Colour-coded notebooks that were compulsory, otherwise you got a ‘behaviour point’. Orange for History, blue for Maths, green for English and red for Science (I know this is controversial, don’t you dare argue with me about the colour of your school’s subject books).
Everything written in pencil when you were in junior school, and having to earn a certificate to have the privilege of writing with a fucking felt tip pen. Biro pens in secondary school that had to be either black or blue, or you were commanded to rewrite everything again.
And don’t get me started on highlighter pens. Those suckers either never worked, had been eaten by the boys, or had been used so much that all they were useful for was smudging the still-wet biro across the paper. The only way you could get your hands on highlighters in secondary school (high school for those non-europeans) was to beg your parents to spend £10 on a pack of overpriced stabilos, which were inevitably stolen by the classmates whom didn’t have the luxury of parents that cared enough to buy them highlighters.
It was only until I dropped out of college that I realised how absolutely absurd the whole thing was. As I sat on my couch watching Crash Course videos at the ripe age of eighteen, I scribbled in a plethora of colours across my filled-to-the-brim notebook, retaining every single piece of information I was receiving. I wrote key words in bright colours, circled things with darker colours, and developed a colour scheme per page to keep it interesting. All because I learned fuck all throughout my entire time at school. Honestly, I think if I now took my GCSE exams, I would pass them all with flying colours (not literally though, because we weren’t allowed to use colours). I would have passed them all in flying biro.
It was only until I dropped out of college that I realised how passionate my teachers were to teach me things – real things – but also how little resources they were given in order to do their job effectively. It would be an understatement to say that teachers are underpaid – £20k or more a year to work over 50 hours a week including from home grading papers, and dealing with little shit teenagers all day.
Apparently, the suicide rate for teachers in primary schools and nurseries is so high that teaching is considered one of the most stressful jobs in the country (1). Un-fucking-believable.
As dire as this is – I wanted to focus this piece on my shitty experience in the state education system. Coming from an upper-middle-class income household, having a comfortable household upbringing, and going to public school, was terrible. I cannot remember a single day that I woke up and thought, “Oh boy, school today! I can’t wait to go and get bullied by both my peers and my teachers!”
Bullied by teachers? What do I mean, you ask? How could a teacher possibly bully a pupil, let alone multiple? I’ll tell you how.
Year two (age 6) was my first memorable instance of a teacher targeting me, which instilled in me the anxiety and paranoia I still dealt with up until my late teens (around 17/18, I managed to finally recognise that I had moved on. This article stands as a medium for me to air this out, because the reassurance from others will surely help me accept how absurd and unjust these experiences were.)
The friends I have today have no concept of this happening; it’s not something I’m overly comfortable for a number of reasons, and I’ll tell you why.
Unless you have been in the position of absolute exposure, embarrassment, and peak humiliation, I’m not sure you’d understand the fear, shock, and utter debilitating anxiety that i experienced when my six-year-old self was ordered to change out of my tights, which I chose to wear underneath my P.E shorts because I forgot to wear underwear (because I was a fucking six year old), in front of the thirty members of my P.E class (half of which were currently my bullies).
I was absolutely. Fucking. Terrified. Picture this, thirty children including myself, sat cross-legged at the back of the sports gymnasium, listening to Miss. Teacher brief us on what we would be doing that P.E lesson. She spotted me, amongst the other chilren. Red flag number one that she absolutely despised me. As her eyes met with mine, her expression changed. Her face dropped, “Why are you wearing tights? Stand up!”
And, naturally, I froze. Every single head turned to me, and the girls in the corner noted another unjust justification for bullying me at lunch time.
The feeling of my heart pounding in my chest pounded harder, and harder, and harder as tears welled in my eyes. I hadn’t even stood up yet. “What are you waiting for?” she snapped, angrily. Sassily. Bitterly. With her eyes squinted as she poked her head forward and shook it, like a teenager sassing their parent.
