Mrs. M. has a crippling social anxiety and a lifelong dream to teach. At 35, she enters the student teaching program, faints in front of the class, and is fired by her bullying program mentor whose parting words are, “You’ll never be a teacher.” Mrs. M. is determined to prove her wrong.
She finds her place at Owen Charter School, a low-budget elementary in a strip mall where talented but peculiar teachers are accepted. She meets her buddy teacher, Mrs. Gardener, a welcoming mentor with red hair and a bouncy attitude, and finally earns her teaching certificate.
Tattletale- 978-1-941859-15-5 – 196 pages
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On Mrs. M.’s first day in her own classroom, a naked little girl runs screaming from the bathroom throwing her green scissors at the other children. Little Monica yelled, “I hate school! I hate all of you!” Pale and skinny, she grabbed what she could from the other students: pencils, crayon boxes, a headband. She flung them across the room. It was 8:30 in the morning, and today was the first day of school. I was the teacher.
Mrs. M. recalls her own classroom experiences searching for any skills she might use, but the reality of modern school life is vastly different than her expectations. Children now call each other “hooker,” and hump chairs in class. She panics and asks her buddy teacher for help with the scissor-thrower’s uncontrollable behavior.
Then all in one day, Mrs. M. is faced with a flooded classroom, a soaked life-sized teddy bear, math class held in the bathroom hallway, and a fire drill. She conquers the day and realizes she is up for the challenge of teaching. In her second year at Owen Charter School, a stocky assaultive child is enrolled in her classroom, and Mrs. M. decides to better equip herself for the life of a teacher.
She begins profiling students; the Humper, the Goat, the Chimney Sweep, and develops a set of strategies for coping with these difficult children. I started my profiles with Screamer characteristics because Monica and Tyson had caused me the most hot tears and sleep loss. I created a computer file of proven strategies for Screamers: keep the child close to me, learn the facial expressions that precede behavior, call parents daily, document everything. It helped to remember that some kids were a lot of fun, and some kids were going to prison.
Her friendship with buddy teacher Mrs. Gardener deepens. They co-teach a first grade unit on the life cycle of butterflies, and Mrs. Gardener’s male insects are awfully robust. Mrs. M.’s lifelong dream to teach is replaced with real classroom experience. Her butterflies had clearly reached adulthood, confident in their right-sized skin. They even enjoyed sexual relations involving a long red appendage and lots of excited flapping. Mrs. Gardener’s butterfly boys were not picky either. They finished with one girl and moved right on to the next without so much as a “See you around the sugar water, babe.”
When a student brings a gun to school, Mrs. M.’s quick thinking keeps the class safe. She finally becomes confident in her own decisions and abilities as a teacher. Adding to the stress of the school year, Mrs. M.’s mother is diagnosed with cancer. A grubby thrift store book called Timmy Mouse brings the comfort and wisdom that she and her students need. The abrupt change from tense school days at Owen Charter to a comfy summer at home feels like death, but in a good way.
Mrs. M. finally lives down the words, “You’ll never be a teacher.” In her third year, Mrs. M. is successful, independent, and has most of the job figured out. The realities of teaching are not what she dreamed of, but there are things to like. She discovers the hobby of name collecting with students named Damn, Sneaker, and Midgett.
When the game of tag is banned at Owen Charter, Mrs. M. tailors the job to fit her own needs. I rediscovered that I liked being in charge and had the authority to get rid of tag. Still, I was sure there was a factory somewhere, staffed entirely with teachers gone bad, trashy teachers, and teachers fired by Mrs. Hill. Their job was to create small toys that children could play with in class to avoid being educated. When I stop teaching, I’ll get a job there.
Mrs. M.’s anxiety is at its lowest until her beloved buddy teacher, Mrs. Gardener, retires and takes Mrs. M.’s confidence with her. She is crushed at the departure of her mentor and friend. As a way to say farewell, they star in the school play together. The piano played and the kids sang, “All I Want for Christmas…” Mrs. Gardener and I danced onto the stage in our tooth costumes. All was going well. Then a scream and a crash. The piano stopped. I peeked out of one eyehole and saw Mrs. Gardener topple off the stage.
Their roles are now reversed as Mrs. M. becomes the lead teacher. She takes an inventory of the skills she has mastered and finally musters the courage to teach alone. Tattletale – A Teacher’s Memoir is a close up view of social anxiety, a teacher’s side of school life, and those few days in between that make it worth the effort.