1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

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The Bad Apple

A bad apple is every bit as bad as a poisoned one, and can’t remain hidden for too long. Sooner or later it will begin to stink.

I did not bring a polished apple or any other gift to my sixth grade teacher.

Mr. Willard (name has been changed to protect the guilty) ruined recess, gave me nightmares, and hurt my stomach.

Mr. Willard liked softball. At recess, our class of thirty-two stood in a semi-circle while he selected two captains (always athletic and/or popular). The captains each chose eight friends. The un-chosen ones—which included me and my friends—were forced to watch and cheer.

Dad's English horse-teeth combined with his bad hair cut and Mom's pin curls.

Dad’s English horse-teeth combined with his bad hair cut and Mom’s pin curls.

During rainy or snowy days Mr. Willard read science fiction horror stories, like the one about New York City being covered by a huge dome. Eventually, when the cats, dogs, and rats were gone, the people began eating each other. Excellent nightmare fodder.

Unlike normal teachers, Mr. Willard positioned our desks facing away from his own. A student providing an incorrect answer (or an unlucky neighbor) got beaned in the back of their head by a sharp-edged tissue box or a chalky eraser.

The single positive action that Mr. Willard undertook on my behalf was sending a poem I wrote to John Glenn, celebrating the astronaut’s orbit around earth. It began:

Oh John Glenn, you are so very clever
To fly up high to bomb Russia with a lever.

Not the most politically correct poem; no future as a Russian ambassador for me. I did receive a form letter thanking me for my correspondence.

One day, Mr. Willard stood lecturing us with one foot propped against the front of my desk. A student in the back row did something that angered him, so Mr. Willard kicked his foot out; shoving my desk into my stomach, knocking me backward, and tipping my desk over. The back of my head smacked the floor so hard I almost passed out.

“Straighten your desk and pick up your books,” he yelled at me.

I did, while holding my stomach and sobbing. Mr. Willard forgot about the boy in the back and directed his anger at me.

“Stop being a crybaby and start acting your age.”

My head continued aching all day. This happened during a time when teachers could ‘discipline’ as they saw fit as long as no serious injuries occurred.

A new sixth grade teacher was hired the following year. Mr. Willard crossed the line when he rammed a boy’s head into the blackboard and gave him a concussion.

A teacher’s physical violence is monitored now, but mental violence is harder to prove. On a positive note, Mr. Willard provided an abundance of war stories for his students to reminisce over at reunions.

Lesson learned: Sometimes the old ways are not better than the new.

Related Posts: Unreal Reality/Runaway Apple

Now it’s your turn: Did you have a bad apple for a teacher?

© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Courtney says:

    That’s horrible! It’s weird to hear what teachers and coaches were able to do back in the day. My dad has told me several horror stories of his own. For better or worse, the pendulum has definitely swung far in the other direction! Well, mostly for better…maybe just a little for worse, though – you know, with entitled, litigious, disrespectful brats these days who wouldn’t know consequences to their actions if the consequence were a chalky eraser hitting them in the back of the head…!

  2. Donna Ingalls says:

    I personally don’t have a teacher-horror story, but I remember my mother telling me about one her teachers back-in-the-day who used to throw erasers and chalk and anything else she could find at her students. I have one horror story about my son, Richard’s 4th grade teacher in San Diego. He would come home and tell me that she called the kids “little bastards,” “little fuckers,” and “little sons-a-bitches.” At an open house she told me personally that she didn’t grade their papers — her husband did. I went to talk to the principal about her. He admitted that all the parents were complaining about her, but they couldn’t do anything because she had tenure. The biggest concession he made was that she would not be rehired the next year. Wow! Can you imagine this happening today?

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Dingalls, I can believe a teacher might have had her husband grade the papers, but to openly advertise the fact? There are so many wondeful and dedicated teachers that get tainted because of one bad apple.
      Now you can’t hug a distraught child to comfort them. And you can’t grab an out of control kid to stick him back in his seat. No middle ground.

  3. Mimmy Jain says:

    One of my primary teachers didn’t let me use the bathroom when I needed to, saying there were only fifteen minutes left for the end of school and I could go after that. The inevitable accident happened and I can still feel the shame I felt that day when everyone knew I had wet my knickers and I had to go home (40 minutes away) with wet knickers. It was needlessly cruel.

  4. C. Suresh says:

    God! That was nasty. And, yes, mental cruelty is probably worse than the physical – it can scar a child for the rest of his/her life.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Suresh, you’re right. It’s easier to tell others about a non-sexual physical encounter than a mental assault. And what doesn’t get out in the open can fester.

  5. Had many bad apples myself and as an average day dreaming student, I was a nightmare to my teachers as they were to me. I remember a maths teacher who would scream at the top of her voice if we got a sum wrong. The physics teacher use to throw the duster on our head if we got a formula wrong. The only gentle creatures around the school were the english ones. Now when I look back, I think most of them were either in the wrong profession or badly needed some therapy 🙂

  6. reekycoleslaw says:

    Never really had teachers of a violent temperament, certainly not of Mr Willard’s kind anyway. But yes, there were a few that could screw you up mentally. I have always felt that such teachers prepare you to face horrible bosses in your adulthood. So, in a way, they are being teachers even when they are just being plain nasty!

