Sally Apokedak suggested this topic. Blame her.

The great majority of teachers (including both of my sisters) are angels who care very deeply for their students and don’t get paid nearly enough. Today we aren’t talking about those teachers. Today we’re going to talk about the meanest, most awful teachers we’ve ever known. (Teacher Appreciation Week is in early May; we’ll get this out of our systems now, then circle back that week to talk about teachers who changed our lives for the better).

My third-grade teacher was named Mrs. Crawley, and she almost deserved it. It was her custom to put a mark by your name on the chalkboard anytime you talked or wiggled or otherwise caused a distraction. She did it with neither fanfare nor recrimination, rarely even pausing her lecture or math problem, just tick, another mark by your name, and every mark represented a recess spent inside. One mistimed anecdote could easily cost you three ticks–more than half a week’s recess–if you couldn’t stop yourself. And not everybody can stop himself in the middle of a good anecdote. There were boys in Mrs. Crawley’s class–and I was one of them–who found themselves in October with more ticks by their names than there were days in the term. You could only work off one tick per day (two, once she started making us stay in from PE too), but on any given day there was no limit to how many ticks you could get. Mrs. Crawley quickly ended up with a handful of boys with nothing left to lose, third-grade desperadoes who were liable to do anything.

Mrs. Crawley specialized in public humiliation. Just before the Christmas report card came out, she went around the room and made everybody stand beside his desk to say what grade he thought he deserved in conduct. When it was my turn I stood and said, with wavering confidence, “S-minus.” Mrs. Crawley threw back her head and howled like a werewolf. Or laughed. It was hard to tell which sometimes. “Pshaw!” she said. “Jonathan thinks he should get an S-minus in conduct. What do you all think?” And everybody laughed, even Mark the Veterinary Calvinist. They were afraid not to. I laughed my own self.

But my humiliation was nothing to poor Clifford’s. We had a pair of restrooms between our room and another third-grade room. Clifford asked permission to go to the restroom, and Mrs. Crawley granted it. Then, out of the corner of her gimlet eye she noticed that Clifford had gone into the girls’ restroom. I don’t suppose he meant anything by it. It was empty, and I imagine he was curious to know the difference between the two rooms. We all were. But Mrs. Crawley stormed back there like a hurricane and dragged Clifford out by the ear, yelling, “You want to be a girl, Clifford? Is that what you want? Well we can fix that Clifford. We can fix that right up. I’ll bring in a dress tomorrow and you can put it on and wear it for the whole class.” And would you believe she did? It was the only time I remember her ever going to any extra trouble for one of her students. She brought a dress the next day, and Clifford put it on, and he slouched shame-faced around the room while we looked down at our desks.

One last Mrs. Crawley story…A near neighbor of ours was involved in a deadly shooting (not on our street, thankfully), and when I heard about it the next day I was pretty upset, as you might imagine. I was sitting at my desk crying about it when Mrs. Crawley called out from the front of the room, “Jonathan, what are you crying about?” “Well, Mrs. Crawley, my neighbor got shot and killed last night.” Mrs. Crawley thought on that for a second, and I thought maybe she didn’t know what to say. But Mrs. Crawley always knew what to say. “I don’t see why you’re crying,” she said. “No bullet hit you, did it?” Strange to say, that made me feel a little better.

I’m sure you had some terrible teachers of your own. Why don’t you tell us about them?

  • JJ
    2:13 PM, 11 March 2011

    I can’t say I have anything that compares to that. Any bad stuff that happened was my own fault. I liked to talk in class and one teacher in high school (10th grade maybe) had to keep moving me around. I had probably 4 different seats that year, but as he so humorously said in my yearbook at the end of they year, “You always find a talking buddy”. It was true.
    He was a believer though so we had that in common. He never moved me viciously. It was always like, “Seriously? I have to move you again?” with half a smile.

    Ok, so he wasn’t a bad teacher.

