My Fourth Grade Teacher

As a kid, I was enthusiastic about pretty much everything. It always seemed like there were so many things to do and see that I would rush from one place to the next just so that I could try them all. As I had the fortune to go to one of the best government schools in my state at that time, I generally looked forward to going to school each day. What would we learn today? What new and interesting thing would we get to try? And at 6, 7 and 8 years old, kids haven't really learned about singling out "different" people and being "cool", so it wasn't really a problem that I was one of the most intelligent kids in my class (I'm not trying to boast, but it was true so... *shrugs*).

I had great teachers in my second and third years at primary school. They thought that I was a wonderful little boy to have in their class because I was attentive and enthusiastic (though a bit of motor mouth!). Some of the other kids used to complain that I was the "teacher's pet", but that didn't really bother me. I was too busy learning! At the end of each year we were told who our teacher would be for the next year. I ended up being assigned to the class taken by Mrs Salvwood. One or two of the other kids mentioned that their older siblings had had her as a teacher and that she was very strict, but I had no reason to suspect that my school life was about to change. At the start of the year I began fourth grade and soon learned that things were going to be very different that year.

I'd say that the fourth grade was my first encounter with sexism (though a 9-year-old doesn't know the word for it). I consider it a true irony that my first taste of "sexism" was at the hands of a woman and not one of those evil men that the media tells me just love to oppress women. To be honest though, saying Mrs Salvwood was sexist simply doesn't do justice to just how nuts she was. She just loved to find excuses to punish the male children in her class. The best comparison I can make is that if she had been a racist, she would have quite happily worn her Klan uniform to school every day just to remind the black children that she didn't like them. She took a perverse delight in picking fault with the boys in the class and in very obviously favouring the girls. Mrs Salvwood also seemed to particularly enjoy making class unbearable for me and my best friend at the time, Tom.

So, you're just complaining about her because she didn't give you special treatment like the previous two teachers you had? You're lame and a suckup.

No, not at all. If you keep reading, you'll see several instances where there is frankly no possible interpretation of that woman's actions that doesn't suggest the emotional abuse of the male children in her charge. Most 9-year-olds are pretty eager to please and love to earn adult praise. They are still children, but they aren't babies any more. Any abuse of the kind of trust a 9-year-old places in an adult is disgusting. The worst part is that our school principle and administration seemed powerless to stop what she was doing. I know several parents complained about Mrs Salvwood (my mother told me years later) and that she was hauled up in front of the headmaster for a stern finger-wagging.

Yeah, like that was a deterrent. I'd say if anything the attempt at disciplinary action spurred her on.

I've encountered far more sexism in my life from women than I have ever seen coming from men. And I have met sexist men who really were pigs in the worst sense of the word. They considered women little more than toys for their amusement. The sexist women I've met, however, seemed to take pride in their bigotted views and seemed quite happy to anounce their superiorty over the male sex to all who would allow them a few words.

On With The Show...

So, let's continue with the story of my fruitcake fourth grade teacher, Mrs Salvwood. There are a couple of events from that year that really stick in my mind. Why? Because it was the first time I ever recall being truly miserable at school. I came home crying quite a few times that year because of some stupid, mean thing that woman did (Friedy-Face my mum used to call her... I have no idea why my mum thought that was insulting though).

At the time, swimming lessons were a part of the school curriculum. Since my home city sits on the coast, and a lot of people there also have swimming pools, the state government at the time felt it was important to mandate swimming lessons for children of a certain age to help them survive if they fell into the water. Now that I think about it, it's a bit pointless to wait until age 9 to mandate swimming lessons since most child drownings occur before the age of 5, but oh well. Anyway, our entire year group was at the local swimming centre (they had about 3 huge pools), so there were about 50 9-year-old boys (plus the girls), so you can imagine the nightmare of trying to keep those kids in line!