I stood up, legs trembling, as she instructed me to walk to the back of the room and change out of my tights. Of course, this required me to take off my shorts, which literally mean my entire class of thirty pupils saw my bottom half completely naked. I tried desperately to tuck my polo shirt in between my legs as I fumbled to put my shorts back on, but the polo shirt sprung back up as I tried to pull the shorts up. The class laughed.
I cried. Not a single class-member except Anna, my lifelong friend, looked away. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Another instance in which Miss Teacher screamed, repetitively at me, “Are you a girl or a boy?! Are you a girl, or a boy?!” to which I refused to reply. Why ask such a young child such a stupid question, in such an aggressive manner, because they accidentally ran into the boy’s bathroom whilst chasing a friend playfully? I was six. I was six years old, and was being accused of something I can’t even put my finger on to this day, in an incredibly vicious way.
One time, she berated me, a six year old, for writing a love note to a supply teacher whom I thought was really cool. I left it for him on his desk, and it said something like, “You’re awesome,” with a little love heart on the front. She ripped up the note in front of my face, screaming that it was inappropriate for me to be sending signals to a grown man. She made me sit inside during break time and lunch time while Anna played outside. Sending signals? You, a grown woman, interpreted the note as me sending a booty call to this thirty-something-year-old man?! Why are you even a teacher?
I remember the one time I accidentally stepped on the fingers of the teacher’s pet, Kiera. I was put in detention because she had her hand on the bench I was walking along, and of course I definitely, intentionally, jumped on them out of spite. Of course I did. That’s just what I’m known for, isn’t it? Savagely attacking people? Another lunchtime detention for me. This was still only in year two, and around this time it was instilled in me that everybody in My Local Primary School was out to get me.
Not to mention the time Miss. Teacher commanded me to stand up for an entire lesson whilst the entire class was allowed to sit down, because of a reason I can’t even remember. Do you know how long the school days lasted? Six hours. For six hours of my day excluding lunch, I stood at the table as the class spectacle. Giggles echoed the classroom that entire day. I was the stock of all the kids’ jokes, and the levels my anxiety had reached were unfathomable for those of a six year old. At this point in my life, I had not even a concept of anxiety, so thought my feelings were irrational and that I was a terrible, misbehaving asshole of a kid.
Skip forward a year, and we’re in year three.
Mrs. Teacher Number 2. Boy, don’t get me started on this sixty-something-year-old battle-axe who shouted at me every single day of my fourth year of school. I wish I was exaggerating, but it really was every single day. One time, it was because I chose to use the adjective ‘fluorescent’ (which, as a 7 year old, I spelled correctly. Something I should have been praised for) to describe the leaves of a tree in a story I had written for class.
Irrational? I think so.
Another time, instead of yelling, Mrs. Teacher Number 2 decided to mix it up a bit by laughing.
When I read out the word “Pigeon” exactly how it was spelled (go on, try to pronounce it aloud exactly how it’s spelled) during a class reading session, Mrs. Woods laughed along with the rest of my class, and never followed up with clarifying that it was a joke. Why was I so stupid?
The answer is, I wasn’t stupid. An individual whose ‘passion’ (in quotations because she clearly wasn’t passionate about her job) was teaching, had laughed at their pupil in front of their other pupils, encouraging them to laugh too. All the while I sat there, confused, and considerably upset. Isn’t it absurd how I remember these things? Do you know why this is?
These events drastically shaped who I am today, as an adult (relatively) human being I am a product of these traumatic experiences. I had my first panic attack when I was in year two, and Miss. Teacher commanded me to [get off my backside] and stand up to collect a paper off her, which she had passed to the other pupils sat next to me. I was confused. Why didn’t she just pass it to me when she passed it to Kiera, whom was also sat next to me? I concur, I was confused. I was embarrassed, and also taken aback that a teacher had addressed me in that way. That was my first panic attack, at the age of six. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal.
