UPDATE: This post has been changed from it’s original incarnation.  A 40 year old photograph of “Mrs. O’ Quillen” (not her real name) had to be quickly changed to a ridiculous clip art female leprechaun.  Mrs. O never read this but somehow her sister in law did.  Sis -in-law angrily told me that Mrs. O would be “crushed” to read something like this. Ordered me to remove it immediately.  Said I was demonstrating “poor form”. I kinda agreed but informed her that the story would stay and then offered the well known “If people wanted you to write warmly about them then they should have behaved better” quote. Of course she was indignant. She then sent her own sister (no relation to Mrs. O) after me to try and bully me with email threats.  I relented and agreed to remove the photograph and change identifying details.  But the story stays.  Although we have mutual friends I have never met sis-in-law face to face.  Nor her bullying sister. But I sometimes wonder how they would have felt if their own children were treated so poorly in school. Something tells me they would be angrily rushing to the kid’s defense and turning their fighting indignation to the shitty teacher.  All a matter of perspective, huh?femalelep
Mrs. O’Quillen was our 6th grade science and homeroom teacher at Villa Maria Elementary in Erie, PA. I truly do not know what her teaching qualifications were but she came from a big Catholic family. I have said before that Catholic schools in the 70s did not actually require their lay teachers to have teaching qualifications. Villa Maria Elementary was no exception. They wanted Catholic teachers that worked cheaply. Did Mrs. O’Quillen know anything about science? At times she seemed to. She was certainly a huge improvement over the previous science “teacher”, a Mr. Nick DeSantis, who spent the entire hour of every science class talking endlessly about his knee surgeries, reading the book Dracula out loud to us and constantly making fun of several of the students’ names. He was particularly fond of calling one of the very few Jewish students, a boy named Israel, “Egypt”. Mr. DeSantis thought he was hilarious and switching Israel’s name was one of his favorite gambits. We all enjoyed Mr. DeSantis’ class but learned absolutely nothing about science. To be fair, Mrs. O’Quillen did run a halfway decent class. We had an aquarium in the classroom. We had gerbils! We had some fairly new books. Almost all the Villa Elementary schoolbooks were from the 50s and 60s so a modern science text was a huge improvement. Mrs. O’Quillen was tiny. Probably no more than 5 feet tall. And she was all about being Irish. Her Irish ethnicity was a huge part of her identity. And we students had better know that. Nothing thrilled Mrs. O’Quillen more than the approach of St. Patrick’s Day. Her classroom was bedecked in green. Irish maps all over the walls. “You must be Irish.” She said to me once. “Those green eyes!” She ordered us to wear something green on St. Paddy’s Day and was angry when I didn’t. I told her my eyes were my green adornment of the day. One of my more enterprising classmates scotch taped a blade of grass to his uniform shirt. Mrs. O’Quillen was not totally unkind as many of her Villa Elementary teaching co-horts were. She was not physically violent. There were two other teachers that taught during the same era as she, Miss Myers and Mrs. Bullock, who were quite slap happy. At least Mrs. O’Quillen taught without smacking students and that was always a relief. She WAS ridiculous though. Although she did not dislike me as much as some of her fellow teachers from the Villa 1970s Decade of Shitty Teachers did, she was annoyed by me. In most particular she HATED to hear me laugh. Odd, huh? I once saw her staring at me while I was in a group of students telling jokes. She told me to come speak to her. She was angry yet smirking. “I heard your laughter above everybody else’s.” She told me, then repeated. “Everybody else’s“. I still had half a smile from the joke telling session so she stared hard at me for a few seconds. “You don’t know what that means, do you?” She finally asked. My smile started to fade. “It means you laughed harder and louder than all the other kids. Do you even realize you do that? I always hear you laughing above all my other students and that’s WRONG!. Girls should not laugh SO hard. And you are to laugh quietly, do you understand me? You are foolish and you’re embarrassing yourself. Now don’t let me hear you laughing that loudly ever again.” My smile gone by this time, I cast my head down and walked away totally ashamed. Isn’t it crazy how I still find myself doing that? Quieting my laughter and walking with my head cast downward. Mrs. O’Quillen enjoyed humiliating students that got her “Irish up”. I cringe at the memory of a mentally challenged boy named Shawn. I liked Shawn. He was into science fiction and weird off the wall stuff that I also enjoyed. Mrs. O’Quillen did not like Shawn. Shawn annoyed her. He was dealing with some pretty severe mental health issues that drove Mrs. O’Quillen off her Irish rocker. He sometimes had difficulty controlling his facial expressions so Mrs. O’Quillen brought in a hand mirror from her home. She made Shawn look into it for an entire 45 minute class so he could see “how ridiculous you look, Shawn”. It broke my heart. I have no idea if Mrs. O’Quillen is still teaching. She must be in her 60s by now. I was always hoping to run into her someday. Supposedly she still lives in town. I want to tell her that Shawn died in a mental hospital. I want to tell her that I was completely unimpressed by Ireland. That Eire was so completely different from the lush, scenic green photos she plastered around her classroom. That it was dull, grey, damp, rainy. It felt like being in a third world country sometimes. I thought about her this St. Pat’s Day. It’s a big day for her. Hope she enjoyed it. Hope she is no longer ridiculous.