Friday, August 22, 2008

Don't mess with the nuns

I was talking with someone today and the subject of discipline in the schools came up. She said that she had just read somewhere that human rights groups are calling for the banning of corporal punishment after a recent finding that shows the practice is still widely prevalent in the country today. I had no idea!

There are many places, apparently, that still practice this archaic enforcement of discipline, most notably in the poor, rural south. Mississippi has the highest percentage. It's so sad, really.

But this post isn't about corporal punishment in the present, but rather in my personal past. And it brought up a funny, although a bit disturbing memory for me. I have a lot of disturbing memories but for the most part, I'm over them.

My friend had asked me if I had ever been punished in school and immediately I answered that no, I hadn't. But then, I remembered that I had indeed. I must have buried this memory but it came pouring back. Oh, the horror.

When I was in the sixth grade, I attended a Catholic school in Somers Point, NJ. We were taught by sisters and also by lay teachers. But, for the most part, it was the sisters who were our teachers. And the nun I had for sixth grade, Sister Agatha, was a piece of work.

I did not like Sister Agatha. None of us did. She was not a happy person and always had a scowl on her face. She assigned seats on a monthly basis and one month, I was the unhappy recipient of the desk directly in the front of the room at the beginning of the middle row. A most unfortunate seating arrangement, because we all knew that this was the person that would receive most of her wrath.

I was a good little Catholic girl in grade school, for the most part, because I knew if I went out of line, my parents would hear of it and I'd be in even worse trouble. But one day, Sister Agatha let me have it. Her name evoked something wicked and for a long time, I disliked the letter "A".

I remember sitting in my seat, working on something, when sister asked a question. No one was raising their hand, but I thought I knew the answer. Unfortunately, the boy she called on in the back row said something very funny and I made the mistake of laughing. And before I knew it (and this is the absolute truth) I was pulled BY MY HAIR out of my chair and THROWN TO THE FLOOR.

Think about that for a minute. Could you see this happening in your child's school today? I don't think so.

I was not what you'd call a strong-willed child, but I had a backbone and knew what was right and what was wrong for a teacher to do and I felt a righteous indignation at what she had done to me. With all my might, I got to my feet, put my hands on my hips and said in my loudest voice, "How dare you treat me like that by throwing me to the floor! My mother is the president of the PTA and she's going to hear about this tonight."

I was promptly told to shut my mouth and sit back down in my seat. Which I did, immediately. They had paddy sticks, too, and I didn't want one of them used on me.
That night, of course I told my mother, who was on the phone immediately to Mother Superior. And the following day, before class began, Mother Superior and Sister Agatha were waiting for me and there was an apology from the teacher. I didn't trust this apology, and rightly so, because sister Agatha, well she got me back. She humiliated me in front of the whole class.

Men, you may want to stop reading, because this is just a little bit personal. And I know you don't enjoy stories about women's things. But it so happened that directly after this little fiasco, I well, got something. And my mother (bless her, damnit) came to see sister Agatha to ask her to let me use the bathroom as often as needed. You see, sister Agatha didn't believe in letting her pupils use the bathroom outside of designated bathroom breaks. But I needed to visit it more than once a day for a few days and my mother took up my cause and asked for this favor. Isn't this freaking ridiculous?

Anyway, sister condescended to allowing me to visit the restroom and later that morning, when our math lesson was finished, she cleared her throat and announced to the entire class, "now put your math book away while Kathleen takes her visit to the ladies room. Go ahead, Kathleen, do what you need to do and don't forget your purse."

My God in heaven, I was mortified. The boys all found out what it was all about and teased me in the recess yard, the morons. And damn that nun. This was my life in sixth grade.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Photo courtesy Olahus at


Anonymous said...

I agree with some level of discipline in school, but when you take a women who has never nor will she ever be with a man, and make her in charge of the growing minds, you have a recipe for angst and disaster. My Grandfather-in-law said that nuns made him right handed, I guess he's a natural lefty, but they fixed that misbehavior.

Andi (RrlScrapGal) said...

So I wonder if Sister Agatha went to Heaven or if she went to Hell??? My vote is Hell...

The horror of it all! What a nuns clothing...

And despite it all, I did get a chuckle out of your poor misery! Sounds like a movie script.

Anonymous said...

