September 12, 2005

Perhaps You Would Like a Pointless Story from My Childhood: An Exercise in Traffic Reduction

I really don't have anything else today. It is my day off. Still, I'm very sorry. You might try reading a good weblog next time.

In the fourth grade I had a cruel teacher, Ms. Chan--legendarily mean, the kind who caused third graders to wet themselves at the prospect of being assigned to her the following year. And lucky me, I went from second to fourth directly, and had no fellow third graders to warn me what lay ahead--which was basically a year of terror in which I do not remember a thing except learning to do whatever it was I did, all of it, everything, Ms. Chan's way and no other.

To do otherwise was to risk The Screaming. I'm telling you, I could pick out Ms. Chan's uvula from a line up to this day, that's how wide her mouth would open, and that's how often her mouth was that wide open, doing what it did best: Letting the screams out, occasionally shaping them to form a name here or a vowel there, but seldom into anything else intelligible. You'd be practicing your cursive (head DOWN! For pity's sake you didn't want to risk looking at her, who knows what you might set off doing a thing like that), and Ms. Chan would be at her desk grading spelling tests, and all of sudden you'd hear "THOMMMM-MAAAAS! Aaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeee! Ooooooooooooooooo! Eeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuu!" In the end the principal would come, and probably Thomas' mother too at some point, and it would be determined that Thomas would have to write 200 repetitions of the same sentence by Friday only, his would have to contain consonants and words and suchlike.

This was in 1977-1978, and no other teacher at my school in Sacramento, California, at that time referred to herself as "Ms." But you would address Ms. Chan as "Ms." or she'd take your head off with a look. Also, no sense risking the screaming over two measly letters, right?

If I started out in life associating the prefix "Ms." with unholy fire-breathing she-devils who could really, really scream awfully, awfully loud very, very often, it is Ms. Chan's fault.

I eventually ingratiated myself with the other fourth-graders, who hated me for that whole skipped-third thing (parents: Please do not do this to your children. Do not do it even if you often catch them reading textbooks on particle physics with flashlights under the covers at night. Restrain thy vanity and just don't do it. The utter ruin of my entire scholastic career began right fucking here.). I won quite a few of them over through my formulation of the Chan Eyeshadow Hypothesis, which was declared Theory by year's end. It went like this:

Ms. Chan wore three different patterns of eyeshadow, rotated at random (or . . . was it?). While every other teacher was aiming for the nude look in makeup, the fresh-faced California outdoors, healthy glow, pale frosty eyeshadow, beige lip gloss look, Ms. Chan was inflicting upon her eyelids . . . tragedy. Tragedy in Technicolor. Depending on who-knows-what, Ms. Chan's eyelids were either:

  • Turquoise blue and mint green

  • Cornflower blue and violet, or

  • Cotton-candy pink and purple

    So what I went around telling all the kids was that I had been studying this (so much for that "gifted" bullshit), and that it seemed to me I could correlate Ms. Chan's mood with her eyeshadow combinations. Which, now that I think of it, is not really that out-there. I probably make myself up differently depending on what mood I'm in, although not since the please-let-them-die 80s has pink and purple eyeshadow figured anywhere into the ol' makeup bag, thank goodness.

    According to the Chan Eyeshadow Hypothesis, the pink/purple combination heralded a good day--naturally, Ms. Chan wore this one the least often. Blue/violet, which she wore most often, indicated an average day--so, some screaming, but nothing out of the ordinary. Turquoise/green, fake a stomachache and go to the nurse's office, or (if you were me and would only wind up sent back to class if you tried that) keep your head down and do not look at her, do not speak to her, do not breathe at her unless ordered to do so by Satan's handmaiden made flesh herself.

    And so . . . bleah. This is where I either tack on a Thoughtful Reflection:

    Looking back, however, I see Ms. Chan not so much as a terrible, frightening ogre, but as simply A Woman and A Teacher, a victim of an educational system that still held teaching to be neither profession nor calling, but simply a waste-heap for unmarriageable women . . . .
    . . . or hit you with a Segue:
    I was thinking of Ms. Ultrabitch today as I admonished myself for watching Food Network in the workout room, which only makes me more hungry following the workout. Ms. Chan would likely have prescribed her standard punishment of 50 Sentences: I will not watch Food Network while on the treadmill. I will not watch . . . .

    . . . or a Punch Line:

    Only when Ms. Chan was rushed from the playground, where she'd been monitoring a tetherball championship, to the local emergency room did we learn the awful truth: The very eyeshadow we'd been using to predict her moods turned out to contain ENORMOUS QUANTITIES OF LEAD. Ms. Chan survived, sued Noxzema Corporation, won a bundle, and became someone's Mrs., but still drools a little out one side of her mouth when she gets too excited, such as whenever Maury Povich comes on.
    Unfortunately I don't have any of those, and I don't feel much like making something up. I seem to have hit a wall here, Chan-wise. I guess what we can get out of this should-never-have-left-draft-mode mess is:

  • Some of those early stereotypes about feminists being all bitchy and stuff?--Were sometimes true.


