by Carrie Randall
I did not want to be in Mr. Moyer’s class.
There were three teachers who taught fourth grade at Mt. View Elementary School. Mrs. Fauver was nice and smiled a lot. She wore long skirts and long hair and even had a pet bunny in the classroom. Everyone wanted to be in her class. Mrs. Hart was quiet and very patient. She didn’t play a lot of games, but she also didn’t give a lot of homework. No one really minded being in her class either. But no one wanted to be in Mr. Moyer’s class.
Mr. Moyer was ancient. He had white hair and a white mustache that crossed his rigid face. Every day of the school year he was dressed in a suit with a jacket that he didn’t even take off when he had recess duty. His lessons were difficult and he expected his classroom to be quiet.
Mr. Moyer never smiled.
I did NOT want to be in Mr. Moyer’s class…but I was.
“I’m going to ask my mom to request I be transferred!” I muttered to my friend Melissa on the walk home after the first day of school.
Melissa and I were friends because she lived down the road from me. We played together during the summer even though we’d never been in the same class at school before. She had been as unlucky me, though, and we were both stuck with Mr. Moyer.
“Me too! I can’t stay in Mr. Moyer’s class all year. He’s awful!”
That had been the feeling of all 26 students who had endured class in room number 12 from 7:45 AM to 2:30 PM on that day. Mr. Moyer didn’t welcome the students. He warned them. He set down the rules, starting with a seating chart, and made it clear there would be consequences for not following them. There was no laughing that day; or talks of field trips or class pets. There were lessons and regulations and a promise of more of the same.
I hated Mr. Moyer’s class and I was even a little scared of him.
“You need to give your teacher a chance,” my mom told me that afternoon when I pleaded for a transfer.
“Mom, he’s just mean!” I insisted.
“Do you know what Mr. Moyer said to me this morning when I walked you to your classroom?”
I certainly did not know what he had said because I hadn’t even realized my mom had spoken to my teacher that morning. This alone was humiliating and I was more interested in asking her not to repeat this parent/teacher communication thing, but she went on.
“When I said ‘First day of school is always a little crazy, isn’t it?’ he said, ‘Yes, it is. They are all nervous and scared, and so am I.’ So, you see? He needs time to adjust too.”
Well, I didn’t really think my mom was right but I couldn’t exactly argue with her at this point. Plus, I did feel a little bad thinking of Mr. Moyer being nervous when I knew all those kids hated him. Still, he was the one being such a tyrant! No, I still did not want to be in his class, but it was clear I was stuck there.
Fourth grade was going to be torture, I knew. But I had no idea on that first day just how bad that torture was going to get.
Melissa was my only friend in Mr. Moyer’s class and she wasn’t very good at being one. I had been a new student the previous year and the few friends I’d made in the third grade were all together in a different class. It seemed like all of the nice students had ended up in Mrs. Fauver’s class. All of the smart students had ended up in Mrs. Hart’s class. And all of the trouble-making, mean-spirited, problem kids ended up in Mr. Moyer’s class. I wasn’t sure what that said about me because I was still in denial at that point about how I was seen at that school.
I didn’t see that the long hair I refused to cut was brittle and fuzzy, making my face look rounder. I didn’t realize that all of my peers wore fashionable clothes while I wore baggy jeans and T-shirts. I was a little over-weight for my age and I tended to sweat a lot when I played hard. But I still felt like a kid and I didn’t mind. Maybe if I had been more observant I would have realized sooner that I wasn’t like the other fourth graders who all seemed done with being “kids.” They were ready to stake their claim for social territory before Jr. High arrived. Everyone wanted to rise to the top of the newly developed social structure and they needed someone to step on to get there. After all, you couldn’t be on the top if someone wasn’t on the bottom.
The funny thing is I can’t even remember how it first started. I think I remember when it first started though. It was in the lunch line which is odd because I rarely waited in the lunch line. My class was one chosen to eat in their classroom because the cafeteria was too small to hold all the students. The only time I would have been in the lunch line would have been if I was buying my lunch, and that almost never happened. Still, on this particular day I was in the lunch line and the boy named Robin was behind me.
