While the fourth grade was a unique experience in seeing my parents start their college careers, I found myself being bullied by my fourth teacher. For whatever reason she had chosen to torment me, I didn’t know. To this day, I still have no idea why I became her target.
Ask anyone who had been in my classes about how I was in class, and each will say that I was a quiet, shy, and timid student. I loved school and my focus was on making the highest grades possible. I was never obnoxious or a cut-up in class. I listened and did my assignments. I was seldom ever absent, and I earned good grades.
Of all my teachers, only one stands out in my mind as a vile person. For some unknown reason she didn’t like me, and she made certain that I knew it. Regardless of how quiet and studious I was, and how often I wished that I was invisible in her class so she’d leave me alone, she didn’t lessen her cruelty toward me.
Fourth grade had not only been an adventurous new time but it had also proved difficult for the majority of the students. From 1st through the 3rd grade we had been kept with the same students in class every year, but at the end of the 3rd grade, the announcement came that we were being shuffled and would no longer be in the same groups. While this decision was a way for us to adapt to major changes in our lives and to make new friends, I remember how emotional other students became when they had learned they were going to be separated from their best friends the following school year. Girls were in tears and hugging one another. A lot of us looked at the coming year with uncertainty and fear.
So at the beginning of fourth grade, not only was I in the process of meeting and finding new friends, I discovered I was the target of a teacher bent on giving me a difficult time and occasionally abusing me. She actually punched me and my friend in the arm as we stood in the lunchroom line, waiting for her to lead us back to class. Her behavior confused me, because I couldn’t figure out what more I could do to get out of her sights or why she disliked me.
Once a month, a visitor from the 4-H program came to our school to teach us new projects. I always loved the projects, especially the science ones. Two students seated a row over and several seats behind me were whispering, which annoyed me because I wanted to hear what the instructor was saying. With my elbows atop the top of the desk, I rested my chin on my folded hands, listening while he talked. Suddenly my attention was jolted away from the presentation and onto the throbbing sharp pain burning through my left triceps. I jerked to see Mrs. Boggs frowning at me after she had pinched and twisted a plug on my arm. She leaned over and said, “Stop talking.”
I whispered that I wasn’t, but she marched on past. I knew which two students were talking, still do, but I didn’t snitch. I tried to return my attention to the 4-H instructor, but the pain radiating in my arm hurt too badly. Tears heated my eyes, but I refused to cry. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction.
A few weeks later during recess I noticed a half dozen students heading up the outside hallway, which led to the high school building sections. Plainview was K-12, and at this time, the school was in the shape of a large E. The elementary classrooms were in the lower base of the E and the middle and upper sections were the 7-12th grade classrooms. I followed these students out of curiosity, and when I discovered what they were doing, I quickly returned to join my friends.
New windows had been put into the classrooms and these students were scooping out handfuls of the fresh white caulk to use like Play-doh. After recess, when we had all returned to the classroom, several of them were making different figures or animals with the caulk. The caulk left white residue on their hands, so it wasn’t difficult to see which students had destroyed school property. When Mrs. Boggs noticed what they were doing, she angrily asked where they had gotten the caulk. Someone told her, and immediately she asked who else had gotten it. Another student said that I had. I told her that I didn’t get any of it and had returned to my friends outside the concession stand at the front of the gym. I was escorted to the assistant principal’s office anyway, even though I didn’t have caulk or any white residue on my hands.
She went to Mr. Horton’s office with us. After explaining what had happened, she insisted that we all get paddled, even me. Mr. Horton asked if I had taken any caulk, and I said that I hadn’t. I had gone to see what they were doing but turned around when I saw what they were doing. Honestly, I don’t believe he wanted to paddle me, and he looked like he was going to excuse me, except Mrs. Boggs insisted that I get paddled because I had followed. He was a big man, and even though he paddled me, he didn’t paddle me as hard or as much as he did the others. For two reasons, I suppose. One, I didn’t actually vandalize school property, and two, his wife was related to my neighbor, so he knew my family, too.
During the fourth grade, blisters formed on my feet, mainly around my toes, and they were swollen and painful and prone to rupture when I walked. When they burst while at school, the blood and pus super-glued my socks to my feet, making it extremely painful to take off my socks as the sores were torn open again.
The doctor prescribed some type of antibiotic ointment to help dry them up, and he also wrote an excuse for me to not participate in P.E. class for one week. I was suppose to stay off my feet as much as possible, so my feet could heal. I handed the excuse to Mrs. Boggs, and when the class left for P.E., I had to stay in the classroom. But instead of being seated to read or study, she handed me the broom and told me to sweep the room. When I reminded her that I wasn’t supposed to be walking unless necessary, she said that if I wasn’t going to P.E., I had to make myself useful.
When I got home from school, my mother asked about Mrs. Boggs and how she had responded to my doctor’s excuse. I told her that she made me sweep the room. My mother became furious and asked what time my physical education class started. Since we didn’t have a home phone, she came to the school the next day during my P.E. period to find me in the classroom. My mother confronted her about me sweeping the room, and Mrs. Boggs proceeded to explain that I had volunteered to sweep the floors, which was a lie. My mother glanced over at me, and I shook my head that I had never volunteered. She lowered her voice to my teacher, and I have no idea what she said, but Mrs. Boggs never caused me any more major problems afterwards. Mothers are often good about ensuring no one harasses their children, and I was thankful she had made the visit.
Decades later, I am still completely baffled as to why any teacher could treat a quiet child who had never caused problems in class like she had. Why pick on a child who wanted to learn? The majority of teachers covet and hope to have respectful children in class who are eager to fill their minds with knowledge. Most cringe when they get the troublemakers and their frustration levels build. But I was one that followed the rules, who wanted to be a good student, because if I misbehaved I knew I was in bigger trouble when I got home, which was a far worse punishment.
Predators go after the weakest in a group, and with my lack of self-esteem, I’m certain my countenance revealed how vulnerable I was on the inside. But then again, maybe she thought by bullying me that she’d make me tougher? I have no idea what her true motive was, and it really no longer matters I suppose. All I recall is how I dreaded being in her class, and the last time I saw her, which was nearly fifteen years ago, those bitter memories of her treatment toward me hadn’t diminished. Although she was frail and older, I still saw the vile person who had tormented me. I couldn’t see anything else, even though I had tried.
I’ve had a lot of excellent teachers over the years, and they are highly regarded as those who helped shape and mold my future. When you’re a child, you look to your teachers as those who will protect you from the bullies, not to be one that bullies innocent children. I am thankful that I only had to suffer one bad apple in the bushel.