Guest Writers

Damage Done: Guest Post by Leonore Rodrigues

Leonore Rodrigues

Today’s teacher story comes from guest blogger Leonore Rodrigues from As a Linguist. Leonore and I connected because of our love of language, weird words, and proper punctuation. As it turns out, we have quite a few real life things in common. 

Leonore’s a teacher and she just wrote a lovely piece called Intermission. It is exactly what I’ve been feeling recently, and she wrote it so beautifully. Please check it out after you read what she wrote here today. Also feel free to follow her on Twitter at @asalinguist. Thanks for helping me out, L.

• • •

Damage Done

I can remember the names of most of my teachers I’ve had from kindergarten until graduation from high school, which is something about me that freaks out my boyfriend just a little bit. I try to tell him that there is still plenty that I don’t remember about school, but then I go and spoil it by mentioning that I also remember most of my first-day outfits.

I don’t know why these details stick, but the truth is that I do remember not only names, but little details about most of my teachers: my second grade teacher hated when we used short pencils; my fifth grade teacher showed tons of film strips; my ninth grade English teacher used the word ‘bitch’ on the first day of class and we loved her for it; my eleventh grade trig teacher smelled like cigarettes, coffee, and chalk; and my twelfth grade Calculus teacher was sweet and flirty, but was probably just a stone’s throw from being a dirty old man instead.

These details stand out but they don’t mark the teachers as being particularly great or terrible. When I do think of my favorite teachers, different memories arise. My sixth grade Math and History teacher’s silly manner made his classes fun and interesting. My eleventh grade American History teacher taught me how to write clearly and concisely, and he took me seriously, which helped me gain more confidence in myself and my ideas. My twelfth grade English teacher – who is probably my favorite teacher of those years – built on that confidence and challenged us every day with thought-provoking lessons.

Unfortunately, not all of the memories were good.

My third grade teacher, Mrs. G. was rather stand-offish, which in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing, but it didn’t win her many supporters, either. Her lessons were straight-forward and predictable, which for me usually meant boring. I thrived when a teacher gave us unusual projects or pushed us with harder material. Even clumsy classroom manners were forgiven as long as the teacher had passion and energy to inject into the lesson. Mrs. G. gave us neither creative nor passionate lessons.


The moment that stands out in my mind was the day she assigned a project to make a puppet. It didn’t matter what kind of puppet it was – it could be a sock puppet or it could be a 10-string marionette for all she cared. It could be a princess, a dog, or a prison inmate. We were left to our own devices and given no examples, guidelines, or criteria.

I’d seen some dolls that T, my best friend, had in her house that her mother had made. We talked about it and she said she was probably going to do a puppet similar in style to the dolls. Not having the slightest idea of what kind of puppet I could even hope to make, I asked Mrs. G if T and I could do the same sort of puppet if I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

She not only told me “no” about the puppet project, but she also quite bluntly told me that I depended too much on T, that I should be more original and not just copy my friend, and that it probably wasn’t even healthy for us to be such close friends anyway. I came away from school that day with the sense that my teacher thought I was a parasite and a fake. Not knowing any better, I thought she must be right. I felt like a girl with any real talent, intelligence, or integrity wouldn’t need to get ideas from anyone else, and so it must be true that I’m useless on my own. Nothing she did for the rest of the year ever disabused me of that notion.

At the end of the year, Mrs. G. assigned T and me to different fourth grade classes so we could break our apparent co-dependence on each other. We stayed just as close as we’d been, despite the separation. Slowly, I began to repair the damage that had been done to my self-esteem. To this day, however, I find that there’s still a tiny voice in the back of my mind that ask, “Was she right? Was I really just getting valid help with a project, or was I copying? Am I really just a hack?”

A teacher’s influence can indeed be deeply-felt for many years afterward. I wish my 9-year-old self had gotten angry and fought back, but I was lucky to have good teachers in the following years to combat the damage done. It took a long time, but at least now my 40-year-old self knows how to fight back.

Was there a teacher who really sapped your self-esteem? Did you ever get it back?

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!


