That Woman (#327)

When Dalton was in first grade, he was assigned to Miss Queen. She was old, she was white, and she was known for being “strict.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked a Korean American mom who also had a son in the class.

“My daughter had her, she’s a great teacher,” she assured me. “Dalton will learn so much.”

A mom on my block told me the same thing. “Some parents can’t hack it. We started out with nearly thirty kids in the class, and by the end of the school year there were only twelve. But my son needed that structure.”

My Chinese American husband shrugged off my concerns. “Some of those kids were out of control in kindergarten. They need some discipline. And,” he said wistfully, “it would be nice if Dalton did exactly what I told him.”

I heaved a sigh and said, “I guess I’ll volunteer in the classroom and see what she’s really like.”

Miss Queen immediately put me to work—cleaning the guinea pig’s cage. Which apparently no one had cleaned all summer. I wound up buying the guinea pig new shavings and food, too.

Other than animal neglect, Miss Queen didn’t seem that bad. At first.

Gradually, though, we all learned about Miss Queen’s RULES. If a student blurted out an answer without raising their hand, they’d miss recess. If a student tried to check out two fiction books at the school library, instead of the one non-fiction book Miss Queen insisted upon, they lost recess. If a student didn’t take their seat quickly enough, write neatly enough, or asked a question that Miss Queen felt was unnecessary, they would have to skip recess and stay in the classroom with Miss Queen and her walker. There were no warnings given.

As the parent of a high-energy kid, taking away recess as a punishment horrified me. One of the great things about Dalton’s elementary school was all the recess—the school gates opened at 8:30 AM and the kids could play until the bell rang at 9. There was another recess at 10ish, a 45 minute recess after lunch, and a recess at 2 PM. On Friday afternoons, the students had a “Star” recess that lasted 45 minutes, complete with a DJ and dancing.

Every other teacher used the lure of Star recess to keep the kids in line all week. Miss Queen did not. “I have decided,” she would announce, “that our class has not made enough progress in math. We will work through Star recess.”

The reasons varied, but the outcome was always the same: no Star recess. The kids would sit in their classroom, listening to cheerful pop music and the happy shrieks of their schoolmates on the playground while working on math or doing art.

Art doesn’t seem so bad, right? Art was The Worst. Miss Queen would have the kids gather around her and watch her color in a worksheet of an animal. (I once timed her coloring a lizard. A bunch of six and seven-year-olds were stuck standing in a circle, watching Miss Queen color for TWENTY MINUTES.) And if they didn’t color in the lizard to her specifications?

“Taylor!” she’d snap. “You made the spine the same color as the scales! What were you thinking?!” She promptly ripped up Taylor’s picture.

When the students learned a song for a school play, Miss Queen berated the class for starting to sing too early while the recorded track played. But did she teach them to count with the music so they would know when to start singing? Of course not.

Dalton began chewing on the cuffs of his sleeves and his collars. Before the first quarter ended, I found post-its in Dalton’s handwriting at home that said: “I’m bad. I’m stupid.”

I showed them to Andy and said, “That’s it. I’m going to see the principal and insist she move him out of That Woman’s class.”

“She can’t be that bad. Don’t we have a parent teacher conference this week? His math and reading have improved a lot. Let’s wait and see what she says,” Andy argued.

I agreed aloud. (Silently I was already plotting my future conversation with the principal.)

Miss Queen was the only teacher who insisted that her students also attend their conferences (probably because it was a golden opportunity to criticize them with a new audience) She grudgingly admitted that Dalton might be smart, but insisted wasn’t good at listening. He couldn’t sit still. He made mistakes.

Dalton began nibbling on his shirt cuffs. Miss Queen pointed at him and exclaimed, “See! He’s chewing on his clothes instead of listening!”

I took a deep breath, put a protective arm over Dalton’s tense shoulders, and managed not to yell, “He’s chewing to comfort himself because you’re a mean, cruel woman!”

Instead, I asked if she planned on doing any science projects or if she was going to continue with “art.”

Miss Queen planned to continue with “art.” She also planned to have another play with “singing,” although we couldn’t expect “a boy like our son to have an important part.”

