The scariest (and best) teacher ever

She was a legend. I’d heard about her for almost 10 years, because she was there when my brother went to my high school. Few could spell her name, but everyone knew it. She commanded respect in a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy yet oddly still quite likeable way.

I remember my first interaction with her. I was in 10th grade and I and one of my friends were hanging out in our Biology classroom for some reason. This was strange because A) I did not like biology. Krebs cycle? Kill me now. B) I’m pretty sure our teacher didn’t care too much for female students - that was . Since my friend and I were girls, it was just strange. I don’t remember why we were in her room, but I do remember not really talking about class or schoolwork.

And Miss M came in.

Her hair was long, straight and parted in the middle with every gray strand in it proudly on display. It worked for her. Miss M was all natural. She didn’t wear makeup and she wasn’t into fru-fru frilly crap. I never saw her wear a skirt or dress and I’d be shocked if she ever has. We eventually learned that she was pretty bad-ass in her personal life; and those details are better left in my head. But it was all part of the big picture that was Miss M.

Miss M excelled at telling it like it is. You can look at her for the first time and know that she’s not one for bull$#!@ - giving or receiving. It’s not her style.

Somehow that afternoon, we - my friend and I - admitted that we were a little timid about taking her class. Miss M taught chemistry and the reason she was legend was because her class was so difficult. She told us we’d be fine as long as we worked hard. 

Fast forward however many months to the following August (that’s when school started for us). I walked into Miss M’s 3rd period gifted *shudder* chemistry class. I was kinda nervous. The only thing that gave me hope was that I’d heard Miss M didn’t particularly like male students - she was the opposite of our biology teacher that way. Of course, I knew that didn’t mean I could get away with not busting my butt in her class.

Have you ever heard of that fabled rule that teachers shouldn’t smile for the first 6 weeks? The point being that you scare students into submission? THEN and only then can you show them your human side?

Miss M might have written that rule. Seriously.

I have never known a teacher who knew the curriculum as well as this woman. She knew which chapters would be easy. She knew which chapters half of us would fail. She started out by saying that if we weren’t prepared to study very hard for 5, 6, 7 and 8 that we would set the tone for the year. That day, she laid out her expectations. She didn’t care if we were “gifted”. She expected us to work and work hard. She expected us to know what we were doing - and that meant reading the book, as opposed to sleeping on it and absorbing knowledge by osmosis.

She yelled at us. Not in a mean, screaming way, but more in a this-is-what-it-takes-just-do-it way.

I think that lecture singlehandedly saved my butt. I was awed by this woman who could strike fear into even some of the cockiest (and smartest) boys that I’d been in classes with for years. That’s the thing about being in the gifted program - you start to believe you’re all that when you’re really not.

Those chapters she mentioned? I didn’t ace them all, but I didn’t get lower than a B on any of them. I learned that chemistry is really cool, where biology just made me want to poke my eyes out (except the genetics part - that was cool). By the end of that year, I had so much respect for Miss M and I have always believed that it was mutual. She knew how hard I worked to do well in her class.

The next year, those of us who’d had Miss M the previous year got into the habit of calling her by her first name and she let us. A sign that we were on a more equal footing after our successes in her class, perhaps. Maybe even a sign of mutual respect.

If you ask me who my favorite teacher was in high school, Miss M is the first name on the list, even though I only had her for one class. Because she was so tough, when you did succeed, you felt like you’d truly accomplished something.

*****

This post was based on the prompt “A lecture you still remember.” from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop.

A little side note: I took Chemistry in college and cracked the book open exactly twice. I got an A in that class because of Miss M - three years after I left her class. She taught us that well.