I’ve got a challenge for you. I’m going to to give you a fifth of bourbon, a bunch of mescaline, and a big bag of high quality skunk-weed. After you’re done fucking around with all of that, I’m going to put you in a room with thirty fifth graders and your goal will be to teach them one thing over the course of seven hours. Sure, it’ll be tough at first, what with all the bats in the room and the floor turning into blood. But if you had to teach a bunch of fifth graders one single thing over the course of a whole day, you’d be able to do it, even under those conditions, wouldn’t you? Well, if you did, you’d have accomplished more in one day than my fifth grade teacher did in an entire year.
My fifth grade teacher’s name was Mrs. B, a pseudonym I’m going to use because a little internet sleuthing has shown me that she’s still kicking and has grandchildren and even great-grandchildren who really don’t need to discover that dear old Nana was one of the worst teachers of all time, and a moron to boot. See? I can be sensitive to the feelings of others! Now shut your fucking yap.
Anyway, Mrs. B suffered from a perfect storm of terrible attributes that you don’t want in a teacher: Laziness, apathy, and incompetence. If you were a mad scientist and tried to build a worse teacher, you’d have to resort to serial killers and pederasts in order to be able to do so. This was apparent in almost everything she did. For example, hearing this in class was a daily occurrence: “Greg, John, can you record these grades in the grade book? If you do, you can award yourself five extra credit points for doing so.”
Yes, she would let ten year olds record grades for her. This worked about as well as you’d expect it to.
John: Let’s see… Paul is an asshole, so he gets an F.
Greg: Agreed. Suzie, on the other hand, is really cute. She gets an A.
John: Amy has boobs!
Greg & John together: A.
Greg: Ugh, Rebecca. F-. That bitch.
And of course, John and I (or whoever was doing the grades that day) would somehow manage to get an A, even if our homework had been ceremoniously flushed down the toilet, which was not an uncommon occurrence once we realized that there was absolutely no relationship between the work we did and the grade we got.
This became apparent when we started paying attention to the grades that had been written on the papers we’d been handed. Mrs. B had a thing about alphabetizing things, which seemed to be the only skill she possessed. And because of this we noticed a peculiarity with the grades. Students whose last name started with an “A” or a “B” seemed to have their papers graded more or less accurately. But somewhere around the last names starting with “C” or “D” a pattern began to emerge: Everyone from that point on got a B. Yes, it seems Mrs. B got tired of grading papers rather easily and just doled out decent grades to everyone.
Having a last name towards the end of the line, I began protesting my grade and pretty soon everyone learned that if you objected to getting a B, she’d give you an A. And of course Mrs. B, being the lazy sort, soon made this practice unnecessary by just giving everyone an A, which really made life a lot easier for everyone except for students with names like Anderson, who had to do actual work. Suckers!
Not that we were missing a whole lot by not doing any of the homework, quizzes, or tests. She taught us absolutely nothing we didn’t know already. If it wasn’t for the words “Fifth Grade” on the front of our text books, you’d swear that she was just going over last year’s curriculum. Reading, writing, math, social studies, science, none of it offered anything new. And what was offered was read verbatim from the Teacher’s Edition:
Mrs. B: Can you tell us what important event is celebrated on the Fourth of July? (looks up) Greg?
Greg: Huh? What?
Mrs. B: (looking down at the book again) Can you tell us what important event is celebrated on the Fourth of July?
Greg: Oh. The signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Mrs. B: (turning to the answer key) Ummm… Yes. That is correct.
I realize that this level of ineptitude may come across as a little hard to believe, but her ignorance knew no bounds. In one memorable class, during a discussion of the Civil War, this conversation took place.
Fred: Mrs. B, did the United States get in a lot of wars back then?
Mrs. B: Yes, but the Civil War was the only one fought on American soil.
Lisa: What about the American revolution?
Mrs. B: That doesn’t count since America wasn’t a country then.
Greg: Didn’t the British sack Washington D.C. in the War of 1812?
Mrs. B: No.
Carl: What about Pearl Harbor?
Mrs. B: That’s in the Philippines.
