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If I Could Talk To Him One More Time, Today (a Monday Mission)

This is part of the Monday Mission. We're to leave a voice mail. Check out Painted Maypole's spot for more...

"Hi...umm...Mitch? It's Julie, Julie from high school. I doubt you remember me; we only knew each other for about five minutes. You mowed our lawn a few times, dated my friend's sister, and were in my AP English class senior year. That's why I'm calling---about what you did in the English class. It made a lasting impression, really made a difference in my life. That probably sounds dramatic but it's true. You see, I'd spent a lot of years being the kid who fell through the cracks in school. I think by high school I'd gotten tired of being the good enough and compliant student. Senior year, I was one inch from dropping out, and I probably would have if I'd had the guts or I thought my parents would let me get away with it. Instead, I just created a lot of unnecessary sturm and drang for myself, and cut school so much that by the end of the year there was a question about whether they'd let me graduate.'s cutting me off...I'll call back..."

"Mitch? It's Julie again. So anyway. So that AP English class. It was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I'd had enough of terrible teachers in a horrible school system who couldn't care less about whether I learned anything, and that teacher was the worst of all. Maybe this will help you remember who I am: I was one of the girls she sat on the far side of the room. She made a row of us, and told us we couldn't think or write our way out of a paper bag. She told us we were a waste of her time and a waste of space in the class. She said she felt sorry for herself that she had to teach stupid girls like us. She told us we'd never be able to do anything better than C work. She called us the C Row. We made a joke out of it. We called ourselves the Crows and we'd make caw caw noises. Does that ring a bell? The irony is that she said this to three girls who served as student body leaders (one vice president, one secretary, one council representative), one homecoming queen, AP track girls across the board, all of whom graduated with good class rankings, and went on to great universities. Wait...cut off again...I'll call back..."

"Mitch? Julie. Okay. I think you know how even though we laughed, it hurt. I think you know what it did to us inside that she never called on us, or when she did, she mocked our answers, reinforced us as stupid. I think you know how much it troubled us that she encouraged the others to laugh at us, too. I think you know because of what you did, and I want you to know how much it changed everything, even after you'd gone. In the middle of one of her obnoxious lectures and belittling sessions, you stood up. You stood up in that classroom and you said, 'This is bullshit. This is such utter bullshit and I won't take it for one more minute.' Then you went on to call her on every single one of her terrible teacher crimes. You told her she was unfair to students, played favorites, and she was the one who couldn't teach her way out of a paper bag. You told her you felt sorry for us, the students, that we were subjected to someone like her. Then you concluded by saying, 'And don't bother telling me to go to the principal. I'm on my way there now. I'll be glad to tell him exactly what I did and why, and request a transfer. I'd rather sit in remedial than spend one more day in your class.' Oh, be back..."

"Mitch? Julie. She didn't change. Of course she didn't change. She continued her reign of self-esteem terror on me and my two friends. But we changed. We quit respecting and believing her. We felt free. We felt free to hate her, mock her, and not take one word she said to us to heart. We felt free to call it bullshit, too. It's true what Eleanor Roosevelt said, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.' We stopped consenting. You started that. Okay I know this is about to cut me off, and I want to tell you the end of the story. Hang on."

"Mitch? Julie. So what happened was her final insult to me was to pull my AP placement exam paperwork. She waited until the day after the deadline and then handed it back with a flourish, 'I pulled your papers,' she told me, smirking her nasty smirk, 'I don't think someone like you can handle these exams.' She tried to pretend it was a favor, to keep me from feeling bad. I knew it for what it was: bullshit. I was furious because a horrible person had power over me, but I didn't let it stop me. You were in my mind. I took a trip down to the university and took the placement exams anyway. I entered college with over a full semester's worth of hours, and a perfect 4.0. I applied for the honors program. There were limited spots in my huge university---didn't you go to the same one?---for this program. They only let in a few people a year. Instead of classes of 200, you got classes of 6-8, with the best professors. I got in. I got in to the honors writing program, and I excelled. One professor only handed out three As per semester, and I got one. I had my first paper published when only a junior in college. They used my paper as a writing sample for freshman. Wait...almost done..."

"Mitch? Julie. I took that paper. Do you remember my friend Kim? Kim and I went to the high school together one day when we were both home from college on break. I walked in, right in to her class, and in front of students I waved that paper at her. I thought of how she must be damaging more kids' esteem, and I thought of you. I thought of how I wished I'd done what you did, and I told her what I'd accomplished, that my professors believed in me, said I had talent and potential. I told her I wasn't stupid or a waste of space, and she'd never had the right to say that to me. I said I'd succeed in spite of her, her efforts to drag me down. I told her I was just beginning, and I'd do well. Then I walked out. There were nervous and delighted giggles behind me, with some applause, mainly from Kim I think, who kept saying. 'I can't believe you did that.' And I went home and I felt good. I probably should have felt bad but I didn't. I felt good. I stood up to her probably three years past when I should have, but I did it. I always wished I'd told you what a difference your action made. I always wished I'd thanked you. I guess it's better now, anyway, when it's got more of an ending. But it might have meant more back in high school. So, I'm sorry I never said anything then, and thanks. You made a big difference. I hope your life is good, and all you want it to be. Take care, and goodbye."

