My experience with public (and private schools) in Barbados has always been one I longed to get out of, once I was in it’s cycle. My school years have been littered with mostly bad teachers.
There was Miss Barker, who used to beat me because I couldn’t add and tell me that I felt I was better than her because I was ‘red’ and lived in a house with a long driveway. I was five and had no idea what she meant. The kids at schooled called me ‘red goose’ and other derogatory names for being ‘multi-ethnic’ that they could think of.
I was beaten by Miss Barker in front of the class, and I was so upset I wet myself. Of course, the kids in the class laughed at me.Mortified, and humiliated, I very calmly decided I had had enough of this awful place and I was going home where I was loved. I went over to the shelf where all our school bags were, and collected my bag and my big shiny lunch box. Crying, I walked over to where the sadist teacher was standing up, and hit her as hard as I could with my lunch box across her knee caps.
I turned, walked out of the classroom, oblivious to what was happening behind me. Studying only my escape, I walked out into the neighbourhood surrounding the school and completely clueless as to what direction home was in, I got lost within minutes.
I was never going back there ever again.Although I didn’t know that was what it was at the time, I was indignant. I didn’t think not being able to add warranted that kind of response. I was completely offended that she would attack me, because of that. I don’t remember how I got home, or what happened after, but I did have to go back.
Eventually though, my mother moved me to a private school. After two years, my only real trouble was with other children. You know how it is. I became a real problem child at that school.
Then, for my Common Entrance year, I was promoted to Mrs Hariss’s class. This was the first real test the Caribbean educational system makes of its school going population, and the fundamental decision regarding the type of secondary education you recieve. So your teacher and that year, sets the tone for the remainder of your school life. Mrs Hariss had a reputation for getting her students to pass and was very proud of the fact.
I felt she was unduly enamoured of white people, and coddled the white children in her class excessively. This I discovered very early into my first few weeks of school. What is more, she hated me. She was a milky dark skinned woman, attractive in a very prim and proper school mistress way, but very stiff. Her spine was always rigid. I also corrected her history a couple of times, very early on in class and we never really cottoned one another after that.
By this age, ten almost eleven, I couldn’t try the lunch box trick, and already had a bad reputation as a trouble child in the school, prone to running away, stealing, lying and climbing to the tops of trees with no knickers on. I was by then a rebel with very little perceivable cause. Even to myself.
So Mrs Harris tortured me. I am harsh, she tried to be nice from time to time, but I always got the impression it was a false effort. The bitch, I still dislike her and all she represented to me. This self-hating African woman, who was so enamoured of the remnants of oligarchy and colonialism, that she hated all the little niggers in the class, and the piece of niggers with ‘hard hair’. You should have seen it, petting and pampering even the stupidest, densest of the white children in her class and berating and torturing the black ones.
She would at least respect intelligence. If you didn’t have much, and were black, like one little girl, she was positively nasty. Of course, this little girl soon became one of my best friends. I talked back a few times too, but I always felt she unfairly picked on me a lot. Because of her, I realised how much self hate can make a person so awful to be around. She was however a good teacher for her ability to terrorise you into remembering things. Because of her, I remember ‘i’ before ‘e’ and ‘bus-i-ness’, and the short hand for multiplying and adding. In her class I continued to excel in English and Composition, but resisted almost all attempts at Maths.
I couldn’t help that I loved to write, and my imagination was rich, vivid and I wrote passionately even at that age. She grudgingly gave me A after A in the subject, but I was not her pet in any way. She in particular left a bad taste in my mouth. When I couldn’t answer some her questions quickly enough, and other crimes real and imaginary, she would force me to stand up at the back of the class, my feet turned in an unnatural position so they would fit precisely diagonally into the outline of the tiles on the floor. I stood this way for sometimes one or two periods.
Other times, she’d just insult me in some way. There were myriad ways in which that woman tortured me. My learning in that all important year was more due to my mother and grandmother’s efforts, not to hers.
