Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My sixth grade teacher was Mr. Rogers.

I wrote this while on vacation. I finished it and showed my wife and she thought it was much more morbid than funny. I debated for a long time if I should post it anyway and finally decided on posting. So, I hope you find it at least interesting.

My 6th grade teacher’s name was Mr. Rogers.

No, not THAT Mr. Rogers; not even close.

My Mr. Rogers was bald, bearded and jiggled like a bowl full of marmalade. (I’d say jelly, but that would imply that he was jolly, which he certainly was not.) My Mr. Rogers did not wear button-up sweaters and he did not have a hand puppet named "Henrietta Pussycat". (That we knew of.)

He may or may not have had a best friend named “Mr. McFeely” but that is no longer relevant to this story.

In 1987 my Mr. Rogers could have been fired for a variety of things: teaching that Adam and Eve were actually black (made sense to me); giving us money and asking us to walk to the drug store four blocks away to buy him a cup of coffee; and of course, giving my buddy Craig a “dunce rock” and making him carry it throughout the day because of a semi-moronic statement he had made in class.

One cold day in February, Mr. Rogers didn’t show up. Instead, we were greeted by our principal at the door. He looked morose and beaten.

Mr. Rogers had a heart attack and passed away that night.

Now, the folks in Montrose, PA hold a crying contest every year and the 6th grade girls are the champions 8 years running. This year, they were fortunate as they barely beat out the Laker fans and the former Biggest Loser contestants for the grand prize.

However, no one could hold a candle to our group of sixth grade crying girls that day. Nobody. (And if you were to try and hold a candle to these girls, it would have likely been put out in seconds flat… on account of all the tears.)

We went through 27 boxes of Kleenex in 3 hours.

I glanced at Craig a few times through the cloud of snotty tissues and the fog of humidified tears. He did not seem too torn up about the whole thing.

He may have carried his undisclosed chagrin a bit too far when, two weeks later, he would be caught humming, “Heart attack! Heart attack! Mr. Rogers had a heart attack!” at recess. (The band "Faker" was very popular at the time.)

The sixth grade gals could not have been more offended. I am pretty sure one of them slapped Craig, right in the face. One girl called him an "ass".

The truth is, Mr. Rogers was at best, a below average teacher. He spent most of his day sitting behind his desk and reading Time and Newsweek magazines. He was really a “read the chapter and answer the questions at the end” kind of dude. Occasionally he would playfully chide a student for a boneheaded comment. Sometimes, if we were lucky, he would have us read a chapter aloud, one student at a time, until the dutiful task fell upon your head.

I once read the word, “catastrophe” - cat-ass-trofe in front of the entire class. He was kind enough to repeat what I said four times: “Cat ass trofe? Did you say cat ass trofe, Abe? Really, please tell us what a cat ass trofe is.” The class roared as I lay my face in my folded arms.

Of course, he made Craig carry that dunce rock around three or four times.

Mr. Rogers was the kind of guy that you would meet at a dinner party, laugh incessantly at his clever jokes, and then gasp in horror when you found out he was teaching eleven year olds about puberty.

Our class decided that to honor Mr. Rogers, we would all run in a 5K race for heart disease. It seemed a fitting tribute. Perhaps we could raise some money so that some other 6th grade class would not have to go through the same horror we had.

We trained. We ran. We all felt better about things. We were even featured on the evening news; something about a class that cared for their fallen teacher. They did not interview Craig, nor did he carry his rock in the race.

The hysteria had hit a record high. There was only one problem: Mr. Rogers hadn’t actually had a heart attack at all. He had committed suicide in his home.

I found out when I was in 8th grade. It seemed like I was the last one in the world to know. I was not shocked or angry. It kinda just felt like someone had given me a painless wedgie.

Craig didn’t take the news as well.  However, I am sure the dunce rock now sits on his mantel in the Hamptons as a reminder.

61 comments:

Eric said...

None of my teachers ever died. Well, you know, not while school was in session. I'd imagine a few have gone to eternal detention by now.

Dave said...

Well, I can't compete with your teacher killing himself. But as far as teachers pulling stuff that should have been grounds for dismissal, my 6th grade teacher, Miss Mitchie, stood at the door of the classroom on the last day of school and kissed each and every student on the lips as we left. Even as I type this I can't believe she got away with that.

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

This may sounds insensitive, but since you just did a whole post on this, I think it's okay...

Have you noticed when there is a death at a school, there are lots of people who rally around that death and grab the death spotlight?