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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Melissa said…
Ugh...I had a teacher like this one, too. Except when I went back, he told me he was only so rough on me so that I would work harder and fulfill my potential. And then he wanted to meet for coffee.


Great post! I finally did one of these, too! :)
the dragonfly said…
That is a horrible/wonderful story, if that makes sense. I just don't understand teachers like that, and it's so sad how many people one bad teacher can hurt. I'm so glad Mitch stood up to her, and that you eventually did too.
Anonymous said…
I cannot BELIEVE she did not get fired.
Unknown said…
Julie - I'm just shocked. I cannot believe you were treated so horribly. Good for you. And for Mitch. Who knows who you helped the day you went back?
MARY G said…
This is so good! I hope that teacher heard you! You are one of the best writers around, truly, and your determination is awesome.
Suz said…
Good for you. Good for him.

I had a teacher like this too, and I'm just so disappointed in a system that allows them to still teach.
Amie Adams said…
I can't believe she was allowed to teach.

And can we have a ticker tape parade for Mitch?? What a person of tremendous character. I hope your post finds him, so he knows how much his actions meant.
Kyla said…
Does everyone have an evil teacher story? My sixth grade math teacher was awful. I remember one day I was riding home from school with my mom and I told her something the teacher had said and my mom pulled a full on u-turn and went right back to the school and tore the principal a new one for allowing it to happen. I think I finished the rest of that math course on my own in the library. But I'll always remember that teacher.
Julie Pippert said…
I imagine everyone does have evil teacher story.

My sixth grade math and science block teacher told my friend Kellie she wished she'd blow up like a balloon so she could pop her. She did get fired!

I think by high school, though, you don't share as much with your parents and they don't interfere as much. So did anyone tell their parents about anything that happened in that class?

Probably in some way. I know my mom knew some things---knew I was having some trouble. She helped me get a tutor, let me break weekly curfew to go work at a nearby university with a graduate student to improve my didn't matter. Teacher didn't care. A professor said I had an A paper, she said I had a C. She couldn't see past her bias.

I don't know, for sure, what her bias was.

(Ruined my GPA though!)

I do think the large majority aren't this evil, but it's more insidious, the problems that are there. I think a lot of concrete thinkers become teachers, and *some* of them get so locked in to the curriculum as is, with definitive right and wrong answers, that people who color outside the lines...well let's say they get cast badly, either as stupid, or naughty, or something. KWIM

Personally, the teachers I really enjoyed weren't per se subject matter experts but were typically very creative, and willing to try and accept different approaches.

In defense of teachers, I knew quite a few of those too.

Ironically for me (or luckily more like) my best teachers were in math and science!

They were so encouraging to me I entered college with heavy science courses and an eye to a science degree.

There are a lot of great teachers and wow they bring and add so much to kids, those good ones.

I just lucked into a really bad string of them, LOL.
Julie Pippert said…
Melissa, yeah some teachers do believe in and use that approach to "motivate" but it really only works if there is ultimately some reward.

But she wasn't trying to motivate. She sincerely did not believe we were worth her while.

She had us in class and taught us because she *had* to. She put the students she liked in the center, shuffled the rest of us around the edges and ignored us.

She actually expressed surprise that I was in college and had remained in college. ARGH LOL

I have NO idea why she had such a poor opinion of me. I was an AP student, had good grades, was not a troublemaker, was on senior council, features editor of newspaper, in several extracurricular and academic clubs, etc. Quintessential good kid and student!
SciFi Dad said…
Brutal. Just brutal.

I think, as much as these teachers are the exception and not the rule, they are still a huge problem.

Good for you for standing up to her eventually.
crazymumma said…
What an incredible story.
Wonder what Mitch does now? I wonder if he always took a stand?
Liv said…
Julie, It must be said: Persistence comes by it honestly. You're a fighter-- all scrappy like.
Robert said…
I had an algebra teacher in eighth grade like this. Because I was on the math team, she did no real harm to me, but I heard her tell people "If you can't do this, you're stupid" so many times, I wanted to slap her. Problem was, she was one of my mother's best friends. So, I said nothing. Instead I watched as friends who previously loved math started fearing and hating it. A few years later, I was talking to a friend over dinner and she talked about how she had avoided calculus until her senior year of college, and was so surprised she got an A. I said, "Did you have Mrs. Davis in eighth grade?" and she looked sort of surprised and said, "Well, yeah. How'd you know?" I realized she'd obviously been doing damage to kids for years (my friend was a couple of years older). I happened to be teaching Sunday School to eighth graders the summer before they started, so I went in a Sunday or two before they started and asked, "Who here is going into Mrs. Davis's class?" Several kids raised their hands. I said, "Well, I want you to know you'll have to study harder because she's an incompetent teacher, and she'll mock you if you ask questions, but don't listen to her. She's the one who is stupid, not you. She's also insane, so be warned. She can lose it at any minute."

