Things I Wish I Could Tell My First Grade Teacher

by Elizabeth on August 28, 2013 · 8 comments

in could be controversial, random ranting, struggles

Since school is starting back up again, I thought this would be a great time to talk about my horrible first grade teacher.  Also, my friends Jason and Cate have a post up on their book blog about what turned you into a reader; commenting on that post led to this post.

Unlike now, children did not enter into kindergarten knowing how to read.  No, back in 1991 kids were still learning about the sounds letters made in kindergarten.  Real reading (from actual books and not the early 90s equivalent of Bob Books) wasn’t supposed to start until first grade.

Or that’s what my mom understood until she realized that all the kids in my first grade class learned to read over the summer.  So I got placed in the red reading group (red for warning problems I’m sure).  This wouldn’t have been a problem and I probably would have learned to read just fine except for the fact that my teacher, Mrs. N we’ll call her, was a complete and total B-I-T-C-H.  I’ve blocked most of that year out but from what I remember, she made me feel about an inch tall every time we “worked” on reading.  I was constantly made to feel dumber than the rest of the class (including the kid who put glue on his arm, peeled it off, and then ate it).  I started going home sick with a stomachache all the time and it somehow came to light (years later) that I had an ulcer.  At seven.  Because of my first grade teacher.  Instead of helping me learn to read, she told my mom that she thought I had a learning disability and needed to get help.

My mother, who doesn’t take shit from anyone, knew that wasn’t true.  She knew that her smart-assed, overly verbal daughter did not have any sort of learning disability and took it upon herself to teach me to read over the summer.  I have very good memories of us reading books aloud in the car and of her finding me books that she knew I would like.  By the end of the summer, not only was I reading well, I was plowing through books several grade levels harder.

I never got over the way Mrs. N made me feel.  Even though I was only 7 and didn’t realize exactly what was going on, I knew that I didn’t like her and that she wasn’t a good teacher.  I knew that I felt ridiculed and inferior to the other kids in my class.  Every so often I like to image running into Mrs. N somewhere like the grocery store and being able to give her a piece of my mind.  Being able to tell her that the little girl she thought was stupid actually grew up to be rather smart.

I’d like to tell her that I

  • was in an enrichment program in third grade; reading enrichment no less
  • was on a ninth grade reading level at age 10
  • took 4 AP classes in high school, passed the tests, and got college credit for all of them
  • made a 34 (out of 36) on the reading portion of the ACT
  • got a full tuition academic scholarship to two major universities
  • graduated magna cum laude from college
  • was paid to go to graduate school
  • taught children how to read (ha! this one makes me almost gleeful)
  • became a freaking librarian

Despite her horribleness, I grew up to be someone who loved books and learning so much that I made it my career.  I would love to tell her that I spend my days reading and synthesizing medical literature.  I would tell her that one of the reasons I tutored for so long was so that no child should ever have to feel as humiliated as I did at such a young age.  I would tell her that I hoped I was the only child she ever educationally tortured (though I doubt it).

And then I would tell her to shove it.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lydia August 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

Totally know the feeling. I could read in the 1st grade but my 2nd grade teacher, Miss B, made me feel like an idiot every day of the week and I “forgot” how to read. My mom complained several times, which was a big deal when we were younger. Miss B retired at Christmas break and I was so happy to see her go. I honestly think my mother saved my entire class from having to deal with her terrible teaching and bullying ways. And guess what, when the new teacher came, it took a few weeks, but I “remembered” how to read. It is amazing how one teacher can totally ruin a child’s academic progression.


2 Elizabeth September 6, 2013 at 8:14 am

It’s good that your mom complained. I don’t think my mom realized what was going on until it was too late. She raised holy hell after that though. 🙂


3 Christine August 28, 2013 at 7:44 pm

OH it would be SO awesome for her to say “So what are you doing these days?” and then you could be all “I run a medical library. What are YOU doing these days?”

For me this was a 9th grade English teacher. She thought I was the biggest idiot and her attitude towards me had me convinced (for about the next 4 years) that I just wasn’t that smart. Good thing I figured out in college that I’m actually pretty bright! 😉


4 Elizabeth September 6, 2013 at 8:15 am

I remember you telling me about her. And how everyone was so surprised that you did so well on your ACT and got into the honors college.

It would be nice to see those teachers again and tell them what for.


5 Ally August 28, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I had a good first grade experience, but I saw a lot of bad ones despite the teacher’s hard work because it was 1987 but the state we were in didn’t yet require kindergarten. So in the same first grade class you had kids like me who taught themselves to read somewhere around age 3-4 (I literally taught myself and my mother doesn’t know when because she only figured it out when suddenly the stories I was “making up” in the backseat on the way home from the library matched the real stories when we got home) and who was reading at a third grade level in kindergarten (probably somewhere around 12th grade level in 3rd grade as I got a KJV bible in third grade and never thought it was hard to read…this is why I could never be a children’s librarian because I can’t tell reading levels to save my life), the major portion of the class who learned to read in kindergarten, and then these kids who showed up at first grade not even knowing their alphabet… How you could expect good to come out if that even with a good teacher I’m not really certain… At least they didn’t have a teacher making them feel like you did though… But yet we wonder why we don’t have more people who are readers, when the world is sadly full of so many stories like this, and so many kids who did give up on it.


6 Elizabeth September 6, 2013 at 8:17 am

I’m eternally grateful that my mother pushed me to read and helped me find stories I liked. I credit her for both my love of reading and my love of history. She used to bring home those American Girl books and I would devourer them. I always liked to play “olden days” with my dolls and I never stopped reading historical fiction or learning about the past!


7 Amber August 29, 2013 at 10:15 am

I had a $h!tty kindergarten teacher (also a “Mrs. N”) who didn’t like the fact that I could already read, so she did what she could to dumb me down and stifle my reading. Plus, she was just a hateful bitch. Oddly enough, she became one of my mother’s customers at the flower shop and always bragged about how great of a student I was and blah blah blah. I can’t stand mean, hateful, bitchy kindergarten and first grade teachers. Those babies need sweet, loving, supportive teachers with names like Miss Lily.

I wonder how many teachers I’m going to have to rip a new one when Olivia is in school?


8 Elizabeth September 6, 2013 at 8:19 am

Was she a little older? Mrs. N was and I think that was part of her problem. She didn’t want to work all that hard to help me learn. Kids who need help and kids who are far ahead need way more teaching and support than the average kid. I know I drove all my later teachers nuts because I constantly needed something else to do after finishing my work lol.


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