The Bad Side

Imagine a classroom of first graders, a group of six-year-olds in their first formal school experience.

Now imagine the teacher openly labeling some of these children as “good” and the others as “bad.”

Sounds ridiculous, right?

My Mom did her best to prepare me for the start of first grade since past experience indicated I would need some encouragement, perhaps even a shove. Mom took me to the school for a visit before the first day. We got to see my classroom and meet my teacher, Miss Griswold. I was still very nervous, but I hoped it would be OK, just like Mom said.

Unfortunately, Miss Griswold had other plans.

One day, Miss Griswold announced she would rearrange the room. She wanted to split the class into the “good side” and the “bad side” of the room. I felt panicked. I didn’t yet know what it meant to be on the bad side, but it couldn’t be good. I didn’t think I was bad, but I couldn’t know for sure I was safe until she finished calling out the assignments. I held my breath. She assigned me to the bad side of the room. My heart sank. I felt very confused. What could I have done? I never got into any trouble.

She drew very clear distinctions between the good side and the bad side. She reorganized our desks and created a boundary between the desks on the good side of the room and the bad side.

When she crossed the boundary, she changed her tone of voice. She spoke in a cheerful sing-song while on the good side. She switched to a threatening tone whenever she moved over to the bad side. While the bad side of the room worked on extra math problems at our desks, the good side of the room moved to the back of the room to lounge on pillows and listen to extra stories.

I was painfully shy, but I had to know why she thought I was bad. I could not think of anything I had done. Asking her why she assigned me to the bad side of the room provoked enormous anxiety. But I could not think of anything else. I worked up my courage, walked over to her, got her attention, and managed to ask her why.

She said I forgot to hand in a permission slip for a field trip before she had to ask me for it. She actually said this in more condescending a manner than that, as if it should have been obvious. “Remember the other day, when you forgot to hand in the permission slip…” After I nodded, she said “Well, that’s why.”

If there was a way out of the bad side of the room, she didn’t offer any tips. I felt sick to my stomach. Going to school everyday made me miserable.

I have no idea how long this went on before my Mom’s complaints eventually put an end to it, but long enough for my panic and embarrassment to turn into dread. I stayed home “sick” a lot. I couldn’t even relax at home, because I worried about what would happen the next day if I couldn’t convince Mom to let me stay home again. Finally, Mom said if I missed one more day, they would hold me back. I stopped staying home.

Eventually Miss Griswold introduced a new system to reinforce good behavior, a token-earning system. The tokens were small chips, round and Crayola red. I don’t remember earning any. I absolutely did not want to call any attention to myself, good or bad. I didn’t need any tokens or prizes, I just needed to be safe.

While I don’t remember how long I sat on the bad side of the room, I do remember why, and I do remember coming to understand that no mistake would go unpunished.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt was to “mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall.” I’m really hoping that someday one of these prompts will elicit an unambiguously happy memory because I swear I do have some!

For those of you who might wonder, Miss Griswold was my teacher’s real name. I suppose it’s possible that someone could identify her based on this post, and I have three things to say to that:  1.) Fuck her, 2.) She got married and changed her name, and 3.) Fuck her.

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30 Responses to “The Bad Side”

  1. Lizz (@libismorgan)
    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    Fuck her is RIGHT! OMG, my heart is breaking for 6 year old you! Some people just shouldn’t be teachers. I’m SO mad right now!
    The only crit I have is that you say “since past experience indicated I would need some encouragement” I wish you’d either shared some of that past experience, or left that line out.
    Otherwise, it’s really well written and I would say I enjoyed it, if I wasn’t so riled up! LOL

    • logyexpress
      Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

      Thanks Lizz. I actually had some additional text explaining my shyness with the small number of memories I remember from prek and k, but I felt it ended up detracting from the first grade story and put me over the word limit. But I can see how leaving that “past experience” line might also detract. Thanks for stopping by and feeling my pain!

  2. Erin
    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    We used to have a cast iron skillet from the Griswold company in Erie, PA:

    • logyexpress
      Monday, March 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

      I wonder if she is related. I guess I should be glad she only messed with my mind and didn’t beat the crap out of me with iron cookware!

    • logyexpress
      Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

      Guess what, Dave just showed me that one of the cast iron pans his Dad gave him probably 10 years ago says Griswold Erie, PA on the bottom. How on Earth did I miss that all these years???

