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Surviving Subdivisions: The Unending Torment of the Hell Called High School!
Fun on a nun!
Ah, school is in the air! Soon the busses will roll, the bullies will troll, and everyone will be coming down with respiratory illnesses! What is your favourite moment from school? The splinter filled wooden equipment we were only allowed to use when our teachers were on recess duty? Mystery meat in the cafeteria? Weird stories in Reading and Writing class that you still remember thirty years later for how downright terrifying they were? I always loved the Letter People from kindergarten. They ruled. I still find myself singing their theme songs from time to time so many years later. Mr. J had the catchiest of the bunch in my opinion. Ah, youth; where did you run off to?
Let’s be honest: you’re not here for nostalgia. No, you’re here for the pain! After coming across a post about how the horrors of high school are so intense that the average person experiences nightmares about it for the remainder of their life, I couldn’t help but comment as I had just suffered from a series of night terrors about my old school not even a week earlier. Bear in mind that high school was over twenty years ago and I’m still waking up in the middle of the night after fantasizing about being behind on my English homework and the endless torments lying behind every door and within every haunted cranny.
School is not something that you attend; it is something that is inflicted upon you. How I wish I had a time machine so that I could walk right up to those who dared to tell me “These are the best years of your life!” and surgically remove their teeth with nothing more than a protractor. That has to be one of the most harmful lies that authority figures routinely spout.
I was never a popular kid. I was a straight-A bookworm content to read about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life. I was diagnosed with severe asthma at eighteen-months old and was born with a mild heart condition that made me largely un-athletic in a town that loved (and still loves) its sports. I wrote, illustrated (poorly) and stapled together my own short stories about the adventures of garter snakes on rainy days. I may as well have been born with “Kick Me!” tattooed on my ass in order to save my bullies the time it would have taken them to write such a sign themselves. Or spell “kick” correctly.
On the very first day of the first grade, I approached a group of boys and asked if I could join them at the Lego station in the back of the classroom when all the day’s meet and greets had ended. One of them punched me in the face. That set the par for the rest of my time in the local school system.
Come the sixth grade, I was routinely kicked on the playground by a kid who wore the heaviest work shoes available for an eleven-year-old to the point where my shins were bloody and bruised on a near daily basis. That was nothing compared to what follows. The shop class decided to have a dumpster on the yard to discard scrap wood. On a spring day near the end of the year, another classmate (who already had a fully developed moustache at the age of twelve) decided to grab a 2x4 from this dumpster and just beat the shit out of me one recess. No breaks, no interruptions: he just whaled on me for what seemed like the entire period until my rear end was so sore that I couldn’t walk correctly or comfortably ride in a car for over a week.
There was also a group of young ladies who would encircle me on the basketball court and demand that I act like a dog or another animal for their amusement before they’d push me to the ground and walk off laughing, often in front of a girl on whom I had a crush. So that was fun, too. At least I could physically stand upright after that humiliation was finished.
It was for reasons such as the above that I wound up in a parochial high school sixteen miles from home under the assumption that it would provide me with a better experience.
Teachers from Hell
There is no way to tiptoe around this issue. While some of the students in high school were little better than what I had dealt with in the public system, the faculty introduced me to an entity that, until that point, I had only assumed was the invention of cartoon and teen drama writers: the teacher bully.
My freshman English teacher was a dog turd that had somehow gained sentience. This arrogant prick gave us an exam on the “theory of language” and how it came to exist. This included such scientific concepts as “The Yo Ho Ho Theory” and “The Michael Jordan Theory,” meaning that language came about as a side effect of physical work (Yo Ho Ho) or from the changes in vocal pitch like Michael Jordan “flying through the air over the court to dunk the basketball.” Actual quote from the worksheet. Needless to say, he had made all of this bullshit up and had the audacity of grading us on his asinine ideas. That was the least of my worries.
This motherfucker, whom I will henceforth refer to as Mr. Computer, refused to believe that I was writing my own assignments. It all began in mid-September when he decided to task us with entering the local VFW’s essay contest on war and international terrorism. He just took the idea out of the newspaper and issued it as a major assignment that suddenly counted for a larger portion of the final grade of the semester. I guess someone didn’t plan their lessons ahead of time? Then again, with the way this dink invented the “theory of language” exam, using such a contest for homework was probably a merciful alternative to whatever schlock he had brewing in that tiny brain of his.
