The teacher stomped into the room like a soldier marching on Germany. She was tall, and had the kind of figure that people describe as big boned but no one would ever have the courage to say as much to her. All of this was overshadowed by her voice, when she talked, Ms. L’Ethope gave me the same feeling that I get as an adult whenever I cross the border.
“Any weapons or explosives?” the Homeland Security official will ask, peering into my car as though I’m already suspect. And even though I’ve only ever fired a gun twice and would run in the opposite direction of a hand grenade, I always feel guilty, like maybe I forgot about the eight semi-automatic rifles I packed next to my toiletries.
“You all did your homework,” Ms. L’Ethope would boom. It was a statement and an accusation, like she wouldn’t believe all of us lazy, high-school ingrates even if it was true. From my seat in the front row, I caught each blast of a word straight on.
She was a terror, not just to me, but even to the slackers that tried to skip her class. Five minutes into the period one day, she looked around the room, as though assessing all of us – I can only assume we failed the evaluation – before clomping out the door. She returned a minute later all but pulling a boy by his ear. “You do not skip my class to smoke,” she barked. The boy in question was too dumb to cower and laughed in response, but he did sit obediently in his seat until the bell rang. He was there every day from that point on.
I couldn’t imagine skipping her class. Forget presenting a doctor’s note if I’d been sick, I’d want my actual doctor to stand next to me and testify that the only reason I missed her lesson was because I had vomited up my kidneys.
Ms. L’Ethope had two moods: irritated and incensed. She was pregnant with her first child; unimpressed by the process she took her frustrations out on us. “I threw up five times in my car this morning and once on myself,” she’d say with a quick look at the clock to bring home the fact that it was early in the day and she was already deeply disappointed, mostly by us. Then she’d take a breath, and give the class the kind of look that a warden gives murderers and thieves, full of contempt and judgment, “So all of you had better have finished your homework.”
I spent more time studying science than any other class. The thought of this woman’s wrath was scarier than sitting alone at lunch, scarier than being turned down by a boy, scarier than even high school itself which was a landmine laden field of social mores and cliques. I wanted to win Ms. L’Ethope’s rare scraps of approval because I adored her. She would never offer outright praise, but when I did well, there was a lack of disdain.
No other teacher was as cutthroat or surly; they pandered to our humanity and cut us breaks for being teenagers. Ms. L’Ethope had no interest in that; she wanted to teach science and for us to learn science, end of story. No excuses.
The only time I was ever caught writing notes in class was in science. My seatmate and I were having a spirited conversation and I needed to finish my statement, but the bell rang and Ms. L’Ethope had started talking. I quickly scribbled down a sentence before turning my attention to the blackboard. But it was too late, my teacher had seen. With eyes like thunderclouds, she approached my bench. I wanted to liquefy in my seat, become a puddle on the floor to avoid her fury. This act of treason from a good student would not be tolerated; she’d bellow, have me thrown out of class, possibly frog march me to the principal’s office. I’d never gotten in trouble before and certainly never gotten in trouble with the most foul-tempered teacher I’d known.
Not stopping her lecture, she walked over and reached for my paper, turning it towards herself to read it. My weird saved me that moment because the note said, “Dye yourself blue then!” Ms. L’Ethope raised her eyebrows at me then turned and moved back to her spot at the board. I exhaled, realizing that I had narrowly avoided catastrophe and humiliation. I never wrote notes or stepped even close to the line, let alone crossing it, again in her class.
She was my favourite teacher. Still is. She ignited a passion for science that was only extinguished eight years later during the final year of my Honors Science degree when I realized that I’m abysmal at lab work. “Didn’t you want to study something easier?” people will ask me when I confess that I have a BSc in Honors Genetics. As if I had a choice of anything other than science.
Class : Introduction to Non-Fiction Storytelling
Assignment – Write a scene about a cruel teacher you loved or a kind teacher you hated