    But my 2nd grade teacher (can’t remember her name), I remember looking cranky all the time. I don’t remember a single thing about the class or her (except that she was a skinny, older lady), and she scared me a little. But thankfully my 3rd grade teacher made up for it. I was madly in love with her. Ah, young love.

  • sally apokedak
    2:41 PM, 11 March 2011

    ACK. I don’t remember suggesting this topic. And now I’m sorry that I made you revisit such painful memories. What a horrid teacher.

  • Kaci
    3:22 PM, 11 March 2011

    That’s pretty bad.
    A couple of mine (and there really are only two or three; I liked my teachers):

    1. An elementary music teacher who threatened to fail me if I missed a choir production – which I was only going to miss because a relative died and we were going to their funeral. So Mom and I stayed. Um, she’s also the reason I was anti- school choir.

    2. A high school teacher who: thought making 17year olds “sign the red book” would work. She also made some comment about me being adopted, and one of the boys rushed to my defense. Um, she also told me to watch my paper because she thought someone was trying to cheat off me.

    3. An elementary school teacher who chewed me out and called my parents because I pranked some friends and TPd their lockers. (The one friend didn’t know it was me, thought it was malicious, and cried; and after they found out it was me, they felt bad for saying anything. The teacher called my house; and I’m pretty sure Dad laughed.)

  • SarahBC
    4:04 PM, 11 March 2011

    I would have given almost anything to have been placed in Mrs. Crawley’s class in 3rd grade…..instead, I had Mrs. Latimore, whose room was next door. She was so horrible that even my children have nightmares about her.
    Mrs. Latimore often enjoyed a Coke, or an ice cream bar, or just a bag of barbeque Fritos in front of the class. The Coke and the ice cream were especially torturous on hot days, since this was pre-airconditioning at Miller Elementary School.

    Mrs. Latimore really didn’t like the children who left her room once a week to go to Focus, which was kind of an enrichment program. We looked forward to that reprieve like a prisoner seeking parole. During the time we were out of her room, Mrs. Latimore habitually covered some material that was not in the book, and on which we would be tested. I guess it was the best revenge she could muster.

    I think my mother spent about as much time in the office complaining as she did at work that year. The worst thing that happened was that when we moved up from 3rd grade to 4th, Mrs. Latimore did too. I had her for 4th grade too! That year she was even grumpier – She went on Weight Watchers or something, and had to lay off the ice cream and Fritos.

  • Hannah
    4:53 PM, 11 March 2011

    Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) I have never actually really had a teacher, seeing as I do a virtual school, and have never been to a brick and mortar school. I do have teachers, in a way, but I am not really connected to them. I do have a good story about one of these teachers, but I guess I shall have to wait. 🙂

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    8:55 PM, 11 March 2011

    What a HORRIBLE teacher! I’m just so sad for you!

  • Amanda Jane
    12:26 AM, 12 March 2011

    What a serendipitous APF topic for my last day of school before a two week break! Normally I’m a huge fan of school, hence my choosing education as a profession. But on the last day before a break, especially one this sunny after several days of dismal rain and chill, I don’t know a soul in the world who truly likes school.
    To be fair, I feel that, before sharing my own mean and awful teacher story, I should acknowledge that I may have been a mean and awful teacher story today. Did I mention that it was the last day before spring break? I suppose that could explain my students’ lack of enthusiasm as we parsed the structure and content of Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” On the other hand, who isn’t swept away by opening lines like, “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold; And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold”? And who wouldn’t marvel at the microcosm of anaphora and antithesis balancing in the second stanza? OK, yes, in retrospect, I was at least a smidge awful in my expectations for my 8th graders today. But I feel certain I was nowhere near as mean as my high school geometry teacher…

    My older brother is a math genius. He picked up a math minor in college pretty much by accident; he just kept taking math classes even though he didn’t have to. This is fantastic now because I call him to help my children with their math homework, but I will own to hating his math prowess when we were in high school. The year I took geometry, my brother was sleeping through the majority of a calculus class taught by the same teacher. And he was making an A while I was struggling to wrap my brain around geometric proofs.