The change and shower rooms there were quite large, and produced quite a noticeable echo. The boys noticed that right away when someone almost fell over and yelled out. So almost right away, a competition broke out to see who could yell the loudest and the longest and have it echo around the room. The boys yelling were the usual "troublemakers" you get in every class. The rest of us found it pretty hilarious few the first few attempts, but then we collectively realised that someone was definitely going to get in trouble for this, and nobody wanted it to be them. I finished up in the showers as quickly as I could and hurried out of the changerooms. It's hilarious in retrospect, but since the only two teachers who had come to supervise the classes were both female, they couldn't go in there and stop the boys who were yelling (well, I suppose they could have, but no doubt some parent would have complained). They were standing outside the changerooms fuming at their inability to get the situation under control.

One of the teachers, Mrs Noel (a fairly nice lady with a huge mound of curly hair), decided her best strategy was to write down the names of the boys whom she believed to be responsible. She took a folded piece of paper from her pocket and started writing on it with one of the pens she always carried in her outer jacket pocket. After everyone had finished up in the changerooms, we all filed on to the bus that would take us back to school. The ride was fairly quiet because all the boys on the bus knew there were going to be questions once we got back to class. Nobody was looking forward to that.

We had to wait outside class for longer than usual once we got back. Mrs Salvwood had us all enter the class as normal, and when we thought we would avoid her wrath (seriously, that's what it was like when she got angry!) she stood up in front of the class and told us that Mrs Noel had heard some of the boys screaming in the showers and that those boys were going to be disciplined. I think everyone cringed a bit when she said that because usually her discipline involved writing lines on page after page in mind-numbing repetition.

In order to understand this next bit though, I'll have to explain something about the way the government school disciplinary system worked at the time. When a student was called out on poor behaviour, their name would be written on the blackboard. They were officially "on-notice". If they continued to misbehave, a tick was placed next to their name and they were "warned". The next step after that was detention. As a disciplinary tool, it was almost useless. Most of the kids who were habitually disruptive considered it a note of pride to get their name written on the board. I think it was almost a competition between them to see who could get the longest run of names and ticks!

Back to the story... Mrs Salvwood announced that everyone that Mrs Noel had heard yelling would have their names written on the blackboard. That might not seem much like punishment, but it meant that the day's classes hadn't even really started, and anybody on the board was basically a lot more likely to end up with a detention. With how strict Mrs Salvwood was, even the smallest offense would get your name on the board, and it wasn't unusual for quite a few members of the class to end up with their name and a tick by the end of most days, even though they were relatively well-behaved. She started writing in a slow, deliberate style that was clearly supposed to make those involved feel ashamed of themselves. Ryan's name was the first to go up. Nobody was surprised by that; Ryan simply couldn't stay out of trouble! He was never violent or a bully, but Ryan loved to mess around and get laughs. I guess you could say he was the class clown. Then Ben's name was on the board. No surprises there; where Ryan went, he followed. In fact I'm pretty sure that they often tried to get detention together just so they could keep messing around after school!

Next, one of the other boy's names was on the board. Everybody looked over at him, and he looked stunned. All the boys knew he hadn't had anything to do with the nonsense in the changerooms, but nobody said anything. Then another boy's name went up, then another. The right-hand side of the board was starting to fill up and there were angry mutterings coming from around the class. There hadn't been more than 4 boys causing the noise in the showers and two of them weren't in our class. One of my classmates, a quiet boy called Kevin with a shock of red hair finally spoke up after his name was put on the board.

"Mrs Salvwood, what if you weren't one of the boys yelling?"

"Kevin, you know why your name is up here."

"But not all of the boys on the board were yelling! It was only two of them!"

"Well, these are the people Mrs Noel heard yelling. She wrote it down and gave me the list. The names on the board are the ones on her list."

"But most of us weren't yelling! Some of the others even tried to make them be quiet!"