Andy is a fairly non-confrontational dude. But I could see his fists and jaw clenching. His nostrils flared. He eyed Miss Queen’s walker speculatively.

I stood up and said, “You’ve given us a lot to think about and we have to go now, bye!”

Before we were even to the doorway, Andy swung Dalton up into his arms. He hugged his son tightly and said, “Don’t worry, buddy. We’re gonna get you out of That Woman’s class.”

******

The principal said, “Miss Queen says you want to take Dalton out of her class because there isn’t enough math and science.”

I stifled a snort. So did Andy.

“Is that what she said? Wow, I wonder why?” I asked blandly, arching an eyebrow at the principal. The (white) principal shifted uncomfortably. “That’s not it. We want him out of the class because she’s emotionally abusive.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s true at all!” the principal exclaimed, looking more shocked than a principal who handled the annual exodus from Miss Queen’s class had any right to look.

“Are you in the class several hours a week?” I asked. “Because I am and that’s what I see. Kids terrified to ask questions. Miss Queen ripping up their artwork in front of them. My kid is now leaving notes around my house saying that he’s ‘bad,’ and ‘stupid.’”

Without missing a beat, the principal said, “There happens to be one space available in Mrs. Guillermo’s class.

*****

Mrs. Guillermo was young and innovative. Mrs. Guillermo played the xylophone when the kids got too loud. When the class came in hyper from recess, Mrs. Guillermo had them sit on the classroom rug and practice deep breaths (Miss Queen didn’t believe in rugs.) Mrs. Guillermo had daily “Rocket Math” where the students raced to solve math problems. Mrs. Guillermo was kind and never raised her voice. Mrs. Guillermo never took away Star recess.

Dalton loved Mrs. Guillermo and so did I.

*****

The next year, at the annual event where class lists were posted the night before the first day of school, several moms I didn’t know found me. They asked about Miss Queen (a testament to the efficacy of the Mom Network).

“I’ll tell you what I wish someone had told me,” I answered. “She’s horrible. Under no circumstances do you want your kid in her class.”

“I’ve heard she’s strict…” ventured one mom uncertainly.

“I’m okay with strict.” An Asian American mom eyed my super white self skeptically. I added, “That Woman literally lives to criticize and punish kids for the smallest infraction.”

The Asian American mom didn’t bat an eye.

I hauled out the heavy artillery. “Queen is so bad that my CHINESE AMERICAN husband, who thinks eighty percent of the parents here are way too permissive, was ready to pick up Miss Queen’s walker and beat her with it at our parent teacher conference.”

The next morning, those same women had formed a line in front of the principal’s office.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

22 thoughts on “That Woman (#327)”

    1. Fortunately, she was forced into retirement a few years after the events in this post.

      But she was so old that she was actually a kindergarten teacher for some of the locals my age. Some of them are still traumatized.

  1. My child had a very similar teacher for the first year of preschool. We were told by parents of older kids at the school, “She’s strict, but you’ll see…you’ll love her by the end of the year.” As winter turned into spring, and we inched toward the end of the year, the moms would look at each other at drop-off time and whisper, “Do we love her yet?” And the answer was always, “Not yet.” Meanwhile, my kid had to be carried into class screaming every day (which we were assured was just a normal adjustment issue), and the teacher at one point told us to get his hearing checked because he didn’t seem to hear her when she would tell him it was time to put away his favorite toys so they could do something like glue macaroni to paper (which he hated). We knew, of course, that he could hear just fine but had simply decided she just wasn’t worth listening to.

    1. I swear, there’s one in every school. And it’s not so detrimental when they teach the older grades, where there’s more attitude and a kid’s identity is more established. But there shouldn’t be any. My kid was more stressed about forgetting what he was supposed to do in the class play than any kid should be–and he didn’t have any lines. I’m glad your kid figured out how to ignore her.

  2. I had nuns and I had one that was troublesome. She had my brothers who are 16 and 18 years older than me. I would get weekly lectures about how much smarter they were than I was (I was in 5th grade). My mom listened and one day I came home to find all of our report cards on the kitchen table. They were not smarter. I had better marks than they did. That simple act gave me the shield my self confidence needed to get through the rest of the year. She was reassigned that summer. Some people don’t belong in education.

