Just Frances

Made with 100% pure awesomeness.

I’m [not] stupid

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 by Frances Ryan.
Tags: words, school, reading, olden days, goals, geek, ego

Plinky asked me to describe the worst teacher I’ve ever had. I figured that since two teachers instantly came to mind, it was a big enough deal to actually blog about.

I can never quite decide which of the two gets the ultimate prize for worst teacher, though my folks would probably say it was my 5th grade teacher, Mr. S., which is possible. But there was something inherently cruel about Ms. I., who was my 6th grade homeroom teacher and English teacher throughout my junior high tenure.

First, there’s Mr. S. He was one of those stern teachers—one who seemed to just hate kids. Maybe it was because he was burnt-out on teaching, or maybe he really did hate kids; I don’t know. My parents didn’t care for him as a teacher because he refused to listen to their concerns about my inability to spell extremely basic words correctly, despite the fact that I always did well on my spelling tests.

But I remember the first time I realized he wasn’t a very good teacher. It was during “silent reading” time when we would sit at our desks and read on our own. Whilst my friends read whatever the “Harry Potter” equivalent of the day was, I had my nose buried in a griping historical biography of some description. (I was very interested in the Russian Tsars at the time and I read every book on the Romanov dynasty that our small municipal library had to offer. Yes, at 10-11 years old.)

You would think that this higher-level reading interest would have been appreciated by a teacher, but instead Mr. S. accused me of not really reading. I couldn’t convince him otherwise, and eventually, he revoked my silent reading privileges, leaving me to sit there silently (and bored) whilst my classmates enjoyed 20 minutes of reading time. Jerk.

Then there’s Ms. I.; she was just plain cruel. She called me stupid; she teased me about the way I spoke; she told me I’d never amount to anything. She almost took glee in pointing out my errors. (She had also teased others in my class, and my sisters before me, but she seemed to save her “stupid” comments for me alone.) Over and over again Ms. I. belittled me in front of my classmates—and in private. I think it was the first time in my life when I’d ever really despised an adult.

However, I should give Ms. I. a bit of credit, since it was her cruelty that made me start reading dictionaries and encyclopedias in an effort to be less stupid. Trying to look smarter also helped me to develop memory tricks so that I could absorb knowledge more easily. But she doesn’t deserve that credit because I’m the one who put in the hard work!

I think that between my early speech difficulties and dyslexia (which was diagnosed sometime in junior high) there was a common belief that I was, in fact, stupid. Coupled with the fact that I lived in a rural community and had a family that couldn’t pay for a university education for me, I suppose that it was assumed that I would be a waitress or a housewife after high school. With these preconceived notions, maybe I wasn’t worth the teaching energy required to help me shine.

OK, you could say that my experiences as a young child weren’t based in reality but rather a child’s interpretation of reality, but let’s remember we’re talking about a small town which means that I’ve had several run-ins with both since leaving school. (Most recently Ms. I. a few weeks ago.) So here’s what I know from my grown-up years:

Shortly after I began attending university in my mid-20s, I was chatting with Mr. S. in the coffee shop and told him how mean he was to me. His response was along the lines of “I knew you were smart and I was trying to motivate you.” (What a load of crap!) But he’s always been kind to me since I became an adult, and was very supportive and encouraging when I was working full-time whilst studying for my degree.

I also remember chatting with Ms. I. one day just before I went to study in Scotland for a year. Her comment was along the lines of “You’re the last Cook girl I would ever have thought would make something of herself.” Stupid [censored]. I will always go out of my way to avoid the woman and it worries me that she’s still out there teaching my nieces and nephews. I just hope that she’s a better teacher to them than she ever was to me.

So, there you have it. I was the stupid kid growing up. (Who knew?)

Thankfully, by the time I hit high school I found some amazing teachers who really put in the time and effort to help me learn. If you think this post about bad teachers is long, just wait; I may decide to post about the greatness of some of the greatest educators I’ve ever known one day. That’s a post that would make Homer’s works look like excerpts from the Reader’s Digest!


I was not “fortunate” enough to have Mr. S for a teacher. I had Mrs. T, and I thought she was mean! My kids are so lucky to have so many teachers in each grade to choose from. And I feel fortunate to be able to have veto power over a certain teacher because I know there are options. But what options did we have when there were only 2 teachers for each grade? It was like choosing between bad and worse.

And for what it’s worth, I never ever viewed you as stupid. In fact my memories are the exact opposite. Maybe it’s because a normal person would see that any child reading about Tzars has so much more going on in their head then then someone reading a lesser book.

As for Mrs. I, she was an unhappy creature if I ever met one. I think she tolerated me because I lived across the street from her. But I saw how she lived. Unhappy marriage,  living in a trailer. She was one of those sad people my mom always told me about, the ones who had to be cruel to others in an attempt to feel better about themselves. Being her neighbor had it’s benefits, but she still scared me and witnessing her meanie-ness to kids at school gave me anxiety about homeroom everyday.

And boy were they wrong about you. Seriously, I didn’t comment on your facebook posts forever because I was intimidated by your smartness, the way you worded stuff and the things you talked about. And I love reading your blog entries because you are so NOT empty headed.

I think it’s so unfair for people to look at a kid and decide instantly who they will be and what they become. I never thought I wouldn’t graduate from college, but I quit after 3 years to stay at home with my kids. And funny thing, I don’t regret. It was fun socially, but I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and I just spent year after year fighting off tremendous anxiety about my future. So I guess we both didn’t meet expectations of us, and yet we’re both happy.

So pplhhhhgggg!!! to those teachers, and a few more I won’t name. 

But let me guess at least one who inspired you, Mr. N? I could be wrong, but he seemed to see inside of me somehow and made me feel better about me, my insecurities, quirkiness and all.

Anyway, sorry to write a comment book, but this just set something off in me.

So for the record, you are awesome. And I love that you seem to know that now.

by Amy Allen at 8:44pm (GMT) on July 22nd, 2010

Thanks, Amy! I always had you marked as one of the smart kids, so for you to think I was smart is a double compliment! (Yay!) Oh, and for the record, much of my smartness is smoke and mirrors. I am constantly looking things up in my extensive collection of reference books when no one is looking! And that darn dyslexia haunts me to this very day! (How I landed in a word-based career that requires me to write and edit is beyond me!)

I forgot that you lived across from Ms. I. She went to the same church as us and it was so difficult being nice when everyone would chat after Mass because I couldn’t shake the hatred-filled thoughts from my head. (Which brought out all that Catholic guilt and I would have to confess my bad thoughts when next in confession.)

Yes! Mr. N. was a huge influence for me – as was his amazing wife, Ms. P. In fact, she helped me with my application letter for my bachelors’ and is going to help me with my personal statement for my masters’ later this summer. (Always good to have an extra set of eyes!) They are both amazing! It’s too bad they’re both now retired!

And thanks for noticing my awesomeness. I have a theory that only awesome people can notice the awesomeness of others, which says a lot about you, too! ;)

by Just Frances at 9:34pm (GMT) on July 22nd, 2010

I had Mr S. but I was lucky that my worst experience with him was when he embarrassed me by stopping class and asked me if I was playing footsies with a boy that kept stomping my foot hard. I remember him cleaning out his ears with his keys and using those same keys to eat peanut butter out of the jar. Kind of sad that’s really all I remember other than he was always smiling and he talked really loud. I don’t remember what kind of teacher he was, but I do know it was the first grade I fell behind in things and I was a good student before that.

I was fortunate to not have Mrs. I. I had Mr B. but I’m not sure his teaching methods were any more encouraging. We were split into groups depending on how smart we were. The smart people got fun puzzles to do. I felt I was in the wrong group (since I was always on the honor role along with the others) so I would borrow a friend’s puzzles and make photo copies. I loved those things. I had Mrs. I for a coach. I’m betting she used the coach mentality in her classroom where they put you down as if it will make you do better. I felt horrible on the team. When she moved to Ronald, she had a bit nicer place and I went there a time or two. She would sometimes give me a ride home. You could tell she did not have the best life and she also struggled with diabetes.

I never got to know Mr N very well, but I never did plays or anything. He made me stage manager once right before a play. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I think he did that just because. I think he could tell I just wasn’t that into English. Not that I didn’t want to be, but that was a time in my life that I just didn’t have time for it. His homework assignments were pretty difficult for my home life at the time. I got by on sheer… BS… for the lack of a better word). I do know that he was very admired and there was always someone over at his house the few times I went over with a friend who worships Mr N to this day. I’m glad he made such an influence on so many people I admire.

Both of you girls are smarter than I’d ever dream of being. Neither of you should be intimidated and I admire you both for your intellect. I can’t believe I never saw this post before now… I got here via your dyslexia post. I never knew that Frances. I can relate to reference books and taking forever to write since my brain tumor though. It’s hard when a natural talent becomes so difficult, especially when it was something you depended on.

by Sharon B at 8:27am (GMT) on June 19th, 2013

I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be now that you’ve gone through the trauma of your tumour. The inability to easily do what was once a standard task (writing) must be a struggle. I know that I get frustrated when my own medical issues slow me down physically.

As for Ms I and her teaching as she coached, I suppose I can see that to an extent, but the fact that she has continued to question my intellectual ability to this day is what angers me. At least Mr S was very encouraging when I went to university - Ms I is still stunned that I’m able to tie my own shoes! But I don’t give her much thought these days; I’m only sad that she’s still teaching!

by Just Frances at 10:00am (GMT) on June 19th, 2013

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