Robin had dark hair and small eyes. If you’ve ever imagined the villain with beady eyes, those were Robin’s. He also had a voice that was a cross between a baby’s wail and a hyena’s laugh. I can still hear that voice in my mind today.
“Hey, Blubber!” That voice rang out from behind.
I didn’t turn because I didn’t think anyone was talking to me. No one talked to me. Even Melissa ignored me on days her friend Sarah was in a particularly possessive mood. As usual, I was lost in a daydream until I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Hey Blubber!” that voice rang out again.
I turned to see Robin and two of his friends grinning at me from ear to ear.
“Huh?” I replied looking at them in confusion.
“She responded! She knows that’s her name!” the three of them burst out laughing.
Heat filled my face. I still didn’t understand, but I knew I had done something that they were laughing at. I’d done something wrong.
“Hey! You boys move this line along now!” Mr. Moyer’s gruff voice snapped from behind us.
Robin’s face paled a little, but he still snickered to his friends as they stepped back in line. Turning around, I quickly got my lunch and tried to hide my face with my hair all the way back to my classroom. I ate alone.
Every day after that was more of the same. No one wanted to be around me unless they were taunting me. I actually hated recess because I had nothing to do and no protection. I tried bringing a book out a few times until a group of girls walked over to where I sat and ripped it out of my hands. I did a lot of walking around trying to avoid notice, but I was still a target. Name calling and laughter was a constant, but it was being completely alienated that was the hardest to bear.
“That’s good work,” Mr. Moyer stated simply as he handed back our class assignments one afternoon.
I was startled out of my daydream by the mere fact that someone was speaking to me. Mr. Moyer’s voice was always commanding, even when he attempted to speak quietly. It was like Charlton Heston in the movie “The Ten Commandments” that we watched every Easter. You couldn’t help but be stilled by the way it filled the room. And I hadn’t heard that clear voice speaking in the last several minutes because he hadn’t commented to anyone else. His compliment was to me alone and he announced it proudly to the whole class.
Saying thank you would have probably been a good response, but I had yet to really speak directly to Mr. Moyer in any way more than answering a question. In truth, I probably hadn’t spoken to anyone yet that day. I didn’t say anything. I just smiled and realized the whole class was staring at me in the strangest way.
“Witches have green eyes, you know?” A group of fifth grade girls sneered as they encircled me on the playground one day.
I never argued with my tormentors.
“Ew, you have green eyes like a witch! Yuck, green!”
I tried to step away but they blocked my path.
“Why are you so fat?”
“I don’t know,” I replied acting like we were just having a conversation while I looked for an escape.
“You don’t know? So, you admit you are fat?”
I said nothing.
“Why do you wear those clothes?”
“Um, I like them?” I was embarrassed. What was wrong with my clothes?
Giggles followed from the fifth grade girls. “Oh, um, you actually like them?”
“I guess.” They were still talking to me so maybe if I keep agreeing with them they will realize I’m nice and want to be my friend.
“Are you a green-eyed witch?” More giggles.
They seemed ready to let me go at this point and I quickly walked away without looking back.
“Blubber!!!” I heard from across the playground. “Blubber, come here!”
I turned and ran in the opposite direction.
My mom had gotten used to me crying every night by now. I begged her to let me stay home every morning. I even faked sick to do so a few times. When I told her about the older girls encircling me on the playground and not letting me go, she decided it was time to talk to the school.
The principal told her there was nothing he could do.
The assistant principal told her it was nothing to worry about.
The school counselor told her that those were nice kids and I was the problem.
Mr. Moyer said, “I’ve noticed things going on. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Just like that, someone had my back.
I smiled at Mr. Moyer when I got to class the next day. He still made me nervous, always looking so serious and in command, but the lines in his face moved slightly under his white mustache when he caught my smile. When I came in from recess that morning Mr. Moyer walked with me from the coat rack to my desk and asked me simply how things had gone today.
“Fine,” I told him, willing myself not to sound intimidated as I forced the words out. “It was better today.”
And it was better…a little. Melissa overheard the exchange.
“What was he talking about?” she asked with avid curiosity, but I wouldn’t give her an answer.