37 thoughts on “Damage Done: Guest Post by Leonore Rodrigues

  1. How careful we must be in our influence on others. Thanks for sharing this Renee…and Lenore thank you for reminding me of the importance of my words, because they may not be as blatant as your 3rd grade teacher, but I’m sure they haven’t always been as encouraging as they should be.

    1. Even though I teach adults who can handle more direct criticism (mostly), I still try to keep the worst of my sarcasm in check. It’s my job to give fair, balanced, honest feedback, and I try to remember that during the times when I feel a little snappy.

  2. I’m sorry you had such a shitty 3rd grade teacher. I did, too; big time! My 3rd grade teacher was ancient and seemed to hate children, especially ones like me who couldn’t sit still or stop talking. She was also achingly boring, which caused me to have further problems with paying attention and keeping my mouth shut. One day, when I didn’t do a workbook page to her satisfaction, she sent me to the special education room for the day. I’m not talking the mildly impaired special education classroom. It was the severe and profound class. Before sending me in the room, she told me that this is where I belonged because I behaved just like the children in special ed. I spent the day crying and terrified. This was way back in 1973, when any sort of punishment seemed allowed. My parents had a conference with her the next day and I was shortly tested and placed in the gifted program. Can you imagine the lawsuit that would happen if this occurred in a classroom today? Luckily, my fourth grade teacher was the sweetest and my confidence soon returned!
    PS–I remember the names of all of my teachers, too! This is a wonderful post! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sprinkles!
      Your 3rd grade teacher sounds 10 times worse than mine! I can’t believe the things they could get away with. I hope you were good and smug when you tested into the gifted program 🙂
      Thanks for following me over!

  3. Renee, thanks for giving Leonore the spotlight. Her posts reel me in effortlessly.

    Leonore, I am amazed how much teachers are able to impact our life at such an early age. I hate that you had this experience, but I am glad you overcame it – and stayed friends with ‘T’ to boot!

    1. Thanks, Lenore! Once I started writing about this incident, it surprised me how much it still affected me. I had the good luck of getting a better teacher the next year, and it helped that I was not alone in my assessment of Mrs.G.

      I was just the “Best Woman” in T’s wedding over Labor Day. Take that, Mrs.G! 😉

  4. I also remember all my teachers. Two negative memories:

    My 2nd grade teacher, Hibernia Smith (I didn’t make that up), brought a piece of cake back from the cafeteria after lunch every day and sat at her desk eating it in front of all of us. *slobbers, licks lips*

    Sopphomore year I missed 3 weeks of school due to a ruptured kidney from football practice. Although I got all the assignments and turned them in and made A’s & B’s on all my world history tests, Sarah Nickerson gave me a D because she didn’t think anyone who missed that much of her class deserved a better grade.

    1. I have to say, I was giggling for a good 5 minutes at the image of the teacher eating cake at her desk while the whole class just stares and drools. Sounds like payback for whatever general trouble 2nd-graders give to their teachers 😉

  5. I didn’t get a part in the 6th grade musical. That teacher followed me to Jr. High and I never had courage in drama again. But now I am taking tap dance and will be on Broadway soon.

    1. I’m so jealous! I love tap dancing – not that I can actually do it, but I love watching a good tap dancer and always wanted to learn. Are you really going to be on Broadway soon? How very very awesome 🙂

  6. My 8th grade teacher always picked the same girls to decorate the bulletin board and when I finally got up enough nerve to ask her directly about helping, she replied that she didn’t really need my help.
    Funny thing is I was the one who ended up in Art!
    I got the last laugh!

    1. Nah, there was no favoritism there at all, not a single hint of it! Excuse me while I wipe the sarcasm off the floor. I can’t believe she wouldn’t give you a chance. I wouldn’t care if it turned out to be the ugliest board ever, you have to at least give students the chance, and especially the ones who come forward to ask. Glad you’re the one laughing now 🙂

  7. I only had one cruddy teacher: Mrs. Downs. (I am not making that up.) She was my 2nd grade math teacher, and she was awful. She made me stand in front of the entire class and make one-hundred number 5’s. Why? Because she said my 5’s looked “too much like S’s.”

    I remember Jeff Friedman laughing at me. It was awful because I was crushing on him pretty hard at the time.