  3. don
    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    So sad. It is a good reminder that what we do impacts the little ones whether we think about it or not.

    I can definitely identify her based on your story. She was always a character that stuck with me. I remember a similar episode involving her when she came back as a substitute PE teacher. While I don’t remember first grade, I remember her doing something similar when she came back.

    She did change her name to Garfolo. You can look her up, egg her house and go get some delicious Erie chocolate.

    PS: What side of the room was I on?

    • logyexpress
      Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

      Ironically, even though I know I wasn’t alone on the bad side, I totally withdrew and have little recollection of who else was on which side. I wish now that I had used the bad categorization as a potential bonding thing (although I think the other bad people were boys and yuck!). I looked at my yearbook and I’m pretty sure that Gary Sins was on the bad side with me and I imagine it was because his name was suggestive of badness more than actual behavior. I think you were on the good side, b/c I can’t imagine forgetting being on the bad side. But then again I was pretty sensitive.

      I remember her coming back in 8th grade as an aide and being super nice to me. I always attributed that, probably wrongly, to the wrath of my Mama back in 1st grade. I’m very curious about your recollection of when she came back, I’d love to hear that story someday.

  4. Erin
    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Alex actually wrote that Griswold comment.

    Go Dottie for sticking up for you.

    Catholic school is so twisted. My first grade teacher was Sr. Ann Louis, and she was a total witch. Her specialty was shaking kids who were bad. She would take them by the shoulders and shake the crap out of them. Poor Jenny Thompson got even worse treatment – she had hair down to her waist, and Sr. Ann Louis would wrap Jenny’s hair around her hand and shake her by her hair instead. My mom told me I would come home from school every day and just start yelling, “I hate you!” over and over again. I remember Sr. Ann Louis taking me aside early on and telling me, “I am disgusted with you. You should be getting A’s and you’re getting B’s.” I remember her use of “disgusted” very clearly.

    The other first grade teacher was Mrs. Hill and she was wonderful, but I was unlucky enough to be assigned to Sr. Ann Louis instead. A few years later, Mrs. Hill, who was divorced, decided to get remarried. Our Lady’s Christian School rewarded her by firing her because she went against Church teachings, while Sr. Ann Louis kept up her rein of terror for years and years.

    But the good thing is I’m not bitter…

    • Erin
      Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

      reign of terror, I should have said.

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 1:02 am #

      Oh so the Griswold name went all the way to Alex. Interesting. You guys are sneaky with the commenting!

      We didn’t really have many nuns left by the time I started school. The librarian was a nun and the principal, Sr. Claudia (I love that name) was a nun and she was presumably the person who told Miss Grissy to hit the road after that year. Sr. Claudia also took over teaching my brother’s math class one year after my Mom complained that the math teacher was an idiot. Mike certainly learned math after the switch, but he said that Sr. Claudia was A LOT tougher than the idiot and perhaps regretted complaining! Dot Matrix was quite the trouble maker at my school. Parent involvement at its finest. Most of my teachers at St. John’s were actually pretty sweet, so it’s extra annoying that my first teacher had to be mental.

      At least she wasn’t physically violent though. Sr. Ann Louis sounds like a real treat. Mrs. Hill was allowed to get a divorce, but not to remarry? That’s crazy. I would have thought she’d get the axe for the divorce.

      I wish I weren’t bitter, but I guess I still am. As a researcher now, I am extra pissed. Studying punitive discipline systems does not seem ethical, but she was already doing an uncontrolled experiment anyway. As long as she was bothering to mess with us, she should’ve assigned some number of us to sides of the room randomly and then followed our long-term outcomes. It would be interesting to really be able to isolate the impact of her ridiculous discipline system, since I had to live through it anyway.

      • Erin
        Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2:45 am #

        Yeah, divorce is OK as long as you don’t commit adultery with someone else. By remarrying she was admitting to adultery. You can take Communion as a divorcee but not if you are remarried.

        We only had a couple nuns, too, but they were the worst. Sr. Claire Marie was the other one, and she repeatedly slammed Andy Kloecker’s forehead into the blackboard in eighth grade.

        Ahh, the many reasons why I am no longer Catholic.

        That bitter comment was supposed to be sarcastic, btw.