We had a student die in high school, and yes, it was so sad, but all of the sudden, he had like 15 best friends who were grieving..."I JUST sat next to him in Algebra, now he's gone." Group hug!

Painless wedgie.

Joann Mannix said...

I'm sorry, but I disagree with your wife, I think this might be your best post ever. Vacation bodes well with you.

The town crying contest, the puppet that may or may not have been, the dunce rock, the cat ass, the painless wedgie, these things are like liquid gold.

I had a 6th grade teacher like that. He wore polyester bodysuits, (I wish I was kidding) buttoned entirely too low, showing off his dense thicket of chest hair. He used to stand in front of the class droning on and on while cleaning out his ear with his keys. He also made stuff up. As Catholics, there is a necklace called a scapular. It is supposed to be a necklace of protection. He claimed that one of his friends got ran over by a train and decapitated, but because he was wearing his scapular, they were able to sew his head back on his body and he was as right as rain. A few years after I had him, he was arrested for leading a prostitution ring.

Wow. I'm rereading that and realizing how jacked up my formative years really were.

MiMi said...

Yeah, that IS freakin' morbid.
I never had a teacher die...not while I was in school anyway.
But I did have a teacher who picked his nose and wiped it under his desk...

Aunt of 14 said...

The principal lied, I am positive, on purpose!

I once had a math teacher in the 8th grade. His name was Mr Loy. His skin sagged like nothing you ever saw before. Really, seriously, like melted candle wax down the side of a burning candle. His face, his chin, his arms were gigantic bat wings... his thighs and legs were all saggy and had a ripple effect of some sort while he walked. Turns out he USED to weight 500-ish lbs, and he had weight loss surgery. But nobody knew that at the time!

I hated him. I really really really hated him. And when I found out he had that surgery, I did not feel sorry for him at all. I just had an "AH-HA!" moment where I thought he deserved to look like an emaciated, withered old dinosaur.

No, I'm not bitter. Nope, not me.

Amy said...

My daughter was once asked to go to the teacher's lounge and get her pregnant teacher a can of soda (teacher gave her the money), which I wasn't pleased to hear. I guess going off school grounds for a beverage would be way worse. Unbelievable!

sammy said...

so i see your wife is also your litmus test for posts.


i never had a teacher pass away while i was in school and actually dont recall hearing of them passing after i left.

kinda crazy now that i think about it.

Ms Bibi said...

I think it was an excellent post.

I never went through teacher dying, but recently a young woman I know died. She was a nurse, very lovely and everywhere she went she spread sunshine. She was born with heart problems so everyone assumed that she died because of that and we were sad, but accepted it.
Few weeks later we found out that she took her life and suddenly many people changed the way they felt...

Christiejolu said...

I am visiting from Ally's blog...Noticed you are a teacher...I am currently studying Elementary Education....Wow about your teacher...I never had to deal with that either...

Noelle said...

Yeah, kinda morbid...and kinda sad. Poor Mr. Rogers. Maybe if he had had a Henrietta Pussycat it would have made him a little happier.

Pat Tillett said...

That was a story. I always liked teachers who didn't fit the mold. If they could do that and still teach us things, that was even better.

I see east coast Laker envy is still alive and well...

FluffyChicky said...

I had a horribly mean 9th grade honors English teacher that died the year after I had her. And I did not feel bad about her death. Yeah, I am heartless. But she was so. mean.

The Bipolar Diva said...

Wow, just wow. No other words here, just a lot to think about.

Sam Liu said...

A fascinating post indeed, Mr. Rogers sounds like a real character and he reminds me a lot of some of the the teachers I currently have. I enjoyed reading this, the story was engaging and at times really funny, yet mixed in there was a rather poignant sadness.

MBGITWWR said...

My husband's a lot like that (the "you're a dork for crying about that" type) but we've come to a great understanding....that if he doesn't give a little... he will surely get punched or the equivalent in other terms.

Mamma has spoken said...

I never had a teacher die when I had them, but I had some that I wish they would have died when I had them. I had a second grade teacher who was the meanest, unmotivating, worst teacher out there. Irony is her daughter is now one of the head cheese people at our central office. I told her how I hated her mother and why. She told me she hated her too!

Beth Zimmerman said...

That was a very well written post, Abe. I'm not sure it was morbid but aside from a sprinkling of humor it wasn't exactly funny either. Kind of sad I guess. One never knows what pain is hiding behind another's facade.

Gigi said...

I agree with some of the other commenters. I think this is a great post of a slice of life, when school was much different then than it is now.

Saimi said...