Kevin got a tick next to his name for his trouble. He looked really miserable for the rest of the day. Soon enough, every boy in the class (except one - I think she just forgot about him) had their name on the blackboard. We were all essentially only one or two slip-ups away from detention. It was bad enough that my name was on the board, but for me there was a bigger shock. When I mentioned earlier that I had seen Mrs Noel take a piece of paper and write on it, I also saw something else. I was able to sneak a look at the names she had written down before she put her note away. With all the kids milling around her it wasn't hard to get close enough to get a look. She had written down four names on that list. FOUR. Just as an aside, she actually had three of them right. The fourth was a mistake. She put it back in her pocket after that and I know she didn't get it out again after that because almost everyone was out of the showers by the time she did.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A teacher had lied. I knew she was lying! I had CAUGHT HER IN A LIE. I was absolutely shocked. Some of you might snigger at the idea that I was shocked, but remember that I was only 9 years old at the time. I was upset for myself of course. I didn't want to be on the board, but I was even more angry that some of the boys like Kevin, who were basically quiet and kept to themselves had ended up facing down a detention on account of this... witch!

Nit Picking

Of course, a single story doesn't make a particular teacher sexist. But I can say for sure that Mrs Salvwood did everything she could to find reasons to discipline boys. I think after I mention a few you'll have to reach the same conclusion I did years later; Mrs Salvwood was a bitch.

When I was at primary school, computers were not yet common enough for most kids to have access to word processors, so most homework assignments were hand-written, and pictures were cut-and-pasted on. I remember doing an assignment where I wrote a few pages about the Apex club in our local area. She gave me a mark of 7 out of 10. That was the highest mark that any boy in the class received. Most got 5 or less. There was not a single girl who scored LESS than 9 out of 10. Yes, you read right. The lowest scoring girl scored 2 marks higher than the highest scoring boy. Marks were deducted from boys if they had the dot over the letter "i" slightly out of alignment with the stalk. Or if they left too much space between the end of one sentence and the start of the next. Since the girls would always do stupid shit like make the dots over their i's into love hearts and add glittery letters and rubbish like that, they always got great marks because their assignments apparently were "well-presented". In fact, on one assignment, Mrs Salvwood even admitted to me that she hadn't even bothered to actually read it because she had marked it based on layout (!!). The hours I had spent in the library researching frogs were apparently completely wasted. Content didn't matter. Presentation and not being female were far more important factors in assigning marks for her.

Not standing perfectly straight and perfectly in line when lining up outside class after lunch break was also likely to earn you a place on the class blackboard, or a tick if you were already there. The girls could just wander into class in any kind of random bundle they wanted. Since they were "neat" and so didn't NEED to practice lining up you see. Boys were "messy" so we were told, but somehow we were never able to complete such a seemingly simple task to Mrs Salvwood's satisfaction. I recall several times when we were all marched outside several times in succession because we hadn't been sufficiently well-ordered when entering the class despite the fact that Hitler himself could have used us at the Nuremburg rallies as a model of discipline and organisation.

You know, I could keep going on about Mrs Salvwood for hours, but that would be a waste of time. I remember that year of schooling so clearly simply because it ate away at me for so long. I was convinced for a while that boys really must be as bad as she claimed if we had needed so much more discipline. I really feel sorry for my parents though. How do you explain to your bright, enthusiastic 9-year-old son that his teacher is a feminist bitch with a chip on her shoulder? They tried to explain that she had a problem as best they could, but I guess they just couldn't bring themselves to use the kind of language they probably wanted to around me.

My Point

If anything, school has gotten worse for boys since I attended. It seems they get in trouble for not being girls as much as anything else. Little boys don't learn the same way as little girls! They don't do well when asked to sit still, be quiet and simply listen and accept what is being said. They want to do things and try things and see how things work. They like to be active when learning.
Too many teachers see little boys as a problem to managed rather than as young people to be educated. And that attitude has to stop.
And to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs Salvwood... Fuck You Bitch! If I ever see her again she'll know damn well that what she did was completely unacceptable. I sure as hell hope she isn't still out there messing up young boys at some hell-hole government school.


"The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct" - Marcus Tullius Cicero

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