I mentioned this before; I was a bookworm and often found myself writing in my free time. As a result, I had a larger vocabulary and a more developed writing style than most of my peers. Combine this with a quote lead from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” because Mr. Computer required us to open with a quote lead, and you have a recipe for plagiarism accusations. Apparently the idea of a fourteen-year-old listening to music from the 1960s was beyond his scope of understanding.
The essay came back a couple days later without a grade and only a statement that I had to rewrite all five pages in their entirety by the next day. I did, and it was sent back to me by the end of the period. In addition, he also requested that I rewrite my book report on the summer reading assignment of The Call of the Wild, my essay that I had turned in earlier that week after the class had finished To Kill a Mockingbird, and all new leads in each of the six styles he had issued as part of our study on creative essay writing.
Bear in mind that I had five other classes for which to do homework. Mr. Computer was also my teacher for Writing Lab, and he was pulling this same “redo everything” feat there as well, meaning my homework load was quickly becoming six or seven new tasks in both English and Writing Lab in addition to rewriting everything I had done in the past five weeks. I also had separate essays, tests, labs, etc. for the other classes.
I was so frustrated that I concocted a scheme to flunk out of the school by deliberately bombing two quizzes in science class, receiving gorgeous 0s by intentionally going in the wrong direction when writing metric conversions and scientific notation. If you ever read this article, sorry James for using your class to pull this stunt. You were one of the great instructors in that hellhole.
Come October, with my grades sinking in all of my classes due to limited time to prepare for anything under the plethora of redos Mr. Computer was issuing (along with the generous comment of “I need to know if you are actually doing your own writing” in red ink atop my latest rejected VFW essay), the bastard called a parent-teacher conference. Both of my parents were teachers in the local system, and knowing the sort of hell he was putting me through, had arranged for all of my middle school instructors from the 5th grade onwards to vouch for me and make it clear that this was, in fact, my own writing. Even some of the teachers in the Catholic school had told good ol’ Mr. Computer that this was the way in which I wrote.
He was furious and I was punished. The next time progress reports rolled around, he refused to grade me in both classes and continued to ask me for redos. At this point I was just reprinting the exact same thing off of the computer as soon as I got home and he still found new ways to tear them apart, not realizing what I was doing. Now the guidance department got involved because my workload was marked as “incomplete” for all of Dipshit’s classes. More reprints were made and this time handed in to my guidance counsellor where they were rejected again and again by Mr. Computer.
My parents gave me the option to transfer back to public school after Christmas break and midterms. I was all set for that but something big happened. The administration got wind that he was making inappropriate sexual comments and advances on fourteen-year-old girls, and Mr. Computer was abruptly fired after midterms. He vanished off the face of the Earth for years until I was in college and a friend of mine at a prestigious Massachusetts university alerted me that he was teaching over at his school. Another friend was taking his creative writing class and had mentioned that the assignment was to write short stories about fish and having sex with fish, and they immediately messaged me on AIM about it. Seems like something he’d do.
Here are a few other Teachers from Hell. My sophomore biology teacher smacked a kid for clicking his pen. The schedule made it so that science was the last period on this day. He was anticipating dismissal and was repeatedly clicking the pen subconsciously while waiting for the bell to ring. The instructor became so annoyed and angry that she screamed at him and smacked him across the face. This was in September and she was fired before October began. We went a month without any supervision while waiting for a new teacher to be hired.
A member of the religion faculty was secretly sleeping with a sixteen-year-old pupil of his while he claimed to be coaching her for CCD. The story got out and it took weeks before anything was done about it. Of course the police weren’t involved and it was covered up by the principal and headmaster. The instructor was not even fired; it was only strongly suggested that he submit his resignation and he walked off without any legal consequences.
Last but not least we have Sister Clara, the sole nun in the entire school. Notice how I used her real name; she’s been dead for fourteen years and I have no fears about the fabled magical powers she possessed. Sister Clara was the only sophomore math teacher in the building. No matter your level, no matter your class, you were in her wrinkly grasp and God wasn’t listening to your prayers once she got you!
For some reason she always thought that my name was “William” and insisted on calling me that every single day of the school year. I’m honestly surprised I even had a final grade because she must have looked at “Michael” on the documents and marked me as never having attended a single class.