Committing suicide is sad, makes you wonder what drives a person to do that.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is sad. None of my teachers died, either.

MBGITWWR said...

I just realized my comment makes no sense in conjunction with your post. hahaha! It almost sounds sick. I'm sure you know I'm responding to your comment on my blog. Just thought I would clarify. Yowza

lori said...

I think it's a great post. Just sad. If he could have found a way to give a little more of himself he probably would have liked himself more.

Nikki said...

Oh wow. That was an interesting post.

It makes me think of the off-kilter teachers I had as well.

It's probably best they told you all it was a heart attack. Sixth grade is kinda young to hear something like that about their teacher.

mintifresh said...

Brilliant, funny and slightly disturbing post. I'm glad you posted it!

My 5th grade teacher got shot in the head by his brother over money. That was crazy and sad but he was actually a good teacher. I often wonder how teachers like Mr. Rogers gets a job.

Loved the subtle humor you threw in here and there!

Hope Chella said...

Wow. This is one of those really strange, yet surreal and equally interesting stories about a teacher. I love this post. It sucked me in. I think you ought to get published but blogging is still good :) PS. Thanks for the book suggestion!

Marlene said...

Oooh...this one kinda hit close to home. My daughter's second grade teacher committed suicide....such a loss. He (unlike Mr. Rogers) was a brilliant teacher...and the kids absolutely adored him. Word has it he was very depressed over his failed marriage....so sad.

Ash said...

we always remember the bad teachers and not so much of the good ones. i had a painful wedgie too when you found out that he had committed suicide. :(

~ash's mum

Writing Without Periods! said...

Ah, this is such wonderful writing. Thanks for sharing.
Mary

Teachinfourth said...

Wow, Abe…this story made me think of my own 6th grade teacher, Mr. Miller. He was very similar to your Mr. Rogers (but not totally). It also makes me wonder what it was that made Mr. R believe that 'checking out' was the only option he had left.

You left me thinking tonight...

RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild said...

The story is morose, Cheeseboy, but so is life sometimes. It's good to see another side to your writing.
xoRobyn

Sara @ Domestically Challenged said...

No, that is a beautiful post. Beautiful in that it makes you think, doesn't it? I can't imagine what that must have been like for your class. Seeing death firsthand at that age is not an easy thing.

Marnie said...

Morbid? No. Death and suicide happen. Unfortunately he couldn't see another way out.

I had a 1st grade teacher who was really mean (seriously a cruel lady). All throughout the years she never changed. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I found out she suffered from a nervous breakdown due to her husband leaving her with 5 children to raise. Now I get it...she was stressed.

I like this post.

SurferWife said...

Whoa. That was an intense story. Totally didn't see that one coming.

Tammy said...

I've told you in the past that sometimes I'm not sure if you are telling the truth or not but I know this one is not true, right?????

Tortuga said...

Cat-ass-trofe: (n) the prize you receive in a contest that determines who's rear end looks most feline

ScoMan said...

I have brother named Craig and I'm pretty sure some of his teachers gave him the dunce rock.

I'm also pretty sure he would carry it in a heart disease charity thing if one of his teachers died of a heart attack.

Mr. Stupid said...

Mr. Rogers sounded like a great man. That was a sad story though.
"Heart attack! Heart attack! Mr. Rogers had a heart attack!" - I wouldn't take that as a tribute.

Smiles...

Mary said...

I've always felt bad for not feeling bad when one of the guys in my 10th grade class decided to skip school and have a party at his house, then 'accidently' shot himeslf b/c he was drunk. He was horribly mean, started fights, antagonized people, and I loathed having classes with him.

The Stiffs said...

Glad you found me. I'm not following because I can't wait for the tube post!

Watery Tart said...

It had funny parts... and morbid parts... and sad parts... it's actually a damn fine story. Makes you think, which is how I like my fiction, so why NOT my non-fiction.

By the way, I have an award for you at my blog...

Connie said...

The saying, "Hurt people hurt people" may apply to your teacher. I sometimes wonder why some people go into teaching when they act like they dislike the job or the students. I too had a teacher similar to that. He was fired for coming to school drunk. We must have been a horrible class if he felt like he needed a "few" hits before walking in to the room!

This is a great post.

Vagabond Teacher said...

Reading this post and the comments people left, there's an odd humor in realizing that teachers operate in a universe filled with things that the kids just can't comprehend. Dunce rocks and suicide...clearly the man lived a very sad life. Thanks for the post.

Shelly Belly's Boutique said...

i never understood suicide..what makes them think it's better on the other side?

janjanmom said...

