Bullies, Bravery & Students

Tell us about a time you did a 180 — changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.

Thursday’s daily prompt was very introspective. I felt it could bring out the best and worst memories for people. I just wish I had seen Thursday’s prompt sooner, but I had school work to catch up on instead of browsing the internet. But last and most likely not least I am finally composing Thursday’s writing prompt.

Through my whole life I have been the quiet, shy and intelligent girl in class that barely speaks. Teachers are usually the ones that ask me to speak during class without raising my hand just so they have my input on topics. How many times does that happen for a child? As an only child I’d never been intimidated or scared of speaking with adults, I was around family and family friends as I was growing up. I was a bit used to older people and children around me by the time I was in elementary school. It’s hilarious actually, in elementary school and middle school I barely spoke during class; when I was with friends I’d never stop talking. Since I was quiet in school teachers would comment on how polite I was during class, always pleases and thank yous.

“She doesn’t speak very often, I worry that she’s not getting the full benefit of my lesson or lecture”, my teachers would say to my parents during conferences. “But she’s an example student, she’s intelligent.”

My parents always seemed surprised because I never stopped talking at home. Kids are funny that way aren’t they?

Entering high school I had been through a few rough patches with my grandparents’ deaths. Their deaths allowed me to realize that each person has just one life to live and voicing our opinions is usually welcomed. In ninth grade I became more outspoken but still remained quiet. As I was going through high school I became more comfortable with myself as a whole (I was confident to begin with). Everything was going relatively great until my junior year of high school. My teachers in ninth and tenth grade were amazing and considerate; they contained everything that a teacher should be in high school.

Junior year came and I had all of the classes I originally wanted in the class schedule I wanted that year.  The first day of my classes went smoothly; I loved my core classes and electives. The teachers were awesome, well most of them. The second week of school I began to go into a health flare that usually happens within the first few weeks after school begins. There are specific plans in place when my body goes into flares (absents become a regularity, school work accumulates). Most of the teachers I’ve had are quite accommodating about my health. But junior year my body was experiencing something much different than what I typically go through with a health flare. My body intensely hurt, I was constantly tired, my school absences were piling up and I was falling behind with school work and my doctors had little idea what was going on with my body. Yes, I was a bit stressed at the time. All of my teachers were making exceptions but one. My science teacher at the time was not handling my health issues effecting school work. We’ll call her Miss. Z in the story. She was one of the best science teachers at our school, that’s part of the reason I took her honors science course. The second reason I chose her class was because I love science. Anyway, Miss. Z decided that I’d be the red headed stepchild in her science class. A month into school my A in that class became a C+ for reasons “unknown”. Each and every time I handed in completed work, she’d take points off the assignments because they were “late” (even though I was allowed extra time); paragraph explanations weren’t “thorough enough”, one of the several other reasons for point deduction was because I didn’t do the three page extra credit paper. I’m sorry; I was trying to catch up on my other core classes between sleeping and doctor appointments. And, the assignment was optional for the extra credit. You can’t deduct points for an optional assignment. Normally I do the optional assignments but I had too much on my plate at the time.

As Miss. Z continues to lower my grade in her class, (which in turn begins to take its toll on my GPA) I inquire about her reasons for the lower grades. I have never done that before with any teacher in my entire life. And at this point (November) I know she doesn’t like my presence in her class by the way she treats me and speaks to me. But she’s already screwed my grade so much in her science class that I have everything to gain by discussing ways to get the deducted points back. Before my junior year I never would have gone up to a teacher to ask about a lowered grade because they were fair grades that I had earned

“Nope, all grades are final. Go back to your seat.” Miss. Z would say in clipped tones.

“But I have time extensions, doctors’ notes, plans in place so points will not be deducted because of health flares, Miss. Z. My current teachers and past teachers have followed directions and I’m doing well in their classes.”

“Well, that’s great for your other teachers but I am not like other teachers. I have specific classroom rules that everyone will abide by with no toleration of excuses. The expectations are high in this particular science course. If you cannot meet my expectations in this course perhaps you should fine another science to replace my class with next semester.”

“Valid health reasons aren’t an excuse for not following specific instructions in place when health flares arise for students.” Or in this case, one singular student.

“We’re done discussing this, go to your seat until class is dismissed.”