During class time I wasn’t really there a lot. I was there physically, but my mind was elsewhere. I had always been a daydreamer, but it reached an Olympic skill level during my fourth grade year. I often found the wrong book opened on my desk when I hadn’t realized the rest of the class had changed subjects already. Usually I could zone back in just at the right moment, but sometimes my lack of attention got me into troublesome situations. This is how I found myself caught off guard when my name was called out in class by a random boy one day. I looked up to see Mr. Moyer and all the other students staring at me.
“Do you accept?” my teacher asked me. From the blank expression on my face he must have realized I was lost. He didn’t point it out or scold me though, much to my relief. “You were nominated to be our class candidate for Student Body Vice President. If you accept you will have to run against the students that Mrs. Fauver’s and Mrs. Hart’s classes nominate. Do you want to do that?”
They wanted me to run for an office? Out of everyone in the class, someone had nominated me and no one was objecting? I reasoned that this meant it would take a lot of work that no one else wanted to do, but I didn’t mind. They had chosen me! I would work hard for them! I would be somebody other than “Blubber” at this school.
In hindsight, I think Mr. Moyer was trying to warn me by the look on his face. But I didn’t get it. So, I accepted the nomination. And I worked hard. Very hard. My mom and I made beautiful posters asking for the students to vote for me, but the posters were all torn down. We spent hours cutting out paper circles and putting pins in them so they could be worn as campaign buttons that said CARRIE FOR VP, but even the younger kids who agreed to put them on had them ripped off by the older students before the end of the first recess. I still persevered, though, and spent hours preparing my speech for the student body. I knew there would be sneers and laughter while I was on stage, but I went through with it and did the best job I could. I wasn’t surprised when I lost the election. I was disappointed, but I had known I probably wouldn’t win. I just wanted to run a good campaign and prove to my class that I would work hard to represent them. I had done that. I had proved that it wasn’t a mistake to nominate me.
So losing didn’t hurt. It was finding out that I had been nominated as a joke candidate so Robin’s best friend in Mrs. Hart’s class would win that hurt. Realizing that I had been set up and that the harder I worked the more they laughed at me hurt like hell.
“You gave a good speech,” Mr. Moyer told me. He was the only one who did.
Humiliated, I still managed to tell him “thanks” this time.
One day our seating assignments were rearranged and my desk was put next to David Candfield’s. David had curly blond hair, freckles, and the widest teeth I’d ever seen. He didn’t follow Robin around like the other boys, but everyone liked him because he was good at sports and liked to make people laugh. And he talked to me. I don’t know why, but David seemed obvlivious to the fact that I was the class pariah. Everyone knew that to say anything kind to me was to open yourself up for ridicule or worse. Somehow, though, David seemed immune to this and he actually seemed to like talking to me. It was only during class, never at recess, but he was nice and made sitting through the day a little less lonely.
A month or two later our seating was rearranged again and David was moved across the room from me. I watched as David smiled at Andrea, the girl now sitting in front of him, making friends like he always did. I was stuck sitting next to Robin’s friend who cringed when he saw me and plugged his nose like I smelled. All day long I endured the whispered insults that hadn’t been as prominent when I sat near David. When it came time to pair off for a project, no one next to me would let me be their partner. I looked hopefully toward David, but he had already paired up with Andrea who now sat in front of him instead of me. Things were only going from bad to worse.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and I was truly desperate at this point. I formulated a plan and carefully wrote a note on a torn out piece of notebook paper. At the end of the day I pretended to take longer to pack up my things while the other kids followed Mr. Moyer out to the bus stop. I knew I was taking a risk of being cornered in the classroom while the teacher was gone, but thankfully Robin left the classroom before realizing I was in a prime targeting position. When the room was finally emptied, I quickly left the folded up note on Mr. Moyer’s desk before I lost my nerve.
Can I change seats with Andrea?
I ran out of the classroom embarrassed. I was too nervous to actually face Mr. Moyer and ask for a favor, but I felt confident that he would do this for me because it was something I really needed. The next morning I felt completely foolish. I was shocked to find that my desk had not been moved. Disappointment crushed me. I understood, of course, that the teacher couldn’t play favorites and I was just going to have to deal with the loneliness and teasing where I was.