    My geometry teacher must have assumed that math-smarts ran in the genes and that I could surely have done better if I’d only applied myself because he never answered any of my questions in class. I tried raising my hand until the blood drained from my fingertips. Nothing. I tried quietly walking to his desk to politely ask for help. Nothing but about 10 seconds of a stare that would have curdled milk it was so sour. I tried everything I could think of to get help in that class. The most charitable response I ever received was a decidedly churlish “What do you want?”. I stopped trying to ask questions and started looking for ways to avoid ever taking math again. I think this experience was pivotal in my decision to be an ENGLISH teacher. . . and to let my husband balance our checkbook and calculate the amount tile we needed when we re-did the hall bath.

  • sally apokedak
    12:28 AM, 12 March 2011

    Your Mrs. Crawley must have been spawned in the same fiery lake as my sixth-grade teacher, Miss Hibbard.
    This was back in the day when girls had to wear dresses, so Miss Hibbard wore dresses and you could tell she was a woman. Otherwise, you might not have known. She was muscular and kept her hair very short and she could bark out orders like a drill sergeant.

    She took great delight in humiliating children.

    Young Mr. Browning was her favorite target. Browning—B—that put him right up front by her desk. He was a small guy with beaver teeth, round glasses, and a nervous disposition. The perfect target for a bully. The poor kid never got homework returned without Miss Hibbard waving it around first and telling us all how stupid he was.

    I flew low and only had a couple of run-ins with her. They rolled off my back because I knew that everyone else knew she was awful and no one thought the worse of me for being the target of the hour.

    She was the meanest person I’d ever met, but by the end of the year none of us hated her. Not even Mr. Browning. I think we might have experienced Stockholm syndrome. Seriously. She was so abusive on her bad days, that on the days that she refrained from heaping abuse on us, we mistook what should have been normal treatment for mercy.

    But at least poor Mr. Browning never had to wear a dress. I thought Miss Hibbard was the meanest teacher ever, but that’s only because I’d never run into your Mrs. Creepy-Crawley. Yikes.

    And you were only in third grade. You poor boys. When I was in third grade I had Miss Darling and I am happy to report there was never a sweeter, more aptly named young teacher ever.

  • EmmaJ
    4:57 AM, 12 March 2011

    Mrs. Smith* was actually a kind woman, I can see that now from the perspective of adulthood. One recalls, for example, her characteristic habit of enveloping students in what seemed to us a generously voluminous flabbiness of embrace. Nevertheless, my parents concluded that I harbored within my 7-year-old heart a mortal fear of the woman, a fear that prevented me from holding down my breakfast three days or so out of every five. Some days I made it halfway to school, many days I didn’t get there at all. One fabulously unforgettable morning I puked right on Mrs. Smith’s shiny black shoes.
    Poor, long-suffering Mrs. Smith. She was a bit intimidating, but I finally realized only a few years ago that it wasn’t Mrs. Smith that I was afraid of, after all. It was school. Monarch Academy* wasn’t even a bad school, as schools go. The problem was that I didn’t understand the institution or how to behave in it. Up until then, all of my learning had occurred in a relatively unstructured fashion. I read books, learned how to add and subtract and all the usual stuff, and spent the rest of the time running around like some filthy, untamed creature of the plains, sneaking raw corn from the garden, creating imaginary worlds and such like.

    When my parents decided to experiment with sending me to school for the third grade, I thought that sounded like a pretty fun adventure. What no one realized was how incredibly overwhelming it could be for a child to be plunked down into a situation where everyone else knows how things are supposed to go, and where she alone is the cultural outsider. The whole situation was new to me and I didn’t understand it. What started out as giddy social excitement quickly spiraled downward into a dreadful era of nauseating anxiety.