That is just one example of one of the discussions I had with that dear Miss. Z. Now mind you, my mother, a couple of the building administrators have emailed Miss. Z, she hadn’t changed her view of anything or remedied the dropped grade in her class. I was terrified to speak to her. She never spoke to me with respect in front of the class or during meetings, making snide comments. You know, people with chronic health issues don’t count as human beings that deserve be educated and treated fairly.

My friends in that hour began to notice outward distaste towards my presence. But what do you say? “Yeah, she hates me but nothing that anyone does will change it”?

A few weeks pass and my doctors have finally figured out what was going on with my body and begin a treatment plan. The plan is not a quick fix; it will take a few months for it to completely kick in.

I began to contemplate whether she was right, maybe I can’t meet expectations. Perhaps I wasn’t as intelligent as I had originally thought. Maybe I was just as self serving and naïve as Miss. Z had implied throughout the first semester. As I continued contemplating I was feeling so tiny and helpless. My self esteem was slowly dropping (I’ve always had a high self esteem level) and I was beginning to feel insignificant in her science class. But then an epiphany slapped me in the face. Miss. Z was bullying me. A teacher was bullying me because I had health issues and was inquiring why she was singling me out for something I had zero control over. I was the student that surprisingly wouldn’t back down when she responded with, “no”. E, the student that teachers talked about to each other because I was exemplary and polite in all situations. I know this sounds ridiculous but I had never once been bullied. Friends of mine had been bullied by other students but I was never the one to be bullied (I was never the bully either).

Once the realization hit that I was being bullied by Miss. Z my self esteem shot up and I stopped doubting myself. And then I really didn’t care how she treated me, I just cared about her personal grading system. I am intelligent and I took her class for an academic challenge in science.  As I thought though, I wondered what was wrong my science teacher. What or who broke her? I knew I wasn’t the first student she’s bullied. How can a person be so bitter and hateful towards somebody? A quote from the fifth Harry Potter book echoed through my mind, “You’re the weak one. And you’ll never know love, or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.” -The quote is from Harry to Voldemort. The only difference is that Miss. Z is the Dolores Umbridge of science teachers.

Eventually second semester rolls in during my junior year and yes, I am still in Miss. Z’s science course. But she had gotten nastier towards me in class. Ignoring my raised hand when I asked or answered a question, speaking disrespectfully to my table partner(s) not just to me now, controlling behavior, and the list goes on. When Miss. Z figured out that I wasn’t obliging to her, she seemed exasperated. Oh well. And through all of this, meetings are being held with administrators, me and my parents (sometimes with Miss. Z) regarding her prejudiced grading system. Miss. Z’s antics continue and I’m still learning science in her class despite her blatant dislike of my presence. Nearing spring my grade begins to slowly rise to a B in the honors science class. We’re barely speaking to each other but I have a B so communication doesn’t seem to matter. Things are going smoothly in her class considering we’ve had a few heated discussions. But all good things eventually end. The tension between Miss. Z and I begins to return as I feel more comfortable in her class again and start to feel a positive difference in my health. I am absent from school less and completing assignments sooner, it’s going well in that respect. But Miss. Z begins her shenanigans again and yes, I’m finally frustrated. I know I can’t do anything right for her because she loathes me as a student but good lord, just give up Miss. Z. But my grade is still about a B so I stay frustrated with the other adults involved.

The last week of school though was explosive in her class. Imagine a volcano that bubbles and seethes for months, quietly oozing lava but doesn’t completely erupt yet. Then one day that same volcano just explodes and billows of thick smoke, steaming lava, dark ash and clouds cover the entire area where the volcano resides. One of the last days of school my junior year I walk in Miss. Z’s class and the few juniors are the only ones left in the honors science course (seniors graduated) and we’re working quietly on a variety of assignments. I sit down next to a friend (unfortunately the front row) and begin working quietly on my own assignments. Miss. Z says my name and asks for an assignment for me to hand in (homework from the night before). I look for it in my binder, then my folder and then the rest of my bag but I come up empty handed.

“Oh, I left it at home but it’s complete. Do you want me to scan it and email it to you? Or have my mom bring it when she comes to pick me up after school today?” I say politely.

“No, I want the assignment now. You should have had it with you when you left your house this morning.”

She has a valid point; I should have made sure I had the worksheets before I left.

