I was a troublemaker in high school, maybe the worst kind, clever, rarely caught and almost never punished. But my favourite teacher managed to teach me a lesson that smarts to this day.
I was a ‘good student’ without being good. I started and ran a raucous student newspaper with my friends, planned schemes and hoaxes and generally used my wits to manufacture hilarious situations.
Once another group of kids were so incredibly rowdy during a substitute teacher’s class she declared that without exception, the next student to make a peep would be sent to the office.
“Without exception?” I asked meekly, preparing my next gambit, practically rubbing my hands together.
“Final warning!” she barked.
The person sitting in front of me had just gone to the bathroom (and was so completely innocent of all charges of noise making). When they returned I very quietly backed their chair up. Falling on their arse, they issued a blasphemous curse that echoed throughout the hallowed halls of our tiny Catholic school.
The sub didn’t bother playing detective. My friend was sent to the office.
But my chief occupation was to pillory the establishment.
Our principal was often demeaning to our English class.
“Hey Steve, are you just gonna sit there using up air? Did you even complete the assignment?”
One day he was going from desk to desk, either praising or belittling the student based on their standing in his eyes when he was abruptly called away. No substitute teacher came. I thought I’d lighten the mood. I started where he had left off picking up assignments. Verbally berating each and everyone using the exact same tone and language as he had used. Except it was funny.
The class was in an uproar.
Because when someone without authority does it, you can see just how ridiculous the whole business of humiliation is.
Every class has its tattle tale. Ours told and the Principal had me in his office before long.
“I’d like to know your impression of me,” he said, almost collegially. Having forgotten the incident completely and figuring he was finally looking for some sane guidance, I leaned back in my chair, put my feet up on his desk, and said, “Well there are some things you need to work on…”
I was thrown ‘out’ of the principal’s office. Sweetness.
The most sacred time at school was time alone at the piano. I like to play the blues. If there was one holy thing for me in that little Catholic school it was sneaking out of class to play the piano.
When my math teacher Mrs. C. got wind of this, she decided she’d learn me good. She announced I’d be playing the national anthem in front of the school assembly. I always liked Mrs. C, but she came from along line of teachers that see humiliation as a great teaching tool.
I did not read music and wouldn’t be able to learn it in time. I pleaded my case, but without success.
I had contrived to leave the country before that despised performance, but a well meaning friend convinced me otherwise. I should have gone.
I flubbed the performance. It was so bad the visiting dignitary, a priest (of course) centred his sermon around it.
It was one of the most humiliating days of my entire life. Me, doing what I loved, awfully. It haunts me now whenever
I perform something unfamiliar in front of an audience.
Compared to the humiliations some kids are still made to face, maybe not at school, maybe at home, this is nothing. To all the cool kids graduating school with a great future ahead, have a blast make the most of it. For those of you that endured humiliation, keep your head high. There are better things to come.