    Yes, Mrs. Smith, I still think it was a bit unjust to assign me to the slow readers group, but I can see now that you were a hard-working, dedicated teacher, not a scary monster woman. And I’m really sorry about your shoes. Really.

    *Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And to prevent them from happening upon this story in a Google search.

  • EmmaJ
    4:58 AM, 12 March 2011

    BTW – Jonathan, that is so awful about the dress!

  • EmmaJ
    5:04 AM, 12 March 2011

    And Sally – Miss Hibbard?? One feels compelled to ask a)Why did she become a teacher if she hated children? And/or b) How did someone with such a misguided approach to classroom management ever make it through any kind of reputable teacher training program??
    So dreadful! Sorry you had to endure that! And poor little Browning…

  • Madeleine
    5:26 AM, 12 March 2011

    Miss Smith taught sixth grade at our Christian school. She had taught sixth grade for so long she had a name plate on the plaque in the office. I don’t know how old she was, all adults were old to me at that time. But unlike so many of my teachers she was old and still “Miss.” Sometimes someone would slip up and say “Mrs. Smith” just out of habit. To which she promptly replied, “Mrs. Smith is my mother and my grandmother. I’m Miss Smith.” Not that any of us had any real doubts that she was a “Miss” and likely to stay that way. She wore frumpy dresses and had penciled in eye brows. She had old fashioned shoes, saggy stockings, and bad breath. Whew! The breath. We all dreaded having to go up to her desk to ask a question. And then there was the flirting with the 4th grade teacher (we actually had a male elementary school teacher, but he was married). She fluttered her eye lashes and we all groaned. Yes, “Miss Smith” she would always be and no one was allowed to forget it.
    Miss Smith taught me math and science because in sixth grade we started to change rooms for classes. So we went to her room for math and science while the other kids came to our room for social studies and English. Miss Smith was just as particular about schoolwork as she was about her name, and just as unforgiving. My year in math was doomed because Miss Smith counted the entire problem wrong if any one part was wrong. So I could complete a three step problem with perfect conceptual understanding, but mess up one digit of addition in that problem and it was just as wrong as the kid who wrote no answer at all. And there was no budging Miss Smith. Accuracy is essential in math and if the answer is wrong, then it isn’t right. So my straight A style was seriously cramped and I ended up in the remedial math class for 7th grade. (Thankfully the 7th grade math teacher soon realized and remedied the error.)

    No, Miss Smith wasn’t intentionally mean or cruel, but sometimes a lack of compassion can be just as damaging. And that’s a good lesson for this homeschool teacher to remember.

  • Canaan Bound
    5:17 PM, 12 March 2011

    Loved that recount, Madeline! Haha!

  • luaphacim
    5:11 AM, 13 March 2011

    I was homeschooled K-12, and mom was pretty nice to us. In college (both undergrad and grad schools), I didn’t really have any mean teachers. Incompetent, yes. Misleading and/or disingenuous, yes. Occasionally frustrating, yes. But none who were truly mean.
    So I guess the meanest teacher I have ever had contact with would probably be myself.

    When I started teaching, meanness was not my intent. My intent was mostly to pay for graduate school, though I vaguely remember some idealistic visions of molding young, unshapen minds into beautiful, rigorously analytical tools (to be wielded for good, not evil, of course).

    My biggest problem as a teacher was that I was not especially empathetic. I expected all my students to approach school with the same “wow, I like learning stuff” mindset that I did.

    So I didn’t anticipate wrestling matches of the will with 18-year-olds who just HAD to text their friends during class.

    I didn’t anticipate the brazen plagiarist who, in the age of Google, actually pasted large blocks of text from Wikipedia into her papers without even making an effort to cite her source.

    And I definitely didn’t anticipate the herds of young people who saw the class I taught as nothing more than an obstacle standing between them and the piece of paper that would guarantee their entree into the wonderful world of white-collar wage-slavery. (I refer, of course, to the diploma, that magical mark of employability.)

