As if having a bad set of parents wasn’t enough of an unfortunate circumstance, I was blessed with a terrifyingly horrific teacher in 5th grade who decided having me in class again in 6th grade was only logical. The term demonic comes to mind when I think of Mrs. Radar. If I could hold hatred in my heart, she would be at the top of the list. Of all the places a child should be able to go to feel safety, it is a school. Sadly, Highlands Elementary was not such a dwelling and the teachers’ behavior was a reflection of poor leadership, as is always the case with a team of employees, or any team for that matter. The number of times the principal had an opportunity to step in and question what was happening behind the walls of our home was countless, but not once did he make a choice to care.
First, in Mrs. Radar’s defense, I was not the brightest bulb in the box. Honestly, I didn’t know I wasn’t that smart until I went to Highlands. But, Mrs. Radar was adamant about reminding me on a daily basis, oftentimes in front of the entire class. If only she could have felt what I was feeling. I was constantly filled with that feeling of stunned fear, like when you are doing something really, really wrong, and the person of authority walks into the room and catches you. You know that feeling? That was me at all times. She would shame me, mock me, and call me out when she knew I wouldn’t know the answer. I don’t know all the reasons why, but from almost the moment I walked into her class, she decided I was a lazy trouble maker who disregarded the significance of education. I think it was because those first few weeks I constantly did my homework wrong. I didn’t understand her instructions and when I turned in my assignments I think she interpreted my work as lazy or even possibly sarcastic. But truth be told, I was trying my best.
It also didn’t help that it was commonplace for me to fall asleep during class, and my truancy rate was through the roof. But, here again, where was the leadership? No adult looked at me as a 10 year old fifth grader and thought perhaps they should ask a few questions as to my behavior and whereabouts? Rather than being offended that I was sleeping during any given lesson, how about asking why I was always tired. Let’s see, not enough food and staying up till all hours of the night to babysit in order to purchase food. I never understood how I made it through those years and nobody questioned anything, especially when you factor in my mother’s insane behavior which was witnessed more than a time or two by the principal.
I wasn’t completely alone in Mrs. Radar’s class though. She had another favorite named Sherry Smith. We were by far the poorest people in her room. I’ve always assumed that led to a negative stereotype of our character. No matter who was talking, throwing around paper, etc, she would point to Sherry and I with reprimands, which often led to staying in for recess and after school for apologies. It was crazy. One such instance resulted in me being forced to stay after school to write a long paragraph of what I did wrong and how I would correct my behavior. It would have been fine but I didn’t do anything. I finally had the courage to approach her desk and communicate her error. Her response was simply that this would make up for the next time I acted out in her class. There I stood, defenseless, filled with shame and loneliness. My experience there left me hopeless to ever think I could be a good student.
As compared to previous years in my former school, where I was treated with great kindness, and had a warm group of friends to see every day, my heart felt broken. Alone at home and alone at school. For this social butterfly, it was a recipe for disaster. For the first time in my life I began to truly question my value and worth. For the first time ever, I started to see myself as a misfit, inherently, grossly flawed. My weakness and insecurity festered bullish responses from every corner of the student body. I was certainly an easy target when the teacher herself took to bullying me openly.
The only friendship that transpired was with a gal also named Tonya. Honestly, it was just one friend, but for those two years, it was my saving grace. I’m still connected through social media and I have always wanted to ask her why. Why did she friend me? I suppose it seems like an odd question, but, let’s face it, who decides it’s a good idea to friend the class freak? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. She and I shared many fond memories that helped offset a lot of pain. Sometime at the end of 6th grade or beginning of 7th, she began inviting me to hang out on the town “strip” where we smoked cigarettes and sought out attention from the opposite sex. As much as I wanted a friend, I knew this was a path that wouldn’t serve me well and we parted ways. Here again, I think the wisdom of the Lord lay in my heart whether I recognized it or not at the time.
There is much to be said about my school experience and this is not the last of what you will hear. I will leave you with this, if you are a parent, fight for your child if they are in an environment where their needs are not being met. Please, I beg you, please do not allow your child to remain in an emotionally challenging school. School should not be a test of emotional fortitude. It should be a place of subject based learning, friendship and personal growth. The damage done by bullying can leave life long scars. Scars that create roadblocks to blessings in their future.
If you are a teacher, especially if you are being worn thin, please realize that your every word can make or break a student. Consider those in your classroom right now. Who do you think is a bad apple? Is this true or are they in desperate need for help? If there is nothing you can do about their situation, at least use the love in your heart to be as kind as possible. Be like Mr. Woller. Mr. Woller was the fifth and sixth grade teacher next door to Mrs. Radar. He reach out a helping hand once, and paid for my admittance to the YMCA, and the ability to be on their gymnastics team, along with transportation, since we didn’t have a car. It wasn’t going to change my circumstances, but it made me feel slightly less invisible. To this day, I still consider that one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. I messaged a long note to his daughter when I was an adult, and asked that she forward it to her father. I never heard a response, but I hope he knows what it meant to me.
I am extremely passionate about parenting because what we do to a child as they are developing, truly has lifelong impact. Children take in everything. Our words and behavior toward them can make or break their entire future. I know many people who don’t want to believe that is true. They say that when the person becomes an adult it is their job to undo the damage and become vibrant, capable adults. It’s not true. Some of the damage is simply so painful the adult isn’t even capable of making the first step. Although teachers are not parents, nor should they be expected to substitute for said position, they inherently become the next greatest influence. I pray we all remember our responsibilities in both of these roles!