        • logyexpress
          Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 7:23 am #

          Yeah, I’m not sure I’m bitter either, except for writing the post sort of stirred up my pot, you know?

  5. TheKitchenWitch
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    I am absolutely horrified!! What a wretched woman! Steam started coming out of my ears just hearing about her. What a way to be introduced to the school experience, eh?

  6. HonestConvoGal
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    I know I’m supposed to comment about the writing and not the substance but Sweet Jesus, what an abusive, horrible woman. I would imagine that experience is still a very painful wound for you. I’m honored that you shared it with us. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m sorry that woman was allowed to teach. I hope that your other school experiences were better.

  7. The Drama Mama
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Griswold sounds like a witch. I’m surprised more parents didn’t complain. I know that back then, our parents did things a bit different, but this? is still off the wall whacked.

    Ok, now for concrit (I’m going to try)…I agree with Lizz. That mention should be condensed or built up. It leaves your readers wondering what happened before (I had to do this with my own post for today). I had a clear picture of Miss Griswold, so you did a great job building her character. I have a lot of sympathy for all of the kids on the “bad side” as well. I could see the line clearly, and I could envision the kids from the good side lounging on pillows (made me think of a genie harem for some reason, LOL!)

    Great writing!

  8. Roxanne
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    When you described the separation of good side & bad side of the room I felt it was such a ridiculous notion that I wanted to slap Miss Griswold. Once you started describing her change in tone of voice, I started to wonder if it was some sort of social experiment. When it turned out that she was just EVIL I once again wanted to reach into your memory and throttle the witch.

  9. Amy
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    She is a horrible woman. How crazy? She didn’t even know you. This is ridiculous. I hope your other memories from school weren’t like this one.

    Great writing…. I was hating the old bat from her announcement of the room being rearrainged.

  10. Galit Breen
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    Ugh. I feel sick to my stomach for you. She’s horrible and you painted that perfectly here. You also portrayed how having her as a teacher affected you poignantly. It is so striking how much power teachers hold.

    My favorite part was when you described the contrast in her voice. I could it hear it. And I hated her.

    Is it weird to want to hug you?!

  11. CM @ A Little Lilac
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    What a sad story. What an evil woman! I had a similar experience with a fifth grade teacher. For some reason, she had singled me out, even though I wasn’t one of the “bad” kids.

    I think you wrote this very well. It kept me captivated from the beginning.

  12. Jack@TheJackB
    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I hate teachers like that. Such a bitch and so unnecessary.

  13. M.J. Putnik
    Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Kiddo, U had to know it wasn’t looking good when the witch said her name was Griswold. That’s a hell spawn name…Did she had a sister by the name of “Sister John?” Seriously, don’t people do background checks on anyone anymore? U really captured the essence of her evilness. I could just see the little girl panicking about the “bad side.” What a bitch. Well written…bet u were grinding ur teeth the whole time! LOL.

  14. Frelle
    Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    how horrifying. no wonder this stuck out in your memory!!

  15. Mama Kat
    Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    Oh no she didn’t!! I can’t believe she would segregate the class like that…and of such small children! I just want to give your little six year old self a big hug!

    • logyexpress
      Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

      Crazy, huh? Thanks for visiting!

  16. Jessica Nunemaker
    Monday, September 26, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    That is HORRIBLE. I cannot imagine a teacher getting away with that.

    Well, I guess I can when I think back to a few “gems” I had in my day–there are reasons why I despise math and I can certainly trace it back to those early years.

    Also? THIS is why we homeschool! Our son is 6. Your story makes my heart hurt.

    • logyexpress
      Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      Thanks for the support Jessica! I was already a shy child, so I think this experience affected me much more deeply than it might have affected others (my classmates barely remember this if at all, although I haven’t talked to any of the others on the “bad side.”). I’m obviously OK now, but sometimes I do wonder how I would’ve fared with a more supportive first grade teacher.

  17. TriGirl
    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    I had to come read about this teacher after your perfectionism post. I’m glad your mom put a stop to things. My parents had to go to the principal when my second grade teacher made my life a living hell too. These are people who should have chosen another profession…working alone.

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      I really think she had serious issues, because she left after that year and only came back as an aide 7 years later.

      This experience (and the ones of so many of my friends who also went to Catholic school) makes me roll my eyes whenever I hear people ignorantly pontificate about the superiority of private school. As if there can’t be bat