Do you want to know how to scare any of my old classmates? Ask them to go up to a whiteboard and write their homework. This woman had no idea how to teach. Every class for 180 days involved having our (incorrect) names called to the board, we’d write our homework on said board, and then she’d slowly slink down the length of the wall, inspecting each equation. She’d stare at your work for several seconds and either check it or strike an “X” over it. If you got the “X” you were required to report back to the front of the class and correct it. I saw plenty of my classmates stand at that canvas for the entire period, trying to amend the same equation with which they had started. Sr. Clara would not show you where you had made a mistake, and instead forced you to redo the work from scratch with all eyes upon you.
She never once helped a student who had made an error. Had she shown you where the mistake was made, one would, I don’t know, learn something. This would make solving future geometric equations much easier. Instead, you were on your own and you either sank or nearly drowned. I can say, without hyperbole, that everyone Sr. Clara taught had below average grades. The highest grade in my class was a C+. In others it was a goddamn D.
If we were done sharing the prior night’s homework, we were to start the next chapter’s assignment. One of her methods that we able to decipher was that we had to be able to recite every geometric theorem and postulate from memory, word for word. Spelling counted. If you used shorthand to write “Two parallel lines cut by a transversal create congruent alternate exterior angles,” the entire equation would not count even when you had the correct answer and proofs. If you ran into the margins, you were marked wrong for the entire equation. If you made a spelling error, you lost half of the available points.
This was fun when you only had six lines with which to work. Imagine writing all the steps of a proof within their respective lines and margins and you needed to write something like this: “When two secant segments are drawn to a circle from an external point, then product of one secant segment and its external segment is equal to the product of the other secant segment and its external segment.”
And no, we weren’t allowed to draw our own lines to create more space.
I’m sure that many of you have some stories to tell about the slimy, flaky, spoiled repugnance that is typical school food. At least back in the ‘80s and ‘90s that was the case; maybe things have changed since then. I’m pushing forty so cut me some slack! Some day you’ll be posting a video to TikTok, or whatever platform is relevant then, saying similar things when you’re looking back on a time long since passed.
In high school, nasty food wasn’t a worry because we simply were not fed! We had vending machines for candy, chips, and soda with two more units for some deli-style sandwiches that were never fresh and seldom replenished. If you wanted something warm you could get a Cup-a-Soup for a few dollars, add water from the coffee-less coffee machine, and microwave it in one of the five microwaves. That also meant playing microwave roulette as there were always two that were out of order and long lines would quickly form behind the working three.
I never once saw anyone bring in a meal from home, and am still wondering decades later if the administration didn’t allow it out of a fear that we’d stink up the lockers and hallways with some forgotten bologna.
Fridays were an exception when local pizzas would be delivered and that exhilarating aroma would fill the school starting in fourth period. The only other time we would get pizza was on Ash Wednesday, and then we were strongly encouraged to fast for Jesus. There were no toppings unless you count cheese as a topping (it’s not), but it was real food! Was there a catch to this weekly treat? You bet! You see, we had three lunch periods of around fifteen minutes each. Those who had first lunch usually gorged themselves when unlimited pizza slices were available to students, and when there’s a guy whose nickname is “Moose” you can rest easy knowing that there isn’t going to be much left afterwards. Second lunch usually could get by without issue apart from some of the pies getting cooler. If you got suck in third lunch, you were screwed.
After two periods without restrictions on how many slices one could buy, there was not much left come the third. Guess who almost always had third lunch on Fridays? By this point, the two volunteers selling the slices were often tearing them in halves or thirds and selling them at full price, shouting “One slice each!” after completing an inelegant cut. This could easily have been avoided by limiting students to only two slices in first and second lunches or they could have ordered two more pizzas to begin with, but that would have made sense.
I also sat alone almost every day for four years. The few friends I had were never on the same schedule as I was, and the only time people came over to me was when they wanted to ask if they could take one of the three empty chairs at my table. Just like in that Rush music video after which this article is named! Yes, I tried reaching out and attempted to sit with others, but this more often resulted in me being told to "sit on the floor" by those I was trying to befriend. By my junior year, the assistant principal had issued a draconian rule of four people to a table during meals and demanded that all the seats be filled as overcrowding often left students sitting on the stairs leading into the cafeteria and clogging the only exit. Despite this, I was still alone like the complete prog-rock nerd I was (and am). Cool!
Catholic Schools Week
You remember pep rallies, right? The whole school (regardless of one’s social caste) would be forced to cheer on the athletic department with a typical focus on the football team just before homecoming. Imagine this sort of thing but really, really Catholic themed.
