I referenced a couple of school related incidents in my previous post about writing, so if you remained at all curious, it starts here, with a few years of leading up to my final stand 🙂
When most people talk about rebellious teenagers, they’re referring to rebellion against parents, rules, societal norms, and authority in general. Much to the relief of my parents and the disappointment of my children (no juicy stories to share!) I didn’t go through a rebellious stage at home. I had moments of rebellion, but mine weren’t typical, and I always had my parents’ support in them.
I rebelled at school. I didn’t rebel against rules or hard work. I didn’t disrespect teachers, I got very good grades, I didn’t skip class, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t party. I didn’t even stay out late at night. But I did rebel. (Can you even believe it, looking at that face?)
I rebelled against injustice and ridiculousness. I rebelled against having immoral ideas and material forced upon me. I rebelled against anything sending the message that I had to conform to what teachers said, even if it was against my personal beliefs, just because I was a kid. I wasn’t rebelling against authority; I was standing up for a cause.
Just the beginning
I didn’t like my grade eight (or nine?) science teacher because he was a forty-something playboy type who thought he was “all that”; I thought he was a creep. Along with his generally annoying ways, he made a blatantly inappropriate sexual reference one particular day while speaking to the class about something in the area of biology, and I reacted to it in a way that got me kept after the bell. I don’t honestly remember what I did, but I do remember that once everyone had left except me – and a friend who stayed to support me – I was sure I was in trouble and I smirked. This was my unfortunate reaction when I was nervous or in trouble for something, and it landed me in the principal’s office that day.
I was very disappointed because the vice principal (principal was busy) seemed much more concerned about my smirking at the teacher than he was about the teacher’s behaviour. This was my first indication that as a student my guilt was assumed first and foremost, regardless of any truth I might be sharing. Apparently, my previous record of good grades and respectful behaviour were either unknown or irrelevant to him.
I stood my ground that the teacher was wrong, and was then told that “they” would be checking in with all my other subject teachers to see how I was behaving in class. I told him that was fine with me and that I had no concerns. Just to be sure, I personally approached each of my other teachers after school that day to let them know they might be asked about my behaviour as a student in class (kept the details vague) and that if there was anything at all they weren’t happy about I wanted to know directly. None of them had a problem with me and assured me that I was a good and respectful student.
I remember my dad coming to the school either the next day or not long after and going to the office with me to meet with the principal himself. I wouldn’t give up my own position, my dad supported that, and when I asked the principal about the results of talking to my other teachers, he had nothing to say. He decided to have my science teacher join us; the guy sat down and was acting all nice and trying to be casual about things, but I didn’t even want to look at him. When the principal asked me why, I told him I wasn’t comfortable with him and that what he did was wrong. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that meeting, but it was near the end of the school year, and we heard over the summer that the teacher wouldn’t be returning to a school in our district. There had been other complaints along the same line after the end of the school year, from people who probably weren’t wanting to rock the boat with him during school time. Take that, administration. I was not wrong. I got used to standing alone amongst conformers.
Then came the videos
In grade nine we were all supposed to watch a video about venereal disease and how to prevent it. The announcement of the start of the video came over the speaker when I was in English class and while the rest of the students were leaving their desks, I stayed in my seat. My teacher came over and asked me why I wasn’t leaving, and reminded me that we were all supposed to go because it was an important educational video. I told him that the only way to get VD was by doing something I had no intention of doing for a long time so I didn’t need to watch it. I was “preventing it” just fine on my own. He was a very nice and reasonable man, and he thought I had a point, so he let me stay and get back to my work.
When I got to grade eleven – a different school with a whole new set of teachers to surprise! – I found out one day during lunch hour that there would be a video shown during a class of mine later that day of an actual vasectomy surgery. No, thank you. I went straight to the pay phone and called my mom. She agreed that there was no way I had to watch such a video; she called the school directly, backed me up and that was that.
Senior High, Holding my own
My grade eleven English teacher was a real winner. She majored in English but couldn’t explain to us the proper use of who and whom (“I just do whatever sounds best”) or the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, among many other points of study. She had a sign-up sheet for students who wanted to help her with her regular marking and “earn” themselves a higher letter grade in the class. She spent a lot of time at the back where the guys were sitting and it wasn’t uncommon to see her sitting on the edge of their desks chatting it up, even though she was middle-aged herself. I’m not implying that she had inappropriate intentions; she just wasn’t the most professional teacher I’ve ever had.