  7. Glynis Jolly says:

    Some people have ‘war scares’ abundant from numerous teachers in their past. How so many bad apples can get into one school district is still a mystery, but be assured, it does happen. I had one bad apple in my years of school, and I feel fortunate that it was only one. Like you, I can still remember the sting of his nastiness.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Glynis, it’s too bad that it takes the actions of ten great teachers to counter-balance the actions of a single bad one. Just human nature I guess.
      Fortunately, there are far more great than bad ones out there.

  8. I can think of a few. In my 8th grade year at a private Catholic school in Dallas, a lay teacher ridiculed me for contradicting her on how to pronounce the word “llama.” She kept saying ‘lah-mah.’ I insisted it’s ‘yah-mah.’ It’s a Spanish adoption of a Peruvian Indian word; in Spanish, a double “L” generates a “y” sound. During my sophomore year at a public high school, a substitute math teacher said my surname, De La Garza, “is kind of an un-Christian name.” I told him there are no Christian names. He sort of fed into the myth that all old White men are stupid bigots. I told an assistant principal about the incident, and he tried to gloss it over by telling me what great things that teacher had done in the local education community. But, I was undeterred. That old man insulted my family by making that stupid comment.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Wow, DLG, you really knew how to stand up for yourself. I’m impressed. I was a chicken shit.
      Check out my post ‘Nun Cake’ in chapter 4 – Innocent Villain. You’ll see my experience with a nun.
      Speaking of your ‘un-christian name’, that was a might un-christian thing to say, as well as downright rude and ignorant.
      Thanks for dropping in and enjoying my tales.

  9. ahardrain says:

    Mr Willard sounded like such a great teacher…….NOT……….. wow could you imagine him doing that in today’s school, he would probably get shot. I love you’re poem to my favorite astronaut as well. Back in those days we were taught to hate the Russians (those bad commies). I still remember fondly grabbing our coats heading to the first floor hallway and crouching against the wall with our coats over our heads. Just what did our teachers think this accomplished??? Love you posts and reliving them with all of us.

    Now the only teacher that I guess you could classify as a bad apple, really she wasn’t but I am trying to think of the worse case I encountered. I transferred out of public school and did the 7th and 8th grade in a Polish Catholic school with a class size of 29. I knew no one and all the kids had been together since kindergarten. They taught Polish and of course I didn’t know a word. The Polish teacher was this little old nun who had no humor and less patience. Her form of reinforcement was the dreaded wooden ruler that had a metal edge embedded along one side. Every time it was my turn to read from the Polish grammar book resulted in perfect whacks against the knuckles of my left hand. I look back and still laugh, and to be honest I laughed harder and harder the more she whacked me. You would of thought I was a masochist but the more she squatted my knuckles the more the laughter came, so much so that the other kids started laughing as well. Little did I know it was the class that made me popular with the other kids.

    Strange what we remember as we age….

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Oh yes, HR, the bomb drills and nuns. I recounted my experiences of these in Kindergarten Nightmare – Ch 2, and Nun Cake – Ch 4. Times have definitely changed.
      As for my poem, my sweetie and I adopted 3 of our 4 children from Russia. Who would have ever thought this was possibile back in the 50s and 60s?
      I would have momentarily been shocked at your laughing reaction, and then (after seeing that you hadn’t gone whacko from the whacking) joined in with the laughter. But I still wouldn’t like to see anyone getting hurt.

  10. It still goes on, I’m told. For myself, I remember a certain Mr. Harris who was uncannily accurate with the blackboard eraser, and a Mrs. Roberts whose tuition method was to sit and read out ‘notes’ for an entire lesson at tantalisingly faster than my best writing speed.

    But my particular loathing is accorded to a recognised tutor ‘trick’ that is still frequently used – and habitual on the part of some; that of gaining the sympathy of the class by using one student as a butt for humour. I’ve witnessed it in practice, though, thankfully, never been its subject. I believe one student at a local academy recently left school – and therefore abandoned university ambitions – just because of it.

  11. kriskkaria says:

    Yeow! I had some verbally abusive teachers but never one that bad. You were lucky to survive without too many scars.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Several of my classmates suffered from the desk dump, too. Two girls had to stand in the hall all day because they had colds. And I just found out he had a twin brother that taught math in another school, and who was every bit as bad.
      I wasn’t singled out for punishment, our whole class was in it together. This made it easier to handle since it wasn’t personal.

  12. Val Mills says:

    As a teacher I feel ashamed of my breed. Except that I was possibly a student about the same time as you were. Thank heavens these things couldn’t happen today.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Oh no, Val, the vast majority of teachers are very caring and dedicated people, just as I’m sure you are. Mr. willard was just a bad apple amonst the good.
      And you’re right, there is oversight and guidelines today that didn’t exist in the 50s and 60s. Although, I think we’ve gone too far the other way now. Maybe the next decade will settle somewhere in the middle, in between student and teacher rights.

  13. I was a very shy 3rd grader in 1959. Miss Car (Her real name, she’s dead now so who cares) made fun of me when I asked to go to the bathroom. The whole class laughed. It wasn’t as bad as what you went through, but it was still traumatizing.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      DJM, it’s so embarrassing to ask to go to the bathroom in the first place, and then to be mocked is horrible. By the time a kid realizes they have to use the bathroom and then work up the nerve to ask to go, they really really need to go right that minute.

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