Our Fearless Leader by Annie


This, in more of a Pilgrim's Progress sort of way, is what my 2nd grade teacher looked like. Even for a rule follower like myself, Mrs. Roach could be and was frequently terrifying.

A stern, pale, and skull-faced woman of late middle age who pulled her hair back in a no-nonsense bun, my teacher wore what were commonly referred to as "cat eye" glasses and her mouth was a horizontal slash of red, courtesy of the House of Avon. She wore dresses with slips underneath, silk hose and high heels with pointy toes. Every single day.  Mrs. Roach pulling her Pontiac into the teacher's parking lot in a pair of stretch pants would have have been no less shocking than discovering an aproned minotaur in a hairnet serving up tater tots in the cafeteria on Hamburger Day. 

When it was time for math, you did not ask why and then pretend to lose your pencil. You had at least five other Eberhard Fabers (always sharpened) in the "side pocket" of your desk which you lined with a brown paper towel so that pencils and crayons didn't fall through the holes. When it was time for handwriting, you did not cleverly substitute the capital "S" in your last name with a treble clef  (even though they sort of looked the same) unless you wanted it circled in red pen with a note to erase and do it over. When it was time to read aloud, you did so in hopes of hearing a "Nicely done!" before she selected another victim student.  That was high praise enough. We didn't need or expect a 21 gun salute and an application to MENSA.

When accused of chewing gum in her class you did not roll your eyes and say, "I don't HAVE any gum" in an exasperated tone which--although-- technically true because you were chewing something, it wasn't gum. It was Captain Crunch. Because you didn't have breakfast that morning (As if that was somehow her problem or responsibility. But go ahead and suggest to her that it was her responsibility and then wait for the Apocalypse.) Better yet, have your parent do it. Same result.

You did not try to be the class clown by burping words to the Pledge of Allegiance or ask her if this was her "real hair" or if she dyed it.  When she asked for your homework you did not fix her with a smarmy grin and tell her you didn't do it because "I was busy".  The only notes you wrote in class had damn well better be from the assignment on "How to Write a Letter To a Friend" and not to your actual friend who had a different teacher altogether who wouldn't have cared if that same friend spent a brief moment of class time reading your synopsis of last night's episode of "The Monkees".

If you were told to carry a sealed envelope home to your parents, you were clueless about its contents and you did not ask. It could have been a letter about a PTA matter or a request to have you publicly flogged. It mattered not because it wasn't any of your damn business because it wasn't addressed to you and hiding it for two weeks inside your copy of Encyclopedia Brown wasn't going to make it go away.  Later, your parents weren't ever going to go all Liza Minnelli crazy when questioning Mrs. Roach like she was at her own trial because you didn't bring the note home. Why?? Because that was a parenting issue and your parents--God love them--were smart enough to know it.  However, your ass would be--as they say--grass even though the note was about being a homeroom mother, you paranoid maniac.

Had the internet existed back when you were a kid, Mrs Roach would have been listed on Wikipedia as the country's seventeenth line of defense. Just ahead of the Boy Scouts.

Mrs. Roach was a teacher, not a convenient doormat to be stepped on by lazy-ass parents who expected her to offer free tutoring for class days missed because of a surprise birthday trip to Carlsbad Caverns which necessitated lying about being sick for two days so that it would be excused. She wasn't about to be trifled with or disrespected during professional development seminars by being asked to remove her teacher hat for the day and pretend to be a student learning the same shit she was already teaching in real class. One didn't tell Mrs. Roach that she would be taking and grading work from any and all children who had sufficient time to turn in their assignments but didn't do so....for five weeks.

And if someone told her that she would be expected to tiptoe around a mentally ill student who hears voices that tell her to do bad things and if said student was demonstrating those bad things in class and began to otherwise act strangely like having a conversation with her own shoeand that she--Mrs. Roach-- was required to halt the educational process for everyone else in the class, hit the panic button on the wall and then step ALONE(?) into the hall with said mentally ill student and wait until help came? Well...Mrs. Roach would have poured those people a big old glass of OH HELL NO and stood calmly while they drank it down with a side of KISS MY ASS cookies. Guaranteed Mrs. Roach did not have to aid her nightly sleep with  five melatonin and a martini chaser because even though she was required to dress like June Cleaver and she was paid like crap and the moral turpitude clause in her contract prohibited her from being seen buying or consuming alcohol, she was respected. By everyone. Or they did a really good job at pretending. Period.

