Story Time: How My Second Grade Teacher Scarred Me For Life

More on my adventures at Thrillerfest/Pitchfest and in NYC next time.

Today I want to tell you a little story.

So gather round, kiddies. Feel free to organize yourselves in a semi-circle if you’d like. It’s story time.

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First of all, I would like to state from the get-go that this isn’t about anything sexual. I’m sorry if you got that impression from the title, but there are lots of ways authority figures can damage young minds.

I was about seven years old at the time. My first grade teacher from the previous year had submitted my name for a new program known as G.A.T.E., an acronym for gifted and talented education.

Not to toot my own horn, but I was a pretty smart child. By the time I entered grade school, I had already written a book of silly little poems. One of my teachers even wanted me to try to publish them. Remember,  most of the kids my age couldn’t yet read, much less write.

Anyway, this program was intended to nurture gifted young minds. I don’t remember how often, but I believe it was a few times a week if not daily, we were pulled out of our regular class for an hour or so and given activities to spark our creativity.

My regular second-grade teacher resented the program with a passion (more on that later). She was very vocal about her opposition to the program and would mock it whenever the opportunity arose. This was usually when the G.A.T.E. teacher would come to collect me. She would often make snide comments about it being time for me to go be “special”. Other times she wouldn’t say a word, but her icy glare said it all.

One day, I was given a project that was right up my alley. I was told to pick three slips of paper from a hat. We were then given fifteen minutes to make up a story based on the words written on them. I got Hero, Phantom, and Dragon. Luckily, those three words all kind of go together. I think I wrote a story about a hero and his pet dragon going to fight the phantom. I can’t really remember because I was seven and that story only existed in print for about a half hour.

After my session, I was sent back to my regular class, story in hand. As soon as I walked in, my freshly penned (penciled?) story was snatched out of my hand.

“Let’s see what they’ve got you doing in there.” My teacher sneered.

She read it quickly and then laughed at me. I was then made to stand in front of the class while she read it out loud and openly mocked me and the rest of the class laughed. I was in tears by the time she was done. She handed it back to me and told me to go to my seat.

As I sat there, trying to stop sniffling, I slowly tore the story I had once been so proud of into tiny little pieces.

And that, my friends, is how a teacher can scar a child for life. It was years before I could pick up a pen in any sort of creative way again. Even now, I suffer from bouts of crippling anxiety and self-doubt. I question my worth and won’t write a thing for months at a time.

I also stopped engaging in class. This was the event that taught me to keep my head down and not stand out. I refused to raise my hand even when I knew the answer. (Which was often.) I would rarely do my homework. A habit that persisted through high-school which left adults scratching their heads because I pretty much always aced the standardized tests. I think deep down, it’s why I’ve always been terrified of being good at anything. It’s why I’m forty and only just now really trying to make something of myself.

Now I’m not blaming all my problems on this one event. Remember, I was also the fat kid people liked to pick on. Still, I would definitely consider this a formative event in my life.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different if I had published that book of silly poems. They weren’t that great, but I think that the fact they were written by a six-year old would have sold a lot of copies.

Later, I learned that this particular teacher wanted the program to fail because she had tried to get her daughter in but she was rejected. It also didn’t help that my dad was a cop, just like her ex-husband.

I know she had her issues and she was only human, but, and I can’t state this enough. I WAS SEVEN!!! How could an adult who is supposed to teach kids bully a child like that? She was the authority figure, so I took her opinion as fact. I never told my parents about it. If I had, I’m sure they would have raised hell.

I’m not sure the school would have been able to really do anything about it though. They might have given her a warning, but back in the eighties, I don’t think it was technically against the rules. Besides, it would have been my word against hers. Maybe some of my classmates might have backed me up, but she had done her level best to indoctrinate them to dislike the program and, by extension, me.

I don’t write this looking for sympathy. I just want to make people aware that this sort of thing can happen. This is why I’m opposed to tenure among teachers. I’ve had some really bad ones in my day, but getting rid of them wasn’t possible.

Anyway, I promise next week’s offering will be much cheerier. It will be more about my adventures in NYC. I’ll definitely talk about the rest of my experiences at Thrillerfest and if there’s time, my adventures exploring the city.

I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to post three times a week. On Monday, I will follow my Girlfriend’s example and post about what I’ve been reading. Wednesday will be a general post about what’s going on in my life or whatever I feel like rambling about. And of course, there’s Flash Fiction Friday. Which reminds me, I need to get working on that.

So that’s it for today. I’ll see you guys on Friday.

Also, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about writing or anything else, so don’t be afraid. I can’t promise I’ll have a good answer, but I’ll answer.

Don’t forget to stalk me online.

www.justinmkelly.com

Check me out on Facebook

On Twitter @JustinMKelly1

My Amazon page, in case you want to read more

And on Goodreads

And on YouTube

I also post a copy of this blog on Tumblr

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