Wow. There are so many people who never should be allowed to be "teachers". Agatha is one of them. There are so many of them out there... It's a shame.

Leslie: said...

How my mind I'm throwing a used one in her face!

Shimmy Mom said...

Oh Kate that is terrible!!! How could she do that and claim to be a woman of God? Luckily I've never had anything like that happen, but as soon as you said nuns I was reminded of a story. My Great Grandmother grew up Catholic and attended Catholic Boarding School. When she married my Great Grandfather his family was from Utah, so they moved here. When the Mormon Missionaries came to see if she was interested in the LDS church, she invited them in and said, "Do you have nuns?" They said "no" that the LDS religion didn't believe in that. She said, "Then I'll join, when do I get baptized." She was never an active member of the LDS church, but she made it known that she wouldn't belong to a religion with nuns.

Hilary said...

I've heard a ton of similar stories from my Catholic friends while growing up. You have to wonder what makes a person so full of bitterness like that and how it is that she came to teach and shape young minds and psyches. That had to be upsetting for you for a long time. It's a vulnerable age at the best of times.


Oh yeah - Old Aggie is feelin' some heat now. Glad you turned out alright. These moments shape us.

Anna said...

What an unfortunate experience!

I don't get it about nuns as teachers, but this seems to be almost cliche. They weren't all like that, though. When my parents first started sending me to organ lessons (my mother had it all planned out - I'd be a church organist after I grew up and got married), my mother would drive me to a Benedictine convent, where one of the nuns was my teacher. They were really sweet and I enjoyed my visits there. I even considered becoming a nun at one point, partly because of them. Yet, in public school, the only teacher who ever hit me was a nun. She taught French and Art, and was actually a lot of fun. It was in art class, though, that she startled me by smacking my hand with her pencil because, according to her, I was holding mine wrong. I had no clue what she meant by that, nor why it mattered. Even at that age, I could see that I was better at drawing than anyone else in class (including her), in spite of holding my pencil "wrong."

I think things had really changed by then, anyways. At least I was allowed to be left handed. My MIL had very different experiences. She grew up in Quebec and all the teachers were nuns at the time. She was left handed, and they actually tied her left hand behind her back to force her to use her right hand.

My MIL was the youngest of 13 children. She recounted a story of how one of the nuns had hit her in class. When one of her older brothers found out, he went and found the nun and threatened her. That nun never raised a hand at my MIL again.


Anonymous said...

OMG that is insane I tell you! What a nun right? For me it was Sr. Mary Jean. We used to call her baracuda face and then run..and she would chase us.

Unknown said...

My heart literally broke for you this morning. I am so sorry that an adult was allowed to treat you that way Kate. I am glad that you were able to put it all behind you. I am a firm believer in karma and hopefully Agatha will get what is coming to her...bad, bad woman!

Country Girl said...

I don't want you to think I am bitter because I'm not at all. It's just something that happened and I overcame it.
Not all nuns are like this. I've known and loved many sisters and my aunt was actually a nun.
I remember being told when we were little that the devil lived in your left hand and the right hand was the good hand. Luckily I was right handed, or at least I think I was!
So I had one bad nun story. But the rest of my years, even as recently as 12 years ago when I worked with nuns in northern Virginia at a Catholic hgh school, were all good times.
Please don't think I dislike nuns. I just disliked this one.

Corsage@A Dollop Of Me said...

I've had my fair share of bad treatment by teachers too. I didn't realise how much I was holding the anger and unforgiveness in me until I had a heart to heart talk with my mum a couple of years after one of the particularly painful incidences. She was shocked that I never told her (I didn't want to worry her then), but she also wisely asked if I had forgiven that teacher because it was obviously a burden that I was bearing. I was taken aback and realised that I was harbouring the anger in me for those couple of years. I finally let it go and decided to forgive him. It now no longer hurts and I felt immediately free from something I didn't even know was holding on to me! But I do feel very strongly that only those who feel the 'calling' to teach should!

Anonymous said...

Hello KATE!!! I just want to let you and all of your friends know that I am in HEAVEN. You have done very well for yourself and I feel that I played a BIG part in how you turned out, you don't have to Thank Me. O'yea Leslie thanks for the used one!!!! I Love your blogs.

Anonymous said...

I am confident Sister Agatha is burning in hell. There's got to be some satisfaction in that!