It's not hard to see why my colleagues and I look wistfully into the rearview mirror and sigh before pouring ourselves another stiff drink. Even on a good day, I'm forced to behave less like Mrs. Roach and more like the friendless kid who converses with her sandwich. We live in an era where teachers are everyone's whipping boy and--like my friend Nance says, no one's boss. I live for the days when I can say "no" or "yes" and actually be granted permission to follow through on my own decisions. Sure, I'm allowed to wear pants, but only in the literal sense. Never in the figurative.

But I can hoist a glass and so I do. Here's to you, Mrs. Roach.



You can read more of Annie at Rainbow Motel. Go say hey to her!

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (10)

Amen. I was a teacher myself in the 1990s, first on Chicago's west side then in Massachusetts. You could say that is why the wife and I were like "forget having kids, lets have puppies instead!". I "retired" age 31. There are a LOT of former teachers out there, you know? Smart people who got fed up with the millions of things that make it hard for a teacher to teach.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergary Rith

Hallelujah and amen! Having been taught by nuns I had many Mrs. Roach's in my early schooling. Later in my life I was thankful for all I learned from those hardworking, unbending, dedicated individuals who taught me how to grow up to be an adult. My parents were tough on me, my grandmother loved me unconditionally, but she still expected me to be civil and respectful to all adults. If I ever talked back ( TO ANYONE) I was called on it and spent some time contemplating my navel, by myself, in my room, for the day. Only allowed to come out to pee and maybe eat some dinner. Once, as an adult, I lamented certain shortcomings in my upbringing to my Mother. Her answer? You survived didn't you? You're an adult now, that was my plan to raise an adult, I already had a child! Boy, she was right.
Annie, I am thankful for you and all the teachers like you, who taught me and my children how to become adults and how to live in the real world.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlbug

Loved every word of it, and I have only the deepest sense of compassion for teachers. I have done a lot of volunteering in my daughters classrooms, and I can't imagine the fortitude needed to keep that energy and patience level up in the face of overwhelming hideous bureaucracy.

I salute you.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermolly

You made me do something I haven't done in a long time - explore a new (to me) blog. I do like the way you write!

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisse

Mrs Roach was clearly related to Mrs Grabau my fifth grade teacher. "I can't"could not be uttered in her classroom....she too was no nonesense with a a side of happy to help if you were prepared to work hard. I learned much from her. And wish I had paid more attention.She died a couple years ago, she was somewhere past 100. And I would never have called her by anything other than Mrs Garbau...I am not sure she had a first name!

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

My kids go to a parochial school and we have our own version of Mrs. Roach. She is SO GOOD for kids. I give a crap that she won't use a SmartBoard or the computer lab. I have yet to discern any gap in their education under her old school approach and if they gripe about her? They get NO PITY from me, only praise about her.
Where did these teachers disappear to? What an era. You recall it so well.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreen Girl in Wisconsin

I loved reading your blog, I went back to the beginning. And really enjoyed it, please keep writing!

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThe Other Kay

Amen! I once wanted to be a teacher. By the time I got around to starting on that path I could see that times had changed and I would not be allowed to be like Mrs. Roach so I dropped out of the program. My deepest respect to those who stick it out and attempt to teach the future generation!

January 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter~annie

OH. MY. GOD. I loved this. ThankyouThankyouThankyou. 23 years teaching and I fled precisely because I couldn't take one more day of being held accountable for kids whose parents never bothered to teach them manners or respect. Or who thought nothing of coming in to dump all over any teacher who tried to rectify the situation.

I'm off to find your blog!

January 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBriget

I'm with ~annie -- and you!
Here's to all of the teachers like Mrs. Roach.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren (formerly kcinnova)

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>