I complained bitterly about this teacher, and at first my mother and grandmother didn’t really take the reports of sadism too seriously. However, all that changed over a school production of “A Christmas Carol”. On the night of the play’s dress rehearsal, I had a roasting fever and my mother kept me at home, Mrs Harris had dropped comments about it all week, like I had made some terrible offence. So a week later, as my class stood in line preparing to go over to the school hall to perform, my mother stood next to me asking me if I felt up to it, as she fixed some part of the costume.
The children did something they had apparently added during the dress rehearsal, and naturally I had no idea what was going on. My mother finished tying on whatever it was, and Mrs Harris came up and made some snippy, snide comment about my always being out of the loop, and berating me for missing the dress rehearsal. Also mentioning she had a good mind to not let me go on stage.
My mother very quietly said that I was sick, and still wasn’t a hundred per cent. She said it in ‘That Tone’ she has. Mrs Harris pursed her lips, smiled stiffly and told me to join the class. I went on, performed and that was it. Except, my mother started to listen to me when I came home in tears over some new or repeated indignity suffered at the hands of the Wicked Witch of St Angela’s.
Months later, after my mother started to take over my grilling for English, and my grandmother helped with the Maths (that story is definitely worth another blog entry), I managed to pass the exam! I still failed Math, but failed it better than expected and got into Combermere, one of the best grammar schools.
My whole experience at St Angela’s and The Ursuline Convent wound down to my final day. The day Mrs Harris got her comeuppance. At least at the hands of my mother.
The whole class was rushing around, excited! We’re going to secondary school, we’re going off in separate directions, and some of us would not see each other again. We were all aware that something was about to change. We wandered around the class, exchanging phone numbers and addresses and talking.
School was about to end, the final bell about thirty minutes away. Mrs Harris called us all back to our seats. I happened to be on the other side of the classroom, and had to wait a few times for people to get out of my way, before I could get back to my desk.
I wasn’t even the last to sit down. Michael Pemberton took his seat seconds after me, and he sat between me and Mrs Harris’s desk. Her beady little eyes focussed on me. She shouted out my name and told me I was controverting her orders. Said I felt because today was the last day there was to be no order. She told me to stand outside her classroom, because she never wanted to see me in it again.
I started to cry. How could she be so fucking mean to me? The rest of the class snickered and I hung my head and went outside. The way the school was, the classrooms was upstairs, and outside meant the corridor that ran alongside the building, with a iron railing running the length of it. You could see the road from where I sat everyday.
I stood there for the last twenty minutes of my primary school life; watching the road. I alternately steamed and cried, humiliated because kids were moving along the halls, and the covered walkway that ran the length of the school, and well, come on, it’s the last day of school! So when my mother pulled up downstairs, got out the car and saw me, started walking towards me, I abandoned this woman’s punishment and ran to her.
“Why are you standing up outside?” She asked frowning.
The whole story came out, and my mother just said, “Oh really?”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me behind her. The bell rang, and the children spilled all around us. Everyone rushing to disperse.
We climbed the stairs, and as we rounded the top of the staircase and started towards my classroom, Mrs Harris appeared and started walking towards us. The arrogant bitch, she put her hands up and with this big supercilious smile on her face, her hands making negating motions, “Hello, there is no need to thank me for helping your daughter pass the exam.”
“Helping my daughter? No, no, you are mistaken. My daughter passed the exam because her grandmother and I helped her, what little you did for her has been punctuated by your torture of my child. She passed her exams, you didn’t and I hoped you haven’t damaged her learning process permanently.”
The supercilious smile seeped out of her face, and her jaw went slack with shock. I stood there shocked as well. It was the first time I ever saw Mummy rake anybody over the coals for me before.
“I also do not appreciate you putting her to stand outside on the last day of school like she is some dog. I am a teacher, and I have listened to her stories all this school year, and I find your methods to be archaic and sadistic.” My mother said, hand akimbo, my hand gripped tightly in hers.
“Go and get your things,” she said to me. I darted off to do precisely that.
I didn’t hear anything much after that, but Mrs Harris was left outside her classroom slack jawed and silent, and I was greatly validated and exonerated.
I saw her some years ago, when I was much younger than I am now, and she smiled that supercilious smile at me and I cut my eyes as stink as I possibly could.
So there you are, Smotty, corporal punishment, sadism and such…. fuck the educational system’s twisted individuals.