When the Teachers are Worse than the Bullies
October 20th, 2007
It seems that every class of school children has that one kid who becomes the ultimate social outcast. In addition to having no friends, he is also the most frequent target of bullying from the cooler or tougher kids. My class had such a child. His name was Bertrand. However, there is always one person who is eternally grateful for his existence – the second most unpopular child. For this reason, Bertrand was one of my favorite people in the world during elementary school. Oh, how he shielded me from social oppression.
Looking back, what I find most tragic about Bertrand’s elementary school days is that even his teachers helped damage this poor kid’s reputation at times. There are two instances in particular that I can remember vividly. Whenever I reflect upon how great it is not to be in school anymore, these two episodes often pop into my head.
Episode 1: “Thou shall not have Dirty Hands”
Back when me and Bertrand were young, innocent Catholic school kindergarteners, December was a month full of fearing Santa’s watchful elves and endless schooldays of Christmas-themed busywork. If that weren’t enough to ruin the holiday season, our teacher came up with this bullshit activity involving us going out and doing good deeds, all in the name of making Baby Jesus happy. Every day, any student who did a good deed would report it and then, as a reward, they got to put a cotton ball in Baby Jesus’ manger. The idea was that Baby Jesus would eventually have a massive fluffy bed in which to lay, due to everyone’s acts of goodwill. Its sheer corniness almost makes one want to be bad out of spite.
But sure enough, most of the children, sheep that they were, went out and did their good deeds and were constantly adding cotton balls to the manger. I on the other hand, was generally too busy playing videogames to be bothered with it. Besides, I knew darn well that a cotton ball was a lousy payoff for doing a good deed. That teacher wasn’t fooling me one bit. I figured Baby Jesus would back me up on this and even if he didn’t, I knew he had to forgive me. Christianity has its perks.
Now one of the primary reasons for Bertrand’s unpopularity was that he had an unkempt appearance. It wasn’t uncommon to see Bertrand with messy hair or an untied shoelace, for example. The teacher had often bitchily reprimanded him for this, perhaps like only a Catholic schoolteacher could, becoming angrier each time she did so. All of this built up anger would finally explode on this fateful day of childhood trauma.
We were now a few days into this activity and Bertrand had finally decided to participate. When the teacher asked the class who had done a good deed in the last day, I can only imagine the pride Bertrand must have felt as he raised his hand. Bertrand had done something nice and it was possibly going to help him fit in with his fellow classmates.
Unfortunately, there was a problem, his hand was dirty. When the teacher spotted this, she had had it. She promptly opened her mouth and snarled out this gem:
“Bertrand!” she screamed, “Those hands are absolutely filthy! There’s no way you’re putting a cotton ball in Baby Jesus’ manger. I DON’T CARE IF YOU DID A GOOD DEED!!!”
So, if I were to understand my teacher’s logic correctly:
Having Clean Hands > Doing Good Deeds
A thousand monkeys could type at a thousand typewriters for a thousand years and they would be hard-pressed to come up with a better insult for a five-year-old. At this age, Bertrand’s mind was ripe for programming with pro-social and pro-Christian behavior, but all that had been thrown out the window in favor of arbitrary cleanliness.
Not only had Bertrand been publically made to feel like a dirtball, but he had been told that he was unworthy of Baby Jesus’ attention! Awesome.
Episode 2: “A Lesson in how to not be Sneaky”
One uneventful morning in 4th grade, our class was quietly working on an assignment, when suddenly, my teacher noticed that something wasn’t amiss. Bertrand had his fly open.
Looking back on this now, I cannot help but wonder if she had been repeatedly inspecting everyone else’s crotch as well.
My teacher, supposedly not wanting to embarrass Bertrand by alerting him to this aloud, devised a not so masterful plan of stealth action. Her plan was to have one of the “nice” boys in the class enlighten Bertrand about his wardrobe malfunction by having him whisper it into his ear. That nice boy happened to be me. Let’s see how this strategy played out.
First, the teacher got out of her seat and waddled her nearly three-hundred pound body over to my desk, before whispering the sensitive information into my ear. This alone caught about half of the class’ attention, as anything was more interesting than focusing on the assignment.
I wish I could have said something along the lines of, “Bitch, leave me alone,” but of course that wasn’t going to happen.
The next thing that happens is I get out of my seat and walk over to Bertrand. The loud clunking noises of my dress shoes against the hardwood floor does nothing to help the cause.
So, in my estimation, about two-thirds of the class watched me whisper something to Bertrand, who then quickly fixed the problem. If it were anyone else than Bertrand, this event probably would have gone by without incident. However, at this age, many of the other boys in the class were constantly looking for any reason to pick on Bertrand, so there was no way this little event would go by without scrutiny. Make no mistake about it, nine-year-olds are fucking pricks, contrary to popular belief.
About an hour later, recess arrived, which meant that everyone was allowed to get out of their seats. The class bullies wasted no time and headed straight for my desk to find out what had happened. Their violent instincts had accurately told them that something important had taken place and they needed to know what it was, right now! I mean, it was already ten o’clock and they hadn’t made fun of anyone yet. They had a schedule to keep.
One of the boys asked me what I had said to Bertrand. I knew that telling them would be bad for Bertrand, but I also knew that not telling them would put me on their bad side and I wasn’t exactly part of the in group to begin with. I had nothing against Bertrand, but we weren’t really friends either, so I did what I had to do, I spilled the beans. Better him than me.
If I were older and wiser, I may have protected him by refusing to share his sensitive information or by coming up with a clever lie to eliminate their curiosity, but such is the folly of youth.
Bertrand got to spend the next fifteen minutes of his life surrounded by laughing faces and being made fun of, causing him to feel bad about himself for the rest of the day.
There are plenty of better ways the teacher could have handled the situation, so exactly what the fuck she was thinking remains a mystery to me.
There’s no need to worry about Bertrand, his story has a happy ending. While for many children, puberty can be a bad thing, it was the exact opposite for Bertrand. Once his hormones started to do their thing, he got really big and really strong, really fast. A few fights and couple of fucked-up bullies later, Bertrand’s social life was completely changed. In this case, Bertrand’s new found strength and toughness had earned him the respect of his peers and he found acceptance among them. From that point on, his social life would be, for the most part, normal, proving once again that violence is the answer to all of our problems.
I haven’t seen him in over eight years, and given that he hasn’t gone on any massive killing sprees that society knows about, I’m going to assume that he is still doing fine.
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