The Best Bad Teacher (by Jody Casella)

By many accounts my third grade teacher was a bad teacher.

Her main method of teaching was handing out dittos. Math sheets still smudged with purple ink from the ditto machine. Lists of vocabulary words. The main project most days was to flip through dictionaries. We were supposed to copy the definitions exactly.

While we did our busy work, the teacher sat behind her desk. I don't remember her walking around or talking to us or... teaching. Even my third grade self got the feeling that maybe our teacher didn't like to teach all that much.

To take a break from the monotony of dittos, she took us on field trips.

Each month we visited a different place. Like a Sesame Street "These Are The People in Your Neighborhood" tour, we paraded around our town to the post office, the police station, the newspaper, the library, an ice cream parlor.

Then it was back to the dictionaries and the dittos.

That year was the Bicentennial. The teacher decided our class should put on a musical to celebrate. She taught us patriotic songs and dances. She wrote a script about the history of our country and assigned each of us a part. (I was a pioneer girl.) The rest of the school joined our class and it grew into a huge production with costumes and elaborate painted sets and musical numbers.

When we weren't touring City Hall or painting a back drop of the purple mountains majesty, those days when we were sweating through another ditto, the teacher gave us a fun incentive for working quickly.

She stacked a bunch of paper on a table in front of the class. This was special paper that we had never seen before, with lines on the bottom and open space on the top.

It was for writing and illustrating stories, she said.

I got to be a damn fast definition copier and I'd turn in my completed dittos and head straight to the front of the room to get my hands on that awesome paper.

My first stories were weird. For some reason they were all variations on the "Girl Becomes Crippled, Must Be in a Wheelchair, Miraculously Learns to Walk Again" genre. All of these with carefully drawn pictures at the tops of the pages.

So maybe this teacher did get out of her seat occasionally, because one day she looked over my shoulder while I was writing one of these nutball stories, and said, "This is good."

She scooped the story up and she walked with me around the school because she wanted to show it off. "Look at this," she said, flashing the story around. "Isn't Jody a good little writer?"

It was my very first book tour of sorts and I was beaming.

I've had many teachers. A few truly horrible. The majority just kinda meh. A handful who were brilliant and inspiring.

My third grade teacher doesn't seem to fall into any of these categories, but she is the one I would most like to thank.

Thank you, Mrs. Simmone, for teaching me about dictionaries, for giving me my only glimpse of a giant newspaper press and a mail sorter, for making me learn all the verses of the song "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

And thank you for giving me reams of free time to write anything I wanted and for praising it up and down the halls of my school.


  1. Love this :) Particularly the fact that you dabbled with the "Girl Becomes Crippled, Must Be in a Wheelchair, Miraculously Learns to Walk Again" genre. Haha. I, too, had a teacher who offered a stack of paper for students who finished early, and it opened a whole new world for me. She took my work home each night so she could read it to her sons, and funny enough, I felt solely responsible for their literacy. It's funny how just a little bit of encouragement can mean so much!

  2. Those stories sound brilliant! Come on--drama, tension, a satisfying ending!

  3. I agree with Holly. This needs to be a book!

  4. Do you still have any of the stories? You have to post at least one of them!

  5. Thanks all! And Tracy, I went searching for the stories but couldn't find any. I think my mother might have them. Now I am curious and want her to dig out her attic and look. I will keep you posted.

  6. Um, Jody? If your mother doesn't have the stories, then I'm pretty sure I do. Except that they've somehow been transmitted into my much-older-than-a-third-grader brain, and morphed into a YA novel (unpublished, needless to say) entitled, "Tales From the Crip." Yep. Not kidding. Car accident, many broken bones in legs and feet, wheelchair, slow healing.. the only thing missing is the "miraculous" angle. Of course, I'd like to think that my book is about a lot of other stuff too, because I've managed to surpass the maturity level of a (sob) third-grader...

    1. Susan, I am going to take a wild guess that YOUR book is astronomically better than my 3rd grade story collection. Also, thanks for the laugh first thing in the morning : )

  7. Jody your ability to bring characters to life astounds me here as it does in your fiction. Beautiful post. Really made my morning. Love that your not-so-great teacher turned out to be something truly special.

  8. Oh that special paper! I like how you included the image but I was hoping it would have part of your story on it. :)



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