A month or so later, my mother apparently was having lunch with her other best friend (Mrs. Davis had quit speaking to our family suddenly after I got out of her class for unrelated reasons). Her friend had heard from Mrs. Davis that her students had informed her of what I'd said, and she didn't appreciate it. I went to the class the next day and said, "I don't know which of you told Mrs. Davis what I said, but I want to thank you. Do me another favor, though. Tell her never to talk to my mother again. If she has a problem with me, she can take it up with me. I'd appreciate you telling her that."

I never heard anything more from her. Within a year or two, though, she left the school system. I sometimes like to think I played a role in getting rid of her. She was truly certifiable, and horrible at teaching math.
Julie Pippert said…
I'll try to tell the flip side to the story tomorrow: the one good and one great teachers I had and why I didn't give up writing.

Crazymumma, that's an interesting question. I have the feeling Mitch probably did continue to be assertive. But I didn't really know him so I haven't any idea what he might be doing. I did bump into him on the street at some point in college and we said the basic hello and how are you, but I don't recall anything beyond that or even if I knew his major. And keep in mind this was all twenty years ago, too LOL.

Liv, scrappy is my other albatross (or maybe it's the same one as assertive, not sure, hmmm) LOL. But yeah the apples and trees aren't too far apart.
Anonymous said…
Who puts people like this in charge of children? How awful.

Good for you for going back and showing her that you made good.
thordora said…
I don't remember having any truly horrible teachers. I had, for the most part, truly mediocre teachers who taught me little.

Wonder which is worse in the long run...
Kat said…
Oh Julie. That was wonderful. Such an amazing story.
I have tears in my eyes. I hope Mitch is living a wonderful life. And I hope that teacher changed. I hope.
we_be_toys said…
Cool format to write this in!

Good god, it is really scary to see how many of us had a version of that old biddy who tried to derail you. I'm so glad you didn't buy her load of refuse - thanks Mitch!
Gwen said…
I can honestly say I never had a teacher like that. Which is good for me. That woman sounds demonic. When I started the post, I didn't think I was going to end up being very happy with Mitch. I'm glad I was wrong.
Christine said…
oh. my. god.

that is just pure abuse. simple as that. how awful, yet how brave of mitch do do what he did. i'm in awe. i hope he is somewhere being happy. . .

and i got an award form you!?!?! oh julie i love you, girl. i'll try and find it!

Running on empty
painted maypole said…
this is great.

and how ridiculous that she could still keep teaching after that!!!
Anonymous said…
What a story! This is the kind of story that goes viral. How cool of Mitch. I wonder what has become of him? Greatness, I'm sure. And how satisfying for you to finally have your say even if it were three years later. You did it and I felt how good it must have felt for you.
This was completely awesome.

Wouldn't that be sweet if you could actually send this to Mitch? Any idea where he is these days?
ALM said…
Wow. What an exceptional guy that Mitch is... to do something like that in high school... I wonder what he's doing now....

And how cool of you to go back & confront her!
Laski said…
As an AP teacher, I can't even imagine . . .

Is this not the dream of so many of us . . . that "I'll show 'em" moment???

Great response to the mission! I love, love this idea. Kinda therapeutic, isn't it?!
Melissa said…
Sorry for the horrible treatment you got!!!!!
ewe are here said…
Holy h*ll! I can't believe someone in a teaching position ever thought you couldn't write!

And some people just shouldn't teach... shouldn't even be allowed near kids.
flutter said…
it's insane that she wasn't canned
Anonymous said…
Damn, Julie, that was one bitch of a teacher. I'm glad that Mitch was there and that he stood up like that. And I'm glad you kept writing.

Wouldn't it be great if she read this story? But that teacher would never recognize herself, of course.
Good for you.

People like this give ALL teachers a bad name....and YOU KNOW how I feel about that! :)
Anonymous said…
Just WOW.

What an interesting story (I root for the underdog. Ar-roof.), a great treatment of the Mission, and so perfectly "you." I can absolutely imagine you doing this. Have you googled Mitch? Because you've gotta!
Anonymous said…
Gah! I just typed out a really long comment, only to get an error message, and *poof*. But we'll try to re-create...

This was a great story, and an entertaining way to tell it.

