .....".
It is cruel to say the least how our school years shape our lives but most of us of a mature age seemed to have coped rather well and without counselling, compensation etc. Dispite some of our school day traumas I think it has made us much stonger individuals. Is the world getting nastier? Are we producing weaker individuals? Was sever diciplin, warranted or not and advantage in creating the stronger individuals we may have become? I really feel for the teachers of today who have to cope with lack of diciplin with their hands tied behind their backs. I guess the main advantage that is available to students today is a lessening of fear or reporting anything untoward dealt out by some teachers who should not be in that mode of work.

the walking man said...

I went through that same thing day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day in the fourth grade at the hands of a nun.

It was where them in the classroom with me learned it was right to taunt and bully the fat kid, the ugly kid, the kid who couldn't be neat or keep up, which in turn didn't end for another eight years until I grew big enough and mean enough to deal it back with my fists.

Yes I too learned from that old bitch...I learned to fight without remorse or compassion.

robert said...

Sorry to hear about your math teacher. In Germany during the fifth grade students have to learn to play an instrument and the teacher used to call me RobertA instead of Robert, hence giving me a girls name.
Probably because my hair was too long (back then;)
No, I didn't learn to play a flute, but entered the sixth grade being stonger in my mind, able to deal with difficult situations.

CTVicky said...

I sometimes think about incidents where teachers shouted at me and said nasty things to me at school, it's really horrible. I wish I stood up for myself more.

When you say you were "almost anorexic" do you mean you had an eating disorder? I hope it wasn't because of that awful man.

Anonymous said...

Jo- Oh geez, what a horrible, horrible man! People don't realize that an unkind or cruel act doesn't go away like a fleeting thought. It sticks in the recess of the mind and soul of the person who was hurt and eventually it comes back in the form of a memory or nightmare. Sometimes, which seems to be his case, a person who was treated with severe cruelty-abuse, become abusers themselves. It's a horrible vicious circle. Thank goodness you had family and friends who loved you and cared for you during that time.

I stopped over for another reason, Jo. I have something for you on my blog today. Enjoy.

Dee said...

I had two bullies for teachers. In second grade, Miss Staples would use a small paddle to hit kids on their hands. I was terrified. In first year high, I entered a new school,very shy and awkward. The teacher embarrassed me in front of the class for what reason I don't remember. It set the tone for the rest of the time I was in that school. I was not her only victim. I eventually transferred to another.
This teacher lived a very long time and, before her death, was interviewed at the nursing home where she lived. She boasted of how she treated her classes.

Nancy said...

Some people build themselves on the backs of the helpless. We've all known people like that. But what goes around...comes around. I'll bet if you were to look him up now, if he's still alive, the world came around.

(I just looked over and saw Marguerite said the same thing! Ha)

Avril Fleur said...

What a horrible man! He obviously had NO business being either a teacher or a pastor. You brought back to me my own painful teacher memory. The first of the four elementary schools I attended was Catholic. My grade 1 & 2 teacher (yes, I had her for not one, but TWO painful years) was a nun. Sister Shiziko. She was a tiny little Japanese lady. And mean as the devil! The woman had no business teaching small children. She had a razor-sharp tongue and wasn't afraid, back in the 70's to give any kid a good wallop.

One day when we were doing a lesson in printing, she dragged me by the arm out of my seat to the front of the classroom. On the board she drew the letter "a" in small-case. Just a straight-forward, simple "a" that they teach children how to do their letters with. Then she proceeded to draw another letter "a" but in the kind of font that, back then would have been typed by a typewriter, with the little tail. Well, I had had the unmitigated GALL to deviate from the standard simple "a" to the imitating a typewritten "a" in my work. And in front of the whole class she screamed at me "You DO NOT print your a's like THAT" pointing to my incorrect a, "but like THIS ONE" pointing to the simple a. Now, I was a pretty sensitive kid to begin with when it came to criticism but that had me sobbing, walking in humiliation back to my seat, at which point she told me to "be quiet and stop that crying" like that EVER got a kid to stop crying. BITCH! Another so-called "moral" person who had no business being a teacher of innocent young children.

Jo said...

Marguerite, I hope his Karma got him. One can only hope. And, yes, my friends were so kind to me afterwards...!

Zillionbig, I never understand people being cruel to other people like that -- especially to a child!

Leslie, I have been with you when you have run into some of your past students, and it's really obvious they LOVE you!!!

Lovelyprism, yes, sadly the school systems are full of such people, and we can never know what they are doing, can we?

PoutyLips, *heh* yes, slooowwww and painfulllll. One can only hope. :-)

Kathy, oh, gosh yes. He loved the sound of his own voice. And whenever he hit the boy, he would always say "This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you." Yah, right...

Jackc50, yes thank God for the good teachers. And thankfully, I had quite a few of those too. :-)

Lorna, thank you. :-) And yes, I am dyslexic when it comes to numbers as well. My dad was a chartered accountant, and he despaired of me. *heh*

CountryGirl, I think teachers would be more "monitored" nowadays for that sort of thing -- at least I hope so!

TheBug, you know, I look back at my school pictures, and I was a tiny little thing compared to most of the kids...! Goodness.

Cat, thank you! Well, little girls take it to heart when a grownup man treats them like that.

Hearts, you know, as I got older and thought about that horrible teacher, I came to the same conclusion that you have mentioned here. You're very astute!

Alissa, oh goodness! Thank heavens your parents were intelligent. Just think if you had gotten into the "psychiatrist cycle"... Gosh!

Paula, omigosh! I had a grade two arithmetic teacher who did the same thing to me -- with the metal edge of a rule. They both should have been fired!

Linda, you know, I used to see him occasionally have a "sneery grin" on his face, when no one was looking. He was a creepy man!

Whitney, "When are educators going to understand that just because one is qualified to teach doesn't mean they are qualified to work with children?" I could not have said it better myself!

Firefly, no, it was actually quite traumatic for me.

Marcella, yes the pendulum seems to have swung the other way, hasn't it? Now the kids can bully the teachers, and the teachers cannot do anything about it!

Mark, for some reason, nuns can be the cruelest of all. My mother told me once that one of her classmates was actually killed by a nun hitting the child on the head with a book!

Mo'ikeha, yes, it is true that what does not kill us makes us stronger! And hopefully more empathetic towards other people too.

CTVicky, no, I didn't have an eating disorder, I just was too active and too busy to eat -- so I got really skinny. *heh*

Me414, something for meeee? Oh, goodness thank you! I will be right over!

Dee, what makes teachers be so sadistic to children in their classes!? Were they never children themselves!?

LoverOfLife, yes, you are so right. People often have to bully other people, in order to make themselves feel better.

Avril, Omigod, what a story! How cruel...! Why is it that so often the cruelest teachers were nuns? Had they never heard of the concept of Christianity!!?? I'm so sorry you had to go through that!

Miss_Nobody said...

Oh,I'm so sorry you had to be at the recieving end of his ill spirited stupidty,he sure didn't deserve to be a teacher,let alone be respected by you.That was VERY cruel.And you were VERY cute.

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