I went to public schools, and the amount of humiliation I suffered at the hands of some teachers was disgraceful. I don't want to go into the whys that made me a target, but school was hell for me until I got into high school, and surprisingly, things got easier there. I did have one teacher who went beyond humiliation. She used the ruler on our knuckles! That hurts like hell! Old witch! She and Sister Agatha probably play bridge on Tuesdays.

My daughter always went to private schools, and I am just NOW (she's 26) hearing about some of the abuse she suffered. I was PAYING these witches to abuse my child (she has a learning disability and was a challenge).

Home schooling begins to sound good when you look really closely.

Tui Snider @mentalmosaic said...

What a cruel nun! I've never understood why certain people become teachers even though they obviously dislike children. Well written memoir, though. It sucked me right in! Thanks for sharing. I haven't been online much for a while. I've missed your blog posts and gorgeous photography. :)

Country Girl said...

I hope I haven't made it sound as if I harbor any hate for this sister. My mother told me at the time that it must be very difficult for the sisters to teach with so many children in the class. I think we had just over 40 children in that one class.
I forgave her years ago. Let's hope she's not burning in hell, ok? She was just a cranky nun.

~ C.G.

Emily said...

Leslie~ You are hilarious!
And I agree totally.

Kate~ What a terrible experience! For a little girl to be dragged up by her hair and thrown to the ground for having a sense of humor... Rediculous.

I happen to adore your humor. And your photography. And the horses you live with. And your blog. And and and... :o)


Anonymous said...

I was educated by the nuns as well (Dominicans) and, while I was punished and humiliated occasionally, so was everyone else at one time or another. They were strict and rigid but in retrospect, I wasn't terrified of them and it didn't feel abusive and we got one heck of an education. I certainly don't think that similar things should happen now; times are completely different and I wouldn't want kids to experience what we did; we respect kids more now than then.

Rosezilla (Tracie Walker) said...

At the very beginning of my school career I got a teacher who was very cranky - she was sick, and was out for a while due to surgery of some kind. But I was afraid of her, and one day in the lunch line my friend was staring off in to space and the line got miles ahead, so I gave my friend a gentle little push to get her moving, and suddenly I was snatched out of line and shaken like a rag doll, with my teacher yelling in my face not to push people. I tried to explain which made it much worse, and my teeth and eyeballs were about shaken out of my head! My mom wasn't happy but no one at school seemed to care, even tho plenty of people saw it. There were other episodes, too - it's hard being so vulnerable!

Egghead said...

This is terrible but I do know exactly what you are saying. I too went to a Catholic school. Most of the sisters were nice but there were the four or five that were well known for smacking you, pulling your hair or whacking you with a stick. One was my piano teacher.

Mary said...

My husband and I both went to Catholic schools, and we certainly have our share of "scary nun stories," but on the whole we have learned to laugh about them. But, my goodness, that was physical and mental abuse, Kate! It is a testament to your mother's wisdom that you harbor no ill will.

I will say that the education I got in Catholic schools was absolutely first rate, and for that I am grateful!

Leslie: said...

I came back to see if you had a new post up and just read through the comments following mine! I'm cracking up here! I'm sure glad others appreciate my weird sense of humour! lol

Ellen said...

I can sympathize with you. In secondr third grade (I have blocked the actual year from my memory) I had a growth spurt and my uniform was about a quarter of an inch above my knee (this was about 1968 or so) and the Mother Superior decided to call me on it and spanked me in the hallway and told me not to come back to school until my uniform was the right length - mid knee or lower. Now at 8 or 9, I was oblivious to the lenght of my uniform and was certainly not trying to impress the boys by showing off my legs (chubby as they were)and was quite mortified at the way I was treated. Nuns were different then, as the ones that were in my son's school were loving and caring and would never resort to hitting a child.

joyh82 said...

OMG...sounds like my childhood education at a catholic school in the 70's..I lost my place reading in third grade and the nun grabbed
me out of my chair and paddled me in front of the whole class. I was mortified and cried for weeks so I wouldn't have to go back to school so finally Mom went up to talk to her and straightened her out.
Another year a lay teacher tied my neighbor in his desk seat because he kept getting up...I do believe
he was a bit ADHD. Can u imagine if a teacher would try that these days?

Daryl said...

And I thought your photos were good ... you are an excellent writer Missy!! We need to talk.