I award you a cat ass trophe for this post.

School deaths are the worst...the memories(Did Mr. R. get a yearbook dedication?) and the dramas just go on forever. I think people forget that there are REAL relationships connected to those people when they go gaga for death.

This was a very interesting post-I wonder if Craig still has that rock OR an aversion to gravel?

Should the dunce rock be implemented today, I am afraid there would be more kids with one than without.

Aunt Juicebox said...

Wow. I had an English teacher in the late 80's that a friend and I wished would just "croak", and she didn't - but the next week she had a "stroke". Coincidence? Maybe.

Isn't it great how back in the 80's teachers got away with all kinds of stuff that today people can't believe?

Heather and Jake said...

Oh Abe, you and your witty twisted sense of humor. I think this was ok to post. Everyone has had below average teachers I'm afraid. Although off the top of my head I can't think of any really bad ones that I had. My 3rd grade teacher did show us graphic videos of the 60's when blacks were being beaten and persecuted, and then she showed us White Fang and I remember the toughest boy in our class bawling like a baby when the dog died. And I did have a high school art teacher who actually committed suicide. It was really sad...he did it a few years after I graduated, but I was really sad. He had been a big fan of my artwork and was such a nice man.

Krista said...

Oh my heck! That is funny....in a demented sort of way. But it's the truth. There are some loser teachers. It's sad that he commit suicide, though. Maybe he had mojo at one time and you saw the end. Dunce Rock. I can hear a song coming on.

T said...

only the VERY end was morbid...

actually, having gone through similar experiences (one of the teachers at my kids school actually DID have a heart attack at the end of the school day - and my eighth grade teacher killed himself) it was actually a little bit cathartic... and I might actually go out and decorate myself a Dunce Rock!

Melinda said...

Wow. That makes me really sad that such young kids were having to deal with an obviously disturbed person. :(


Did it ever hit you that it was your class that drove him to suicide?! You must feel awful...

Glamazon said...

Holy Moly-what a twist! Glad I kept reading until the end. I had a friend die of cancer in 6th grade, and I remember all of us crying until some girls couldn't walk...I think your hormones must be working up to puberty at that point, because it was kind of ridiculous.

It sucks they didn't tell you what really happened, but then again, would you want to explain it to a group of 6th graders?

Great post.

Ally said...

Wow.That story is kinda... wow.

I'm still stuck on the sending kids to the drug store for coffee. You can't even really ask an intern to do that today. Ha ha!

FourthGradeNothing.com

Pat said...

Everybody knows that middle school girls are drama queens. Even for a mediocre teacher. I can see why the principal lied to you, though. Shelter the kids a little longer, you know?

Many years after I graduated from my Catholic grade school, I found out that my 7th grade science teacher was arrested for MOLESTING young girls! YUK! (He was at a different school at the time.)

Powdered Toast Man said...

did you kids make him do that? I would be mad that I was lied to.

-stephanie- said...

That's sad. I had nuns. That's sad too.

W.C.Camp said...

I like the dunce rock idea actually. I wish your Mr. Rogers was still alive so I could give it to HIM to carry around. I also want to give it to the admin people who LIE to 6th graders and then wonder why kids don't trust authority. Suicide is HORRIBLE - we all get it, but 'pretending' it did not happen and letting the kids do the whole 5K thing is frustrating to me. Don't mind me - I'm just on my soapbox along with this BIG DUNCE ROCK. W.C.C.

Unknown Mami said...

I'm glad you decided to post this.

I Wonder Wye said...

Shit, what a person to teach impressionable kids. I give ya'll props for the 5 K!

I had an alcoholic teacher in the 3rd grade who was gorgeous. She also entered the classroom wearing her sunglasses and curled up under her desk and slept the day away after assigning one of her 'pets' to make sure the class stayed quiet. We never ratted her out b/c on the rare days she was sober or not mind-addled she was a lot of fun as you can imagine. Eventually 'management' did hear about her lax teaching and she was sacked. No one told anyone but parents grew concerned no homework was ever issued.....

Tree said...

BAAHhhh...Cat ass trophe? LOL Oh...sorry. :) Love this post! And I'm actually stopping by to say...

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!!!

Sadako said...

Wow. That was an intense story. I noticed that, too, Marion--people love the "X was a SAINT!" You rarely hear the, "We're sad but x wasn't THAT great--in fact he was mediocre at best." Kind of a novel thing to read and I appreciated that.

Marla said...

This is so sad on so many levels.