  • Eyeshadow based on any of the primary colors is almost always a terrible idea.

    Posted by Ilyka at September 12, 2005 06:58 PM in navel gazing | TrackBack
  • Comments

    It made me smile.

    I had a few psycho teachers in my early days, but I never had any wild theories about them. Other than they needed to watch more cartoons. Heh, the mind of a child.

    Posted by: ratan at September 12, 2005 07:16 PM

    Thanks for the smile. I can really relate. Seems that it is always a 3rd or 4th grade teacher. Mine was 4th grade while my daughter's "monster teacher" (Mrs. Grunt...I kid you not!) was in 3rd grade.

    Posted by: Anon at September 12, 2005 08:35 PM

    I've been waiting for an excuse to write about the history teacher who sabotaged me so that her son, who was in my class, would have the highest mark in the class. And I will do that, as soon as my website starts existing again. (No idea what's up with that.)

    Posted by: Moebius Stripper at September 12, 2005 08:58 PM

    My most memorable bad teachers were merely incompetent rather than psychotically abusive, so I'm grateful for that. My physics teacher in junior college was saddled with the unfortunate name of "Sharp", in stark contrast to his all-thumbs demos and chaotic lectures. He inspired me to work many chapters ahead of lecture so that so I could sit back and be quietly amused by his flounderings. My poor classmates, however, had to flounder along with him. At the end of our last semester of physics, dwindling enrollments had left the class with only three survivors. Our teacher decided to grade "on the curve" and give one A, one B, and one C, despite the fact that the runners-up (I had the A) were all but tied. The difference between them was statistically insignificant. There was an uproar and he backed off: one A, two Bs. Later I heard the science department voted to deny him tenure, but he won the appeal process and meandered his way through another thirty years until retirement. The science department retaliated by taking physics away from him and blighting the lives of many later students of basic science and pre-algebra. He appeared not to notice.

    At least he was a good example to me of things not to do.

    Posted by: Zeno at September 13, 2005 04:30 PM

    He inspired me to work many chapters ahead of lecture so that so I could sit back and be quietly amused by his flounderings.

    Of that breed, I've had too many teachers to count. I consider myself self-taught in C++ because the professor's idea of "teaching" it was to walk to the podium, open the text, and begin reading from it.

    That's when you really feel insulted--when you've paid for a class in which you're only going to be read to like a kindergartener. He took attendance and graded on it, so I had to endure him, i.e., show up and work assignments from other classes, having already read the evening's chapter (and the next night's, and the night's after) at home.

    I am cracking up at the irony of some of these names. Grunt! Sharp! You'd think, wouldn't you, that someone would have talked these people out of their chosen professions years ago just based on the names.

    Posted by: ilyka at September 13, 2005 04:46 PM

    I consider myself self-taught in C++ because the professor's idea of "teaching" it was to walk to the podium, open the text, and begin reading from it.

    Ooh, I can beat that: I had a prof in grad school who held the text in his left hand, and copied it onto the board with his right hand. The transcription differed from the original in two significant ways: one, his handwriting was illegible whereas the book was typed up, and two, he would on occasion copy the text incorrectly. And these were not minor errors, either. Like, the book would say "x > 0" and he'd write down "x

    Posted by: Moebius Stripper at September 13, 2005 06:51 PM

    Damn angled brackets meaning something other than HTML tags. I was saying - "he would write down 'x is less than 0', which isn't quite the same."

    Posted by: Moebius Stripper at September 13, 2005 06:55 PM

    I got one of these children-hating elementary school teachers in 3rd grade. A bitter single woman (wonder why that would be?) named Miss Green. And I don't think she could insist on "Ms.", not in Cobb County, Georgia in the 80s. She obviously hated being stuck with a bunch of little kids -- if I remember her approximate age, she must have been from pre-feminist days, when the only acceptable feminine jobs were teacher, nurse, and secretary.

    And yes, I was lucky that my parents never considered skipping me a grade. Kept my profile a little lower, and it's not like I would have learned more by being skipped.

    And to go with MS's comment -- when I was in grad school in math, our real analysis teacher took everything straight from the text. His handwriting was excellent... but we had already bought the texts and had them sitting in front of us (or at least, I did -- I was one of those who brought texts to class for reference.) When I discovered he was copying stuff word-for-word, I stopped taking notes and started doodling.

    Posted by: meep at September 14, 2005 01:55 AM

    Does Ms. Chan sound hot to anyone but me?

    Posted by: Dave Munger at September 14, 2005 04:13 PM

    One of my 8th grade teachers had a reasonable personality but a lousy name: Mrs. Belcher.
    Then there was my 2nd grade teacher, one of the 4 worst in my life: Mrs. Peabody.

    Posted by: Morenuancedthanyou at September 16, 2005 09:26 PM