One day she had us move our desks into groups of four to do a project involving scissors, glue and cut outs from magazines to make collages for some stupid reason; she had previously sent a couple of people out to buy the magazines, telling us that there was still too much money left in the budget for her department so it had to be spent or they wouldn’t get it next year. Thank you, taxpayers, for those magazines. (Meanwhile, the biology department was struggling to find enough money for the grade twelve fetal pig projects.)
Several ridiculous classroom events led me and five other students to get up and walk out of class one day because we were so frustrated. We walked straight across the hall to the principal’s office and told him that we were learning nothing, that she was doing ridiculous things, and that we couldn’t take it anymore. We wanted a proper teacher. We were all A students. He told us all about her qualifications and suggested we return to class of our own free will. We must have eventually gone back but our uprising hadn’t been completely in vain because we had taken a stand for our own education and that was something. It led to further discussions.
One evening not long after that, my dad took me to the school where we sat with my teacher and the principal around a large table covered with a blown up copy of the curriculum, and they tried using it to prove she was teaching us as she should be. Interestingly enough, the way those things were worded (vaguely described and without proper explanation) we couldn’t prove her wrong by that piece of paper, but after a civil interaction, they both knew we weren’t being fooled.
I rode it out to the end of the year when, with three weeks left, she gave us our last in-class test, because she wanted to have everything all marked before the actual end of the year to save her time. Yes, she voiced these things. The next time she asked us to do an assignment after watching a video, I asked her nicely why we had to do it. Was it going to count for something? She answered “no”, because the marks were done. I suggested there was no point in wasting my time doing it then, she suggested that wasn’t a good attitude, and I sat quietly pondering her lack of logic while waiting for the bell to ring.
On final exam day, a few of us heard students of other English teachers talking about the poetry section on the final exam. Poetry? We had done nothing at all with poetry! Perhaps that was supposed to be happening during cut & paste time? We ran to one of the other English teachers and asked for help so we could at least cram something into our heads before the test started. Thankfully the other teacher was able to quickly go over the main ideas and assured us that there were only a few poetry questions.
I think she must have tried mending fences because I remember going with another friend to her house for tea one day over summer holidays. She was probably a lot of fun socially, but students need teachers to teach. That fall she was given a principal position at another school. And we shook our heads …
Then there was the time in grade twelve that I skipped a pep rally on principle. Hard to believe, I know, but the story went something like this:
Some of the teachers had actually been complaining to us in class about government budget cuts and how they were expected to cram so much more material into less class time, suggesting that they didn’t know how we were going to cover everything in the shorter time frames. And then one afternoon there was a pep rally in the gym for one of our teams and all students were required to attend. It was to be a two-hour event. WE WERE EXPECTED TO SKIP AN ENTIRE AFTERNOON OF SUPPOSEDLY NOT ENOUGH CLASS TIME TO GO TO A SPORTS RALLY. Just wanted to make sure you got that clearly. They even locked the school doors so we couldn’t just leave school altogether and an announcement was made to that effect. Un-freaking-believable.
So I went straight to one of my favourite teachers who wasn’t attending the rally herself and asked if I could please sit in her class and work on some of my assignments instead of wasting two hours at a pep rally. She, being one of the sweetest and most dedicated teachers I had, completely understood my rationale, agreed with my sensible alternative choice, and at her own risk allowed me to sit in her classroom until it was over and the doors were unlocked for us to go home. She was a tiny, sweet, humble, and unassuming English lady, but she was also a stand-up-alone-when-you-have-to kind of person, and we remained friends long after graduation.
And now, the story you’ve been waiting for …
Ok, you’ve only been waiting for it if you read my last post which hinted at my high school years. This part – the best part – could be a whole post on its own now that I think about it. I mean, this teacher deserves a whole post…
And really, you’ve already been reading for a long time here. So yes, I’ve just decided to make it another post all on its own, Rebel with a cause part 2. Stay tuned for tomorrow …