In order to understand this story, you have to have a little bit of background first… a solid sense of context, in order to avoid anyone feeling that I might be ridiculing someone in an unfair or unloving way. So here’s a bit of context. I was a teacher for 31 years. I was considered a good teacher, in fact, a master teacher by something like 28 different principals and assistant principals, while only 3 felt like I was an incompetent mess, and two of those were eventually fired themselves. I only got fired once. So it can be safely assumed I know what incompetence in teaching is and can reliably identify it in others. Further, incompetence in teaching does not make you a bad person. Far too many people who believe they could be a good teacher have traits that would torpedo their own boat if they actually set sail on the sea of education. So, even though Grandma Frozenfield was a horrible teacher, she was actually a very nice and caring person, and makes a wonderful character for stories that lovingly make fun of bad teaching. And I should remind you, I don’t use real names when talking about people from my past so that their privacy is not violated by whatever my artist’s eye might reveal about them. The portrait I added to this post does not even look like her.
Grandma Frozenfield was a mid-year emergency hire who filled the position of 8th grade math teacher during my first year of teaching. She was already sixty-eight years old when she came to Cotulla, Texas, and she had five years of previous teaching experience in schools up north. How she survived five years in schools more competently run than Texas schools in the 80’s, I will never be able to figure out. She was able to hang on in our school for several years only because we were desperately strapped for warm bodies to teach Math classes in Texas junior high schools. Only idiots and coaches ever took on the job willingly.
Grandma Frozenfield had seventeen dogs and ninety-nine cats at home. That right there tells you something about which stereotype she easily fits into. But she was also a woman of great mystery. Her father had been a famous college professor in Minnesota. She had inherited a number of very valuable books from him, and kept them in random boxes stacked in dusty corners of the old run-down house she bought in town. She was actually quite bright, and though she would have spells of foggy thinking and confusion, she could capably discuss mathematics and physics and other sciences with me. She had a daughter who showed up during her third year of teaching at our school, and the daughter had a cute little son of about seven years old. Neither she nor her daughter had ever been married. In fact, rumor had it the daughter was telling people she was adopted. And her daughter and grandson disappeared from her life about four years after they started living with Grandma.
But the old lady was a spectacularly bad teacher. As bright as she was, she could never talk to kids or relate to kids in ways that kids could understand. She seemed to sincerely hate kids, calling them bad names in the classroom and telling them in detail how they would one day die in prison (a prediction that unfortunately came true for a couple of them). She would come into the teacher’s workroom after class plastered with spitballs on her back and in her hair.
A couple of the sweeter and more pro-active girls in her classes tried to protect her a bit from vandals and explained lessons to others in class to mitigate the chaos a bit.
She did not engage with students. Other than a few of the sweeter girls, she did not talk to them about anything but math. They didn’t understand her, and so they didn’t like her. She did not know how to monitor a classroom, so the infidels were on a rampage all the time in her room. It would definitely have felt like being in Hell to be her, teaching in that classroom. Why she ever wanted to be a teacher, she never said. I know it was in her family history. I know she was a caring, lovely individual. But when she died of throat cancer at 77 it was a lonely and sad thing. She had been forced to teach until two years before the end because of medical bills. She was never happy as a teacher that I observed. But she never missed a day without good reason, either. Good people don’t necessarily make good teachers. But she taught me things far beyond the 8th grade math she tried and failed to teach to students. I don’t think of her often. But I do think of her. She and her 17 dogs and 99 cats are all gone now. But not forgotten.