“Settle down and take your seats,” Mr. Moyer’s deep voice sounded across the room later that morning as the class came in from break. “Also, Carrie and Andrea. Will you two please change seats?”
I wouldn’t look at Mr. Moyer as I gathered my things and moved, but I was sure the happiness spreading across my face was clear.
“I’ll bet he moved you because he knows how well we work together,” David turned to whisper as I settled into place.
I beamed with joy as I nodded to him before looking up to watch my teacher lecture at the board. I knew then that I had been right. I did have an ally and, as bad as things were, at least someone was on my side.
Christmas came and I wanted to make something special for Mr. Moyer. My mom had been teaching me how to cook and I decided to make homemade fudge from scratch all by myself. It turned out a little soft but it tasted good, so I wrapped it up and brought it for him the day before Christmas break.
“You brought Mr. Moyer a present?” Melissa asked incredulously when I showed her. “Why? He’s the worst teacher ever!”
“No he’s not,” I defended him.
“Did anyone else bring him a present? He’s mean!”
“He isn’t! I like him!”
It was true. I did like Mr. Moyer. But I was still so nervous around him. I wanted to leave the fudge on his desk with a card, the way I had done with the note. Somehow, though, that didn’t seem special enough. I wanted him to know I’d made it myself and made it for him. I held the soft candy in my hand all during our Christmas party, waiting for a time when the other kids wouldn’t see me. I could feel the squares starting to melt together and I started to doubt he would want to eat it at all. The other kids told me I was gross. They talked about how I smelled and was dirty. What if Mr. Moyer really didn’t want to eat anything I made? What if he didn’t want anything from me at all? But, as the end of the day came and the class began packing up, I finally got the nerve to approach the teacher’s desk.
“Here, Mr. Moyer,” I squeaked timidly, holding out the squishy package. “This is for you. I made you some fudge. I made it myself… from scratch.”
“Did you?” Mr. Moyer replied, his voice somehow quiet now. I had not known he was capable of sounding quiet. “Well, thank you.” He took the fudge and smiled. A real smile.
After school I had my mom take me by my former third grade teacher’s classroom so I could give her some fudge too. I missed being in her class on the other side of the school. The kids hadn’t hated me back then and she had a way of making me feel calm. I gave her the fudge and listened while she and mom visited awhile. As we were leaving she thanked me for the fudge again and I told her I’d given some to Mr. Moyer too.
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad you did that,” she said with sadness in her voice. “He’s had such a hard time.”
My mom asked her more and she was reluctant to talk in front of me.
“Carrie won’t say anything to the other kids,” my mom assured her. “She can be trusted.”
“Yes, I know that,” she said, patting my head in that grandmotherly way she had. “It’s just that Mr. Moyer’s wife has been very ill. She has cancer and has been in and out of the hospital for most of this year. I don’t think there is much more they can do for her, but he goes to stay with her every evening after class. You can tell it is really exhausting him.”
“Do they have any children that can help?” my mom asked her.
“No. They only had one son and he passed away in an accident a few years ago. It’s just the two of them now.”
I thought my heart was going to break for Mr. Moyer. He was all alone while his wife was in the hospital. Where was he going to spend Christmas, I wondered? Did he have any friends to bring him presents? He had to deal with those horrible kids every day when this all of this was going on? I started to understand my teacher better then.
He wasn’t mean; he was sad.
He wasn’t impatient; he was tired.
He wasn’t bitter; he was scared.
I thought of my classmates and the mean things they said about him. I thought of the disrespectful remarks that he sometimes heard and sometimes ignored. I thought of all the hugs Mrs. Fauver and Mrs. Hart got from their fourth graders and how my class openly talked about wishing they had a different teacher. But who can think of games, or treats, or class pets when your wife might be dying?
Poor Mr. Moyer. They were bullying him, too.
I wasn’t as nervous around Mr. Moyer after that. I was still tormented every day, but I didn’t feel alone anymore. More than having a guardian, I had a comrade in arms. If he could endure them, then so could I.