While we, too, had pep rallies, every March we’d be subjected to what is best described as medieval-era propaganda. This meant assemblies from Monday through Thursday where we’d have guest speakers teach us the importance of not believing in any other religion or Christian sect, and the horrible consequences to your body and spirit if you dared to engage in the act of self-sex. I wish that this was an exaggeration. The program ended with an extra long Mass on Friday.
One such speaker opened with a video on how only Catholicism can possibly be the “correct” religion because there is a pope who is God’s appointed representative on Earth. Don’t tell him about that time in the Middle Ages when there were two or even three popes at once. He went on with a story about when he was our age and saw a boy carrying all of his books while walking home one day from school, thought “Nerd!” but befriended him regardless. It turns out he was going to die by suicide that night and was carrying his books home so that his grief-stricken parents wouldn’t have had to clean out his locker. Our speaker had saved this young man life’s by becoming his best friend and this point was only revealed at their graduation. Then he sang a song about this event and we all felt warm and hopeful.
A few years later I would find this exact same anecdote on Snopes.com as “The Story of Kyle.” It’s a story from Chicken Soup for the Soul (1993) called “A Simple Gesture” that was rewritten by an anonymous user in 2000 with a first person perspective and sent around the early Internet as a sort of chain email. The speaker stole the entire urban legend and lied to us about it being a personal story.
During a different Catholic Schools Week, while I was a junior, we had a rapping Jesuit priest visit who played the bass guitar and used looping pedals to create his own backing tracks on the spot. Neat! Any guesses as to how he opened his set? A bit about himself? A thought provoking parable? A story he stole from an email he had received a few days earlier? If you guessed “horrible racist jokes” you’re correct! He was called out on this by the senior religion teacher, but only after he had finished his performances and opened the floor to questions. That was an uncomfortable hour to say the least.
This weeklong event was often our only access to sex education. Rather than doing this by grade or by gender (as assigned at birth because Catholic school) it was done with every student in the auditorium at the same time. We were told such scientifically accurate things like birth control pills cause the womb to fall out, that condoms actually cause sexually transmitted infections and have never once prevented a single disease, and that the only true cure for any STI was marriage. Yes, the holy sacrament of marriage was so strong that it could prevent and even cure STIs! Someone give this man a Nobel Prize!
At the end of this sermon we were given contracts between ourselves and God that we were required to sign, thus swearing that we would remain abstinent until our wedding nights. Most of these ended up in the trash cans at the entrances of the auditorium.
The Dress Code
“Tuck in that shirt!”
“Those skirts are too short!”
“Office. Shave. Now!”
Those are the wonderful sounds of morning before homeroom. The staff would patrol the halls to ensure that all of us were properly dressed in our itchy school uniforms. Girls were constantly harassed and forced to measure their skirt lengths by kneeling on the dirty floor to prove that they were, in fact, up to standard. This was frequently ordered by a male teacher or administrator and always performed as a way to humiliate the female students they had targeted.
Guys did not escape this scrutiny, though we weren’t as subject to the blatant sexism. Any highly religious, coed school is likely to be filled with such male privilege. A tiny bit of facial hair was a violation. That meant a strand of peach fuzz or even a single hair that the razor had missed. If you were considered too stubbly you were sent to the main office and made to shave with a crummy, single blade Bic. There was a longstanding rumour that the school only had a single rusty razor that was shared by everyone going back to the 1940s. The administrator who was most likely to order a guy to shave was also the one sporting the largest, fanciest beard of them all. I guess he never really read the Bible or all of the passages about hypocrisy.
We were occasionally given breaks from wearing our uniforms if we sold enough magazines during the annual drive or donated to a militant anti-abortion program for a pin designed to look like miniature feet (for the fetuses). These were taken as often (and ethically) as possible. While the polo shirts we could wear in September and then again from April through June were okay, the sweaters that were required the rest of the time were the stiffest, most irritating in existence. My arms would often break out in hives after wearing this shit for a whole day. They were also highly flammable and many of my classmates deliberately set them on fire after graduation to see just how flammable. That would have been nice to know before we used the Bunsen burners in chemistry class.
There were many more horrors that were much worse but I’d rather not discuss them as they are too personal for the Internet. Those who know me will understand. As for the rest of you, class is dismissed! Be ready to put your homework up on the board next week or you’ll get your hands whacked by the spectral ruler of Sister Clara’s ghost!
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