Friday, August 26, 2011

All she lacked was a broom

                   I'm still thinking about the evils of social dancing.  I had heard on the radio the other day about a teacher in the Philadelphia area who is fighting for her job.  She made the following comments on her blog:
They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.  My students are out of control disengaged, lazy whiners. And quoting from Bye Bye Birdie - Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS.
I am sure this teacher would find it interesting that in rural Tennessee they are worried about their kids and adults social dancing.  But don't kid yourselves - drugs are rampant and often Meth is the drug du jour here in these hills. I remember the sheriff in this county, with tears in his eyes, talking to the youth several years ago. He talked about how he was the one who told their Mama's when they were killed in car accidents after driving under the influence. He also talked about the suicide rate in the county - I don't know what it is now, but I know then they'd had 30 suicide calls so far that year. That was over two a month.  This is a small county. Some survived and some left grieving families asking why. 
I am the product of public school education in Brooklyn New York.  I lovingly remember PS 94, 105, Pershing JHS and a year at John Jay - John Jay was not so good but the rest?  They were wonderful!  As the teacher from Philadelphia fights for her job, I thought of Miss O'Rourke.
On Facebook, the new group Brooklyn Norwegians have a virtual kitchen table.  The pot of coffee is hot.  There is talk of kompe, vafler, sus - recipes are shared.  There's also a lot of talk about our schools and churches.  Miss O'Rourke taught at PS 105.  She was my 6th grade teacher.  She would make the stereotypical nun look like  saint.  While she didn't hit us, her tongue lashings left bruises on our psyche. 
The year I had her, she'd come to school usually by bus or subway.  She wore a hounds-tooth cape.  We thought of it as her witches cape.  She always wore a hat outside.  As I think of it now, her outfit did seem a bit like a more stylish nun's habit. She was single, and she was Catholic - she was an Irish - probably should have been a nun... most of all, she was mean.  
I sat at the end of the second row.  Her desk was geographically far from me.  However, I could rarely hide from her.  As I remember the kids in my class, we were mostly well behaved Norwegian or Italian kids.  We came from reasonably good families.  We weren't rich nor were we poor.  We came from working class, HARD working class homes.  Often the children of immigrants, we were well-mannered.  We were also the smart class.  
That's not how Miss O'Rourke saw us.  We were lazy.  We were stupid.  She told us that daily, often several times a day.  Her glare could peel the paint of the wall.  She said she'd never teach the smart class again.  We were lazy and privileged.  One by one, I swear she had a checklist somewhere, she'd make you cry in class.  Boys too!  Sixth grade boys are not prone to tears.  She's berate you until you cried.  Then she'd go in for the kill.
I remember one of the days she made me cry.  I was absent a lot. I'd tell my mother I had a headache, my stomach hurt, anything to stay home.  I hated school that year so much.  My mother, probably too lenient, would write a note.  It was all that was necessary to have the absence excused by school policy.  Since most of us went home for lunch, there was a break in the day.  I'd often stay home in the morning and then go back to school in the afternoon.
One afternoon, I came back clutching my mother's handwritten note.  
Dear Miss O'Rourke,  Please excuse Joyce for her absence this morning, (date), she was not feeling well.                                   Elsie Johannesen.
My mother had gotten some fancy stationary with her name engraved at the top and her name and address on the envelope - she had used that paper to write this note.  I presented the sealed engraved envelop to Miss O'Rourke.
She started.  My mother was stupid for letting me stay home.  Who did my mother think she was with engraved stationary.  She read the note mockingly to the class.  On and on she went about how stupid and lazy I was.  The tears fell.  
Earlier in the year, parents formed a committee - they went to school to complain.  They signed a petition.  She had our names.  We were reminded often what lazy whiners we were and how our parents were stupid...
Some how, I survived 6th grade.  We all did.  I could tell you many stories about Miss O'Rourke - how we had to sing the 4th Stanza of the Star Spangled Banner as well as the 1st - I still remember the words.  How she taught us to diagram sentences-okay, that I don't remember and never did understand why we did it.  How she walked around the assembly and picked out children to be "non-singers."  Your fate was to mouth the words with no voice - lip-synche.
Let's face it, Miss O'Rourke's methods were horrible.  She'd never teach in a school today. Still we learned.  And the truth of the matter is, we were a bit lazy. I think most kids are in middle school.  
I thank God for my teachers from Brooklyn.  I turned out okay.  How about you?  What teacher stands out in your memory?


  1. My husband Kenny Olsen complained about Miss O'Rourke and a Miss Platt his whole life. I also went to P.S. 105 but never had either one!! :-) :-) Thank Goodness!!

  2. I can't believe this. I too had O'Rourke and Platt and they both traumatized me for life! I always wanted to go back and yell at them but I am sure they are long dead. Email me at


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