    She made a point of circling each “bad” 5, and then I had to erase it and redo it. That day, I didn’t get to go outside for recess because I had to do the stupid worksheet that I had missed during class, you know while I was working on my damn 5’s.

    I am pretty sure all of my math anxiety came from that woman.

    1. What a colossal waste of time! See, I’d probably make my 5’s the way she wanted as long as she was grading me, and then go back to the old way just to spite her. I’m just that way. Spite can take me a long long way 😉

  8. RAS:

    I am not sure how you remember all this stuff. My onlyv memories of Ms. Downs are that she was really old and made the hot chicks write their 5’s in front of the class. If I only knew………


  9. Your 12th grade calculus teacher sounds a lot like the one I had. What is about calc teachers?

    Wow, what a horrible 3rd grade experience. I don’t think people (some teachers, even) realize the power of their words. I’m sorry to hear you had that experience. I wish I had had a best friend like T when I was in 3rd grade.

    My bad school years memories came more in the form of bullies and bad friends than in bad teachers.

    Thanks for sharing, Leonore!

  10. Yes the teacher can hurt. On purpose or unwittingly. After all, they know what they are talking about. Right? Several laughed out loud as they saw me looking through college catalogues in 12th grade. Only English teacher gave me a rec. But got a BA History/Religion, MA Theology, MA Addiction Professional and spent 33 years as a teacher myself. You have to believe in yourself. Even if no one else does.

  11. This is such a hard read.

    My third and fourth grade teachers bullied me in subtle ways, but most damning of all failed to intervene when other kids were teasing me. When I’d request assistance, they’d turn to do other things.

    They kept this up despite my mom’s impassioned lobbying, at and above their level.

    When my mom decided no magnet school was worth it, she schlepped me to another nearby school. The teacher said I was gifted and sweet, and also that he could see my total lack of confidence. My mom loved him, transferred me over and I enjoyed fifth grade with a teacher who was an equal opportunity nag/yeller/gentleman.

    I didn’t realize how much the change even meant to me until my sister informed me of his death last week.

    I’m so grateful to him for the reset he afforded me. ♥

    1. I think the neglect can be even more damaging sometimes than more direct antagonism. At least I knew where my teacher stood. It was out in the open. In my mind, that’s always better than being ignored because to me, that means I’m not even worth the effort. And feeling that invisible to the people who are supposed to be my guides and mentors can be devastating!

      I love the idea and phrasing of ‘the reset’!

    1. Exactly – which makes it even more inconceivable that we pay so little attention to attracting, training and rewarding good teachers, and re-training or weeding out bad ones.

  12. Oh how I want to give nine-year-old you a big fat hug. (And not in a dirty-old-woman kind of way).

    I also want to hug 40-year-old you because I, too, remember all of my teachers.

    And first-day outfits.

    But I never took calculus.
    So you’re kind of my hero.

    Will you balance my checkbook for me?
    Just kidding.


    1. Hi! I’m kind of excited to be someone’s hero 🙂

      I can keep a checkbook balanced for a few months, but then one little thing throws me off and I can never fix it, so that’s when I just look around, start whistling, pretend I just got a brand new account, and start a brand new Excel worksheet. Which reminds me of what I have to do as soon as I’m done with this comment. Eek!

      Thanks for the virtual hugs, and for the comment, and for me not being the only one who has an oddly specific clothing memory 🙂

  13. In my last year of High School I came in 5 mins late to form class, I came straight to school from swimming training and we had stopped to pick up something on the way. Unfortunately the Principal had just popped in to visit for some reason. He decided to make an example of me and during the conversation (all held in front of the class) he asked why my mid year exams results were so low (they weren’t great but were passes) and when I didn’t have an answer he asked if I “was lazy or just a swimmer”. I was absolutely mortified, thank goodness the bell rang for out next class. My form teacher caught up with me after that class to check up on me and make sure I was ok.

    1. Unbelievable! I’m glad at least the teacher understood that the guy was being a jerk to you. It’s one thing to call someone out for being late. I’ve been known to put a student on the spot, but I only do so to kids who are constantly late, AND who can take a little teasing. And I would never insult a student that way, even if he or she did have a history of not being the best student in class.

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