This set off an animated discussion over the course of the next fifteen minutes which consisted of two lines of argument: Mrs. B contended that Pearl Harbor was in the Philippines and that we should conisider this matter to be settled because she was older and knew better. Everyone else contended that Mrs. B was a fucking imbecile. Only when an enterprising student walked an atlas to the front of the room and showed her that Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii was the matter settled. “Everyone put your books away, it’s time for a pop quiz!”
As poor of a teacher as Mrs. B was, she was an even worse disciplinarian. She had absolutely no control over the class, which, as anyone who has ever dealt with ten year old boys can tell you, is a recipe for disaster. Two students in particular set the tone for the class, John and Steve. John and Steve were smart kids with a wild streak that came of age in Mrs. B’s class. For example, as I walked into class one day, Steve opened his jean jacket and whispered to me an an exaggerated watch-thief’s voice, “Pssst! Hey mac! Wanna screwdriver?” He had used duct tape to tape twenty or so small screwdrivers to the inside of his jacket and was dispensing them to fellow students. The goal was to “unscrew the school”, which we proceeded to do with reckless abandon.
In short order, things in the classroom began to fall apart: A student would try to sit down at his desk, only to have it collapse into a pile of wood and metal. This didn’t faze Mrs. B a bit. “I’ll have the custodian look at that. Please move to the table at the back of the room.” Coat racks fell apart, as did light fixtures, tables, chairs, and everything else we could get our tiny little hands on. The damage radiated throughout the school as the day went by, finally culminating in the Blackboard Incident.
Mrs. B would regularly leave her class to its own devices for upwards of thirty minutes. This was most often during tests (I shit you not). And during one of these absences, John & Steve went up to the blackboard and began unscrewing it from its wall mounting, leaving a single screw in the bottom center of the board to hold the entire thing up. When Mrs. B returned and began writing on the blackboard, of course, it began creaking and started tilting perilously towards her. She jumped back with a shriek as the class erupted into laughter. “You monsters! You tried to kill me!” she shouted. This was met with hoots and catcalls of derision. She fled the room in tears.
After the custodian came into the room to reattach the blackboard to the wall, Mrs. B addressed the class. “I have been informed that some of you have been unscrewing objects in the school.” (Gee, no shit? How many desks had to fall apart in front of your eyes before you figured that one out?) “I’m going to ask everyone in the room to be honest with me.” And then she went around the room asking the same question. “Greg, how many screws did you take out?” “Two” “Okay, by the end of the day you have to put two screws back in.” I had a box of at least 100 screws in my desk. The custodian took to carrying a box of screwdrivers and assorted screws with him wherever he went. He was finding missing screws for the remainder of the school year.
The assaults on the teacher didn’t end with blackboards, however. One day I watched as Steve was putting chalk dust in Mrs. B’s ever present mug of coffee. This generated lots of stifled laughter which went entirely unnoticed by Mrs. B because she was being distracted by another student. When Steve graduated from dissolving chalk dust to shooting staples in there, however, I began to become alarmed. I was faced with a dilemma: Alert Mrs. B to the fact that her coffee had been tampered with and face the wrath of my friends, or ignore it and let our teacher suffer a perforated colon or worse. Thinking quickly, I solved the problem by super-gluing her mug to the desktop, which everyone found fantastically funny. (The super glue was present because the boys went through a phase where we super-glued our fingers to various parts of our body for kicks. This is how unsupervised the classroom was.)
Besides almost killing our teacher twice, we also left our mark on the school in a more permanent fashion than we had been able to do with a bunch of screwdrivers. John & Steve, on the last day of school, were playing a wonderfully fun game involving jamming a paper clip into an electrical outlet with a pair of rubber-handled scissors, and seeing who could pull it out with their bare hands. This game provided a lot of giggles, shocks, and at the very end of the game a lick of blue flame which came out of the outlet and was hurriedly blown out. Less than a week later, I watched fire engines racing to the school from my back yard. That particular wall of the school was on fire. The paper said it was an electrical problem, but I knew that Mrs. B had really been the cause of that fire. And I was in a position to know. After all, I was a straight-A student.