    1. Good for your mom! That is awesome.

      Miss Queen always preferred the girls (especially the quiet ones) over boys in the classroom. Sounds like your nun was the opposite (or maybe she was just mean).

      1. She did prefer the boys. She always talked about having an all boy home room class when she was at the high school. It worked out ok for me because after that, I didn’t let her get under my skin. I lost all respect for her and considered her an old loony nun.

  3. Good story. She should have been forced out years ago.

    My girls had Filipino teachers in their early years, teachers who are known for their kindness to kids. When my youngest reached third grade, I asked to have her moved to another teacher. The older girls had loved their teachers, but Rose never seemed to care much about hers, so I asked to have her moved to Miss Yu’s class. Miss Yu was a real favorite of the other two. But even Miss Yu didn’t make an impression on Rose. Later I realized that she was more interested in her classmates. Rose had lots of friends. Who needs the teacher?

  4. Sadly, we’ve all had teachers like Miss Queen. Mine was 11th grade geometry. Let’s just say the term “battle axe” was too NICE of a way to describe her. I don’t know why some teachers believe being a strict disciplinarian is the path to knowledge. The only thing I learned in her class was how much I disliked her.

    1. Yeah, teachers like that are a nightmare at any time, but they are especially damaging to young kids who don’t yet have the maturity and experience to recognize that the teacher is the problem.

  5. Oh poor Baby D!!! That is awful that he was chewing on his shirts and leaving such self-defacing post-it notes around. That’s truly terrible. And that art class sounds like a NIGHTMARE!! Watching someone else do coloring!? Goodness. Did she really rip up their drawings in front of their face? How traumatizing!

    I’m so glad he got a better teacher in the end, Mrs. Guillermo sounds amazing :). I still remember my nice teachers from elementary school. Those early-year teachers honestly do leave a strong impact on your psyche and development. So glad you moved baby D out.

    1. Thanks! I only wish I’d moved him earlier. Like on the first day.

      I was recently reading an article about how the most beloved teachers are the ones that are much more progressive and caring. (The article was promoting a modern parenting style more caring than authoritative.)

  6. What a horrible woman, she sounds like Miss Trunchbull from Matilda! I hope Dalton is ok now.

    I went to a Catholic school and there were some strict nuns that obviously were the most feared and hated. I had the most infamous one in 4th grade (her nickname was “King Kong”). She said things like that she would throw down the stairs any wheeled backpacks, and she was adamant that girls had to wear their hair up. Once my friend went to class with her hair down and the nun used a jumping rope to tie it up…

    1. I have heard horrible stories of nuns, but the jump rope hair tie is new!

      Dalton recovered, but it took a while. We worked on being able to verbalize feelings and not just automatically say “I’m bad,” over mistakes. There was chocolate involved. And while I remind him of how awful it felt to be criticized unfairly and meanly, I think he also unfortunately internalized the idea that when someone makes a mistake, it’s okay to berate them. Sigh.

  7. First, I’m sorry this happened to Dalton, but I’m glad you got him out of that woman’s classroom. Second, I had a Miss Queen. She was my 5th grade teacher back when you had one teacher for the whole year. She was critical and mean and boring. She was a distant relative and felt that I wasn’t living up to my potential so she took it upon herself to *correct* me… as a member of the family. And it being the era it was, she got away with it.

    1. Miss Queen got away with it for decades. Occasionally I meet an adult who had her in kindergarten and they still shudder remembering her class.

      Your 5th grade teacher sounds terrible. And since you were related, your were probably even less likely to complain about her.

  8. I don’t remember ever loving a teacher. Liked – a few, respected – most of them, but I had one horror, although I was considerably older than D. It was in a convent, but wasn’t a nun. She was a real bully, but what upset me the most was when I told a teacher I both liked and respected, she told me we had to ride it out, as the bully didn’t like children till they hit sixth form (ages 16-18).Although that proved to be true, I was appalled the industry simply accepted teachers who abused their position of power in this way. Teachers don’t need to be great, but they do need not to be bullies. Poor baby – so glad he had you to fight his corner.

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