    In response to these unanticipated challenges, I began to make my syllabus (to misquote Winnie the Pooh) rigorouser and rigorouser. I suppose I thought that would make the students take me more seriously. Each semester, new regulations popped up or were intensified. For example:

    Semester 1: Cell phone ringers must be off.
    Semester 2: No use of cell phones in class for any reason.
    Semester 3: If I hear or see a cell phone in class, you will be asked to leave the room immediately.
    Semester 4: Anyone who owns a cell phone will be shot on sight.

    Other matters were treated similarly. My grading, for instance, had become so complex by the end of my teaching career that my accountant-major wife was the only one on earth capable of interpreting the spreadsheet.

    I jest, of course. I really don’t think I was as bad as all that. But I did seem to have a pretty high attrition rate, and on more than one occasion, a student walked out of class on the first day before I had even finished going through the syllabus. So I must have been worse than I realized.

    My real problem is that I went into graduate school thinking that I wanted to be a teacher. By the time I got out of graduate school, I had learned that what I actually wanted was to be a student. It was a valuable lesson, but an expensive and sometimes painful one.

    So there you have it. You may now bombard me with hatred and/or vituperation.

  • EmmaJ
    7:49 PM, 14 March 2011

    True confessions: I have also deserved the Awful Teacher of the Day plaque on too many occasions. While in my real life I like to think of myself as a rational, reasonable person, standing in front of a classroom inexplicably transforms me into a confusing rambler with a capricious system of evaluations. For the good of humanity, therefore, I have taken an indefinite hiatus from the education profession.

    In addition to the aforementioned Mrs. Smith (whose first name – the real one – was Mona, just for a hint more color to the story), my student career brought me into contact with a few more colorful educators who have since come to mind.

    I (and my sister after me) had several classes with Professor S. at our local community college. In addition to being rather eccentric in appearance (I will only mention here the sort of greenish tint to his grey ponytail), Prof S. was a man with a great passion for local politics. He claimed to be the force behind positive developments, and conversely, that many a negative development was due to the local Powers That Be having ignored his advice. It will come as no surprise that such a loyal defender of his home city’s honor should write a book entitled Cleveland Rocks. But those who attended his classes may also recall the curious arrangement by which one might earn extra credit by reading another volume he had published, a work of fiction entitled Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails intended to prompt a re-examination of gender role stereotypes or something like that. It seems that Professor S. also composed an article in which he stated, “…there are too many documented accounts of this creature to ignore the existence of the Lake Erie monster.”

    Prof. S. was a man who took his job seriously while (by all appearances) enjoying it tremendously. I am sure that he taught me a few things about state and local government structures. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any of the important details. I retain from these classes a memory of only two distinct moments in Cleveland history, one of which I was able to verify beyond doubt: The mayor did accidentally set his hair on fire while being filmed for television. You will be glad to know that the blaze was quickly contained and no long-term injury appeared to result. (Interested parties may view the event here: )

    At the same community college I had a less pleasant experience with an English professor who might almost qualify as mean. On the first day of class he announced that he had some health difficulties which might require unscheduled departures from the classroom. No problem there – I could handle that. But this announcement and the vast majority of class discussions were carried out in a manner that blankets my memories with a sort of grim pallor. The stories chosen for inclusion in the syllabus seem likewise tinted. In my memory he seemed bereft of both hope and sympathy. I don’t think that it’s melodramatic or overstating the case to say that this sort of dreadful cynicism seems to me an honest response to life apart from Christ. How can life be good apart from redemption? It isn’t.

  • gina
    5:54 PM, 15 March 2011

    In the first grade I worked up enough nerve to ask my teacher if I could go get a drink, because I had the hiccups. She scrunched her eyes into slits and said in her meanest, lowest, gravelly voice, “Hiccup! Hiccup right now!” I couldn’t do it and she said, “No, you don’t need a drink. Your hiccups are gone. Go sit down.” It was scary.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    5:59 PM, 15 March 2011

    Hahahaaa. Gina, that is hilarious.

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