Fifth Grade – Not The Worst In The Room

In fifth grade, my teacher scared the shit out of me. I was a horrible student and didn’t do my homework. So my teacher belittled us in front of the entire class and told us we weren’t allowed to go to lunch and were being forced to finish the work we were supposed to do the night before.

The girl, who would later get her period on the way to gym class later that year, and I were ashamed and kept quiet, doing our work. The lumpy hispanic kid did nothing of the sort. He cried. Sobbed is more accurate, and protested in the only way a helpless fifth grader would, saying their parents were going to sue her.

Mrs. Smith had always been a little strong in the emotion department. She memorized lines from books we were reading in class and dressed in character – even going as far as adorning a nazi uniform, swastika and all – shouting at the top of her lungs that she was going to find the jews. Needless to say she was a bit heavy-handed, but a passionate teacher none the less.

Something in the way this tubby kid was crying, complaining, and even threatening the employment status of our teacher just broke her. She was a heavy woman, built shoulders first in the hands of god, and when she sauntered her way over to you – with the same authority she called out Penelope’s suitors – like when she overturned my desk mid-class, you knew what was coming. This time though it was rough and jagged like a hurricane hitting the shoreline, she came screaming down his desk row and squared her face with his. She pointed at his chest, deep into his soul and he didn’t waver anymore than he had. I sat with my jaw against my collarbone as my teacher told this child how good he had it, what he was going to amount to, and how much of a shit she gave about his threats. I can’t remember if she swore, but I’m sure she did. All of the garbage, the back talk, the chatter and disturbance an elementary classroom can birth rained down upon this kid. He left, under whose order isn’t clear, but the girl a row over and I were praised for how good we were for working quietly and Mrs. Smith went back to mashing her thick green salad between her wide jaw.

For three days there after I ditched school. My mother forced a teacher conference with the powers that be. As my mother tells it, she scolded my teacher and those who employed her, but I just remember being in the room and not much else.

I ran into Mrs. Smith years later when she came into my grandparent’s bakery and asked how she was doing. She was still teaching, but at a different school.

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