Year five encompassed a lot of yelling but this time they mixed it up a little by giving me a male teacher – Mr. Teacher Man, he was called. A tall, slightly overweight gentleman with a superiority complex which was manifested through belittling me, and only me at every opportunity he got. His favourite method of disciplining me was to make me stand outside the classroom whilst he taught the class. Teachers passed me and asked what was wrong, whilst I cried stood against the wall.
“Why are you crying?!” He asked, having adopted Miss. Teacher’s technique of the teenager-head-shake, something that surely a teacher should not do when interacting with a pupil. A bully-ish behaviour, and one that resonated with me from the memories of Miss. Wheaton asking me whether I was a boy or a girl, making me undress in front of the class, and commanding me to ‘get off my backside’.
I cried harder, and naturally fabricated the fact that I ‘didn’t know’ why I was crying – which of course gave Mr. Teacher Man the cue to return to the classroom, because he did ‘all that he could do’ to console me. A fein, transparent attempt to make me argue back and also a fallback so he could claim he ‘tried’ to cheer me up, when he knew that I had no alibi or evidence that he gave no shits about me.
Mr. Teacher Man refused to let me write in my workbook, unless it was at a ninety-degree angle with the table. What the fuck? Looking back at this, what the fuck? It’s incomprehensible to actually process; I don’t actually understand why he had this obsession. I look back and think that this man must have been having either problems at home, or was mentally unstable but not to the extent that other adults noticed. I was the butt of his anger, his frustration, and I was the one pupil he could control to the extent that I was too scared to speak out.
The ways in which he chose to control me weren’t severe enough for my seven-year-old mind to recognise and comprehend and of course, I followed his every command because he was my teacher. He was my teacher, not my commander, nor my dictator. He was less of a teacher and more a constant burden, a bully, somebody I was obligated to see every single day – and there was no point in moving to the other class, because the pupils inside that class were the ones to relentlessly bully me every lunch time. I was trapped.
I don’t consider what these teachers did to me abuse, nor neglect, just thoughtless and reckless responses to things I did when I was six and seven years old. I have always held the belief that firstly, you should’t shout at anybody – especially children. Children’s brains are like sponges, and when you respond by shouting at them you scare them. You prevent them from learning from their mistakes in a healthy way, and instead you scare them into behaving the way you want. This isn’t positive reinforcement and it’s ineffective and detrimental long term on the child’s mental health. I am a living, walking, successful and resilient example of a child who was shouted at, scared every single day, had anxious tendencies instilled inside me.
The anxiety did subside when I got home, though. The warmth and love of my parents made me forget about the experiences I pushed through during school time, but I was often ‘poorly’ and faked being ‘sick’ in a desperate attempt to be in the company of my mum, who would always come out of work to collect me, and take me home to watch TV on the sofa with her. I truly love her for that. My dad approached my anxieties with patience and a complex understanding of the roots of my problems, perhaps not to the extent I truly wish he had. This is not his, nor my mum’s fault though. I would have been the catalyst in what would have been a pivotal change in my life, moving schools, and readjusting my already anxious mind into another new environment. I didn’t want that, and I can’t stress this enough, I didn’t realise I had anxiety until I was 14 and began what shaped me as an individual – being targetted by vicious bullies in secondary school. But that’s for a different time – one in which I’m fully recovered from these traumas.
I know I did mention that I had fully recovered from my primary school traumas, and I have. I also no longer have anxiety or depression because thankfully, I made the decision to medicate my issues with Sertraline. I still, however, cannot bear the thought of digging up the memories of secondary school. If I were to, I would have to speak aloud to somebody who typed them up for me; writing about my primary school traumas even makes me well up with tears now. But it has to be in the open. I want the people who love me enough to read up until this point, to know what I have experienced as an individual, because my core being is based upon trauma, hurt, and learning from these experiences and not letting anybody shit on me.
And I hope that by reading this, you choose from now on to not let anybody shit on you, either.
Thank you for reading this. You are very important to me if you read this far, no matter who you are. Send me a message, reach out, and tell me if you have had an experience like this. It will help lift a burden, I want to hear it.
I’m @kaitlynpibernik on Instagram.