Spring came and we started playing baseball and going to swim class in the afternoons. I hated baseball. I was terrible at it and everyone groaned or made crude noises whenever I came to bat. I tried my best to hide in the outfield when I could, knowing how I’d be treated if I messed up. No one was more shocked than I was when I fly ball landed right in my hands one day.
“Good catch,” Mr. Moyer smiled at me as the other students just gaped. I smiled back knowingly. We’d started doing that now and then at times when the bullies had been undermined. Score one for us!
I actually liked going to swimming lessons. Sure I was taunted in my suit, but I was taunted in whatever I wore and at least I was good at swimming. When lessons were over we had to hang our wet items on the clothes line that draped the back of the classroom. It was too tall for most fourth graders to reach so the students would take turns standing on a chair. If I hadn’t been daydreaming on that one particular day I might have noticed that Robin and his friends were standing close by as I took my turn at the chair. Just as I put my food on the seat and started to rise I felt the chaired pulled out from under me. I pitched towards the floor, my damp towel and suite clutched in my hands. My shoes echoed as they struck the tiles but I just managed to keep myself from falling on my face. Turning, I saw Robin’s face split into a wide grin as he laughed and pointed at me gleefully. I glared and moved to stand on the chair again.
I had one foot up when everything seemed to stop. This was a moment where I could make a choice. I could ignore them again or I could use this time to send a message. My frustrated mom had said she supported me no matter what since the school wouldn’t do anything to help. Mr. Moyer had done what he could but it was up to me to set things right for both of us. And, strangely, I wasn’t even scared. What more could they really do to me?
I slowly stepped back down from the chair. Robin had his back to me to me now as he was with his friends, but he turned as I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked amused when he saw me standing there, but he didn’t see my right hook until it was an inch from his face. It wasn’t much of a punch really, but it was enough. I heard the smacking sound as my fist connected with the side of his jaw. I only barely registered the shocked looks on his friends’ faces before I went back to the chair and resumed hanging up my wet item.
“She hit me!” I didn’t turn to look, but I heard Robin whining at Mr. Moyer’s desk.
I still didn’t look up as I made my way back to my seat.
“Really? Good for her!” Mr. Moyer’s voice rang out in praise, and I couldn’t help peeking up just a bit to see him smiling at me with pride.
I worried briefly that I would get into trouble, or that Mr. Moyer would get into trouble for not getting me in trouble. But the incident was never mentioned again. I was also never called “Blubber” again.
No one was ever as happy to see a school year end as I was to bid fourth grade good-bye. I had survived but when I saw the names of the kids assigned to be in my fifth grade class, I knew I couldn’t go through it another year. My mom gladly moved me to a new school where I easily made new friends. I was never bullied like that again, but some scars never heal.
I gave Mr. Moyer a hug on the last day of school. I kind of figured he probably didn’t get a lot of hugs and everyone needs one now and then. He hugged me back and smiled. I thought how funny it was that last fall I didn’t think he smiled. I tried to remember how I was ever scared of him.
I went back to see Mr. Moyer the following Christmas, and I brought him more fudge. His wife was still hanging on, but she had been too ill to be home for a long time. I visited Mr. Moyer again the next year before going into junior high. He asked me where his fudge was and I proudly showed him how my cooking skills had improved. I knew his wife had died but he didn’t mention it, so neither did I. By the following Christmas he had retired and moved away. Several years later his obituary appeared in a small square of the newspaper.
Former local elementary teacher passes away…
When my mom and I talk about “my year from Hell,” as the fourth grade has been dubbed in my life, she always tells me that it happened for a reason. She tells me it taught me to empathize. That now I always fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. But, mostly she talks about Mr. Moyer.
“He needed you that year, Carrie,” she tells me. “I think you were there for him as much as he was there for you. You needed each other.”
I had not wanted to be in Mr. Moyer’s class.
He was ancient.
He never smiled or gave hugs.
He was a gruff and rigid old man with white hair and a stern face.
And he was my hero.
Carrie Randall holds two masters degrees and works as a professional Academic Advisor helping students navigate their own difficult experiences and reach their own higher education dream. She currently resides in Indiana and plans to continue writing.