“Miss. Z, the assignment is complete though. I would have it with me now (unfinished) if I hadn’t pulled it out to work on it last night. If you want, I can call my mother to see if she’d bring it in before this hour ends…”

“No. This is what you’re going to do: You are going to do it again in class and I will grade what you get done.” My angry teacher hands me the 5 page worksheet (each answer requires a short paragraph explanation). “You have about 45 minutes to try to complete this.” She walks back to her desk. At this point you can hear a pin drop and safety scissors could cut the tension in the whole room.

I look at the clock, yes 45 minutes left of class. The in depth homework assignment took me 90 minutes to complete the night before. Today it would take me 60-70 minutes to do in class, but I had 45 minutes left. So what would most quiet students do? Sit back and do the assignment again and take the grade given by the teacher. Nope, not me. I think through the mission I’m about to set forth upon and know I could easily be sent to the office. I consider other consequences as well. Will my parents be upset with me? What will my friends in class think? Are there other methods of still being polite and have the same preferable outcome? What do people being bullied do?

My mind is decided.

“Miss. Z? I am not going to redo this assignment. I’ve stated that the worksheet is complete and at home. I have offered alternatives to get the assignment to you yet today. I am not going to redo something I’ve previously finished.” Miss. Z has raised her eyes from her desk to look at me. I can see astonishment, rage and dislike. My heart is pounding in my throat and I’m freezing cold. What the hell am I doing? By now the rest of the class is still listening to our now heated debate (I still feel bad for my friend that sat next to me). I knew the argument wasn’t necessarily about the assignment but power today and standing up to a bully.

“You are going to do the assignment. You are going to redo it because I am your teacher and because you don’t want a failing grade. As a student you should be responsible enough to remember to bring all necessary materials to class.” Miss Z’s voice is becoming louder now.

Somehow I still stay calm and keep my voice at a normal sound level. “I’m not going to do it. I don’t see the point of doing an assignment at school that I’ve completed at home. Why would anyone do that? It’s not logical. I have a finished assignment that’s A worthy at home. Redoing this assignment creates more hand work for me, and you know that too much handwork adds stress to already sore hands due to health issues. There are instructions in place to have the least amount of handwork possible in and out of school.” My lord, I’ve never seen a teacher glare daggers towards a student before. But what do people do when they’ve had enough being bullied? They stand up to their aggressor. “I will make sure you get my finished assignment today before 3 o’clock but I am still not redoing this assignment.”

“I’m sure you think that you can do anything you want in life, but in reality you can’t. I’m making an exception for you today. Most students would have received a failing grade by now. Be grateful and redo the assignment unless you’d like a failing grade.”

Seeing that this heated debate wasn’t going anywhere I put the blank assignment copy in my bag and got out a different science assignment to work on instead that was due the next day in class. Why hasn’t my teacher sent me to the office yet???

“Get the assignment out and do it. You have less than 35 minutes to complete it.” Miss Z orders.

“No, I told you that I was not going to work on it. The completed copy will be here before 3 today.”

Long story short, Miss. Z announced that she’d failed me on the homework assignment, emailed my parents about today’s “excitement”, and eventually seethed at her desk while I kept a fairly neutral expression on my face.

After class I called my mother (“E, what happened in science last hour?”) on my cell to “bring the fuckin’ assignment but copy it at home in case something happens to it at school” (my exact words) when she picked me up. Since I was calling during class change I couldn’t explain what happened in two minutes. “The school year’s tension erupted in class and I’m glad that it’s the last week of school”, is how I summed it up on the phone.

After school I ran the assignment to Miss. Z’s room (it was thankfully empty) and laid it on her desk. In the end I gained full credit on that assignment and was not punished by my parents. My junior year I learned more about myself than I could have imagined possible. That even a wallflower like me can take charge and speak when the odds are against you. I learned that adults can be just as horrible in real life as they can be in films. Junior year I learned that people (teachers in this case) can use your best traits against you as weapons. That being logical and kind (but firm) in almost every situation is the best type of weapon to defend yourself against your enemies. Life lessons may be thrown at you unexpectedly and you must do what is right. I learned that some teachers have their own demons within themselves; teachers don’t have the luxury to live demon free because they educate kids. And standing up to a bully feels surprisingly freeing.


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