I had a range of teachers through school, and had a few bad eggs. Though I did manage to escape the sort of spiteful behaviour that your English teacher exhibited towards you, your friends, and who knows how many others. It disturbs me how some teachers abuse their position of power to undermine the self-esteem, and sabotage the education, of their students. Not to mention modelling such mean-spirited behavior to other students. (I did have one teacher for 3 years in elementary school who thought I was "slow," and who then objected when I tested into a gifted program. However, I think her actions were due to short-sightedness and perhaps just garden-variety incompetence, rather than malice. I'm just glad I didn't have her during my more impressionable teenage years.) I also have to say that I had some amazing teachers over the years, and those are the ones who stand out most in my mind.

I also wanted to say that I found Mitch's act of bravery to be inspirational. Your response to his act, your change in how you allowed your teacher to make you feel, reminds me of how much our actions can impact the lives of others. Standing up against an injustice may not fix the injustice, but it still matters. Sometimes in bigger ways than we at first realize.
Julie Pippert said…
Folks, if that teacher is still kicking, you can brand my bum surprised. I was about to say she was ancient back then, but I had to pause and ponder...what was ancient to an 18 year old? She was older than my mom but my mom was only...HOLY CRAP about my age. That might have put her in her late 40s? So maybe she'd be in her 60s? Give or take a decade? LOL

But surely retired. A fellow teacher of similar age to her retired about ten years ago.

She is surely only inflicting her evility (call Webster's) on poor, unsuspecting trick or treaters who bounce up to her door hoping for candy...

As for Mitch. I hear you. I understand the sentiment. I wish he would happen upon this story. But...

Wouldn't it be just a wee bit creepy for me to try to find him, this guy I knew for five minutes twenty plus years ago? To thank him for some incident he may not even recall? From some girl he didn't even really know?

I don't know...would you find that cool? Or start a restraining order? ;)

Anyway by what I might call coinkydink---but really it isn't since they spam me 5 times a week minimum---I got a notice from Classmates. com, so for once, instead of deleting, I popped over, and he hasn't listed himself there.

But wow, who ARE all those people?

Did I go to high school with them???


So in short, I have no idea where in the world Mitch is or what he does in life.

But listen, if you know him, give him a hello and a thanks for me, okay?
Aliki2006 said…
This is great, Julie. My evil teacher was a pinch-faced nun who accused me of copying art and then gave me an "F" in religion.
Robert said…
Well, Julie, I knew it would freak out a guy when I said it, but I still did this at our tenth reunion. A guy who only knew me a little wrote one of the nicest things in my senior yearbook, and I had often read that when I was feeling low in the years that followed. So I went up to the reunion to thank him for what he wrote, and before I could even get the words out he said "Robert, I was so hoping you'd be here. I just knew you would be."

I still thanked him, and it wasn't at all awkward. Sometimes the little heroes need a pat on the back, too. I also had the fortune of finding out he lives a neighborhood over from another classmate of ours in Greenville, and I keep up with that classmate, so I might even look him up if I ever make it up there. I vote you find him and drop him a line. Just make sure your husband knows why. :)
le35 said…
I had my share of horrible teachers in Jr. High and High School (my town was so small that our high school was 7-12 grades.) I remember the day one of my friends stood up for me, and I will remember that day for the rest of my life. I think that it's the little things like Mitch that make me want to be the hero in my own life and in the lives of the people around me.
Girlplustwo said…
my worst teacher was terribly cruel. the best was so very very good.
i had a cow of a biology teacher who delighted in doing this sort of thing to me in front of the class. she ended up scuppering my first set of applications to university with her negative reference. but i did some more exams and got in the following year and did my law degree. after that , when i was doing my phd, i met another of my teachers from those days (a lovely woman who taught me economics - a feat in itself) who took me for lunch. she said the nasty one was still up to her tricks. i said to tell her what i was up to now and that i did it in spite of her. i wish i had gone back and said it to the old bag myself.
jeanie said…
What an inspirational story. Perhaps such a cow of a teacher did you a favour, as you had to fight so hard to prove yourself to her.

Crappy way of doing it, I admit. But amazing way Mitch and then you did it.
Alternating between my disgust for that horrid teacher and admiration for Mitch and you.

Lawyer Mama said…
I thought I was the only one with an evil teacher story!

My 5th grade teacher used to mock my Southern accent. (I'd just moved to North Dakota from Louisiana.) He basically gave the entire class permission to do it too. He told the class that Southerners were all poor, slow, ignorant, racist, uneducated, and sounded like hicks. Luckily I wasn't cowed enough to keep quiet and I told my mother, one Southern lady who doesn't take any shit. I have no idea what she said to him or the principal, but he left me alone after that.

You are FABULOUS for doing what you did despite such a horrific experience AND for shoving it in her face. Take that, BITCH!
Amazing story. We need more Mitch's int he world.

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