Saturday, 8 September 2012

Little Penny: real-life edition

Isn’t it funny, the things that you remember? I’ve been thinking back to my school days and in particular right back to the earliest ones. The passage of time has blurred much of that period and the events within it (that doubtless seemed so terribly important at the time) into an impressionistic haze, but certain moments stay with me.

I think I remember them because they were unexpected, and they shook me. (Don’t worry, they’re nothing heavy: they’re more ‘Peanuts’ than anything). The thing is, I was a good girl at school. Certainly at primary school, I would say I was very good. Quiet and gentle, I listened intently to my teachers, I always tried my best with my work, I never threw fits or teased or fought with the other kids. A model pupil, in my own humble opinion. Yet every so often I would be told off and/or humiliated by teachers as if I was a naughty little tearaway; scolded really harshly and disproportionately (to my mind) for minor and unintended offences. I didn’t understand why I was being told off at the time, and I must say I still don’t... maybe the schools I went to just had an unusually high number of bitter and twisted teachers. Or maybe my sparkiness was taken as cockiness, something that I figure is like a red rag to teaching professionals. I dunno.

Anyway, one such incident occurred when I was six. I can’t remember exactly what our task was, but it was definitely a writing task. It might have been to copy words down from the board, or maybe to write about our parents, or maybe about the job we would like to do when we were all grown up. (I love that expression. Oh, and I wanted to be an astronaut). Bottom line, it involved pencils and exercise books. (Ah, writing in pencil! Those were the days. I still remember the sadness I felt at having to move up to writing in ink).

Much deep thought and leg-swinging later, I had written whatever it was I had to write. However, being an inveterate tweaker/perfectionist (even then) I found I wanted to change a line or two. I didn’t have a rubber (‘eraser’ to my American readers), so I used some six-year-old-style initiative and used my finger instead. Rub, rub, rub, write, write, write, sorted. I took my work up to the teacher’s desk, smiling and grubby-fingered, and waited my turn to have it marked.

This is where the crazy teacher bit comes in.

When my turn came, I don’t remember the teacher saying a single thing about what I had written – you know, the actual content of the exercise and the point of us both being there – I just remember her letting fly at me for the heinous crime I had thoughtlessly committed. “And what is this supposed to be?” she cried (and I mean really bellowed). “You don’t use your finger to rub work out, you stupid girl! Use a rubber!

I’m six years old, remember, and now blushing and trembling at the front of the class as my teacher shouts at me. The rest of the scene is a bit of a blur in my memory, though I know it basically consisted of her lambasting me for my wickedness a while longer at an entirely unnecessary volume, me wondering why she was overreacting so much (and wishing I had used a rubber), and a sad trudge back to my seat, deeply stung and not feeling very clever. One particular thing she said I will always remember, though I don’t think I will ever understand why she said it: “You’re not as popular as you think you are, young lady!”


What has popularity got to do with not having an eraser? I was one baffled six-year-old that day.


  1. Penny,

    I have similar recollections although often the humiliation included a hard smack with a ruler on my hands.

    And, like you, I was a very good student.

    Thank you for sharing.


  2. Aww, who would ever smack little Joey with a ruler? :(

    (I'd do it to big Joey, of course!)

  3. I have a similar memory of a teacher who claimed to have a degree in child psychology, yet never missed an opportunity to hit or belittle most of her students.

  4. I don't think that yelling or shaming is appropriate in any way, but...

    It *is* very difficult to read writing (that I am guessing was a bit on the wobbly side to begin with?) amidst lots of grey-ish rubbings. And/or it simply made your work look shoddy. That doesn't excuse the teacher's behavior, but I can see where it would cause concern.

    But at any rate, shouting is not cool.

  5. See, now if she had said it like that, that would have been okay! And I wouldn't still remember it years later.

    I think teaching just attracts a lot of mean people, Aunty. Some nice ones, of course, but plenty of meanies.

  6. I definitely have had both - teachers who were wonderful and trans-formative, and teachers who liked to teach because they enjoyed being in charge and bossing people around. It took until after High School to really determine who was which.

  7. First, you ARE as popular as you think you are, or more so. And yes, some of my teachers were bonkers, but I always looked at it as an important lesson: when your smarter than the people in charge of you, shut up and humor them. :-)


  8. Well as an earthy person this goes to prove that this sort of thing injustice is one of those things we have to bear. My friend Paterick when I was at school was very cross that he was whacked during home work time as a boarder, it was much too hard for his liking and unfair to boot. He would have been called to the front, and lain over teachers knee behind his desk and after ajustments so as not to smack his wedding tackle whacked then and there. Thank you for your consistent work with your blog, you are very tidy now! Harry

  9. Thank you for the compliment, Harry! I'm tidy! :)

    And I'm sorry for your friend. My post was about how confused and resentful I felt at being scolded unfairly, so I can only imagine how horrid it must have felt to be spanked unfairly.

    Strange, though, isn't it - as adults, being punished in a 'school' situation, 'fairly' or not, is a massive turn-on! There's definitely a kinky think waiting to be thunk there.