When Teachers turn bad

by Madeline Laughs
historic drafting board with double parallelog...

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When I was working on one of my degrees I had long studio hours working at a drawing board. My final semester I ended up with a teacher that was notoriously lackadaisical. I didn’t mind this because it meant I could flex my autonomy without being micromanaged.

I had no idea that this teacher’s method also included a very sinister grading curve. 

Let me describe this teacher to you. He was much older than the other teachers at the college. He was tenured and had been teaching this course for decades. He would physically show up in the classroom for about 15 minutes out of a four hour class, sit up front, tell a few jokes and give out an assignment. Then he’d disappear. Maybe he would sit in his office and talk on the phone or go down to the cafeteria and chew the fat with other teachers on break. The point was that he was never in the classroom much. He drove a little 2 seater sports car and came across as a real Don Juan, man about town. He let you know that he had paid his dues and that you should feel privileged to be in his class at all. He was kind of like a campus celebrity.

In my studio class were three other women besides me. Two of them were black. I purposely picked the drawing board across from these two ladies, who were great friends with each other, and who provided me with endless hours of good humor in an otherwise dull environment. I truly adored each of them!

One day during break out sessions I ended up in a group with two other boys in the class. These two boys were the teacher’s favorites. They would kid around with him during class and there was this we’re so cool because we can call him by his first name kind of air hanging over them.

I opened my book to the assignment and got out my notebook to make notes. Then the two boys started talking in low voices, “Did you hear what Teacher said about the two black girls in class?” I shook my head no. “He said that if those two darkies think he’s going to pass them then they’re crazy.” My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe what they were saying. I couldn’t believe they were actually repeating it. Both boys were smiling as if they had just shared something delightful with me. I put my head down and started talking about the assignment. There was no way I’d allow this conversation to continue.

The next few weeks I made a point of engaging my two friends about school work. One afternoon a homework assignment was returned to us with grades and I heard one of them sigh. “I seem to be failing this class.” I asked to see her work. I compared it to mine. They weren’t much different, but hers had been marked all over with red ink. Lots of explanation points and harsh comments were everywhere. You could hardly see her drawing for the red ink.

That’s when I knew those two boys were probably telling the truth about what Teacher had said to them.

What could I do? If I confronted Teacher, he would fail me too. I knew I couldn’t rely on the two boys to back me up by admitting what they had told me. If I told the two ladies what I had heard I knew they would never put up a fight. They would just drop out of class. So where did that leave me? Could I just put my head in the sand and pretend I didn’t know what was really happening?

I gave this some grave thought and the next week I made an appointment to speak to the Dean of the school.

I remember sitting in his office and telling him what I had heard. I remember him telling me these were serious accusations. I remember him picking up the phone to call Teacher’s office and asking him to come down.

And I remember Teacher’s face turning red while the Dean told him the reason for his summons and I remember Teacher being so angry that he came out of his chair at me pointing his finger in my face and spitting on me while he yelled at me. I remember sitting there and feeling so calm while he totally lost his mind.

Teacher demanded I be taken out of his classroom. His exact words were “I will not have this little bitch in my classroom!

The Dean asked me to wait in the lobby while he and Teacher talked. I waited outside of the Dean’s office, and Teacher finally came out. He wouldn’t even look at me. He went upstairs and brought the two boys back down. I just knew that riding the elevator he had coached them on what to say. I remember thinking that this was horribly unfair.

I was taken out of Teacher’s class and finished my semester with another instructor. My first day in the new instructor’s class he pulled me aside and told me that he would not put up with any of my “shenanigans“. I was to put my nose to the grindstone and do my work and stay out of everyone elses business or he would fail me.

Teacher never admitted to what he had done. No one ever apologized to me for the rotten things he said to me. The two boys avoided me in the hallways. All of it was swept under the rug.

The two ladies never knew why I had been taken out of Teacher’s class because I was threatened with expulsion and forbidden to tell them.

They both failed the course.

The two boys, whose work was sloppy and incorrect most of the time, passed with flying colors.

A few years later I was working at the hospital on a short assignment before taking a job out of town. I was in the Special Testing Department. Special Testing is the unit where you would come to have serious tests performed. We did stuff like EEG, EKG, Carotid Doppler, etc. If you ended up in our unit, you were seriously ill. There was either something malfunctioning with your brain or with your heart. Many of our patients were wheeled in on stretchers and we were right across the hall from the Emergency Room.

I was doing admin work and managing the tech’s appointments and Code Blue Alerts.

It was my luck, or misfortune, to be on duty the night Teacher was wheeled into our unit. He had suffered a mild heart attack. I knew it was him because I was holding his chart when they pushed him through the doors.

The techs were all out so I asked the orderly to park him along the wall until a room opened up. I went back to my desk.

Teacher was awake. He was just laying there with oxygen tubes in his nose and an IV dangling from his arm. I kept glancing towards him.

Then he called for someone to come to him. No one else was around and I didn’t want to go. But I got up and walked over to him. I was worried that the sight of me while he was in such a vulnerable state might make him go into cardiac arrest and I didn’t want to get blamed for it.

Yes sir?” I asked. He waved his hand around indicating the room. “Can you explain this to me?” “I’m sorry, sir?” I didn’t know what he meant. “This!” he yelled. “All of this! What did I do to deserve this? I don’t smoke. I eat right. I exercise. I take care of myself! How did this happen?” Then he turned his head to see who he was talking to. I held my breathe.

I don’t know what I expected.

There wasn’t even the slightest glimmer of recognition. He had no idea who I was. To him, I was merely a tech in the unit that was going to explain to him why he was having heart attacks. He looked at me and waited for me to reply.

I wanted to scream at him “It’s because you’re an asshole! It’s because you’re evil and wicked and your heart is black with prejudice and hatred!

But instead I reached down and I patted his hand. I told him everything would be okay. Then I went and got an extra blanket out of the warmer and covered his legs because he was shivering.

I went back to my desk and I waited for the tech to come back to the unit to attend to him.

I didn’t feel smug that he was suffering and I thought I would.

I just felt sorry for him.

About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When Teachers turn bad

  1. Dr Wixy says:

    Even a bad teacher can teach a student something good. This story shows that. The student did the right thing twice — going to the Dean and being kind to the teacher as a patient — and became a better person for it. No one ever said there were not bad teachers, but there certainly are more good ones than bad ones. The same goes for police officers, military personnel, firemen, etc.


    • Thank you Dr. Wixy. For me this episode is still very fresh, even though it happened almost 25 years ago. It wasn’t just the teacher that was corrupt. It was the dean and his colleagues too. That faculty needed a house cleaning. There was only one gentleman that worked in administrative management that I had any respect for, and I’m sure if he knew what was happening to me he couldn’t say anything either.

      It was one of the most helpless times of my young life and it taught me some lifelong lessons. If it happened to me today, I would bulldoze every last one of them.

      And you are right, there are many more good teachers than there are bad. I know quite a few excellent ones. I think in order to be a teacher, you have to want something good and positive to happen in your life. You have to love your students.


  2. Michi says:

    Wow. Very powerful story. But I can’t believe that they threatened you with expulsion if you told those two girls. Good for you for trying to stand up to such awful faculty.


    • I know Michi. You have no idea how many times I wanted to tell them. I think what kept me from saying anything to them was less about the expulsion and more about not wanting to see them hurting over what was happening to them. They would have been as powerless as I was to make anything come out differently. That was painfully obvious to me once my punishment was doled out. No one cared how he managed his classes. No one was going to make him change.

      It taught me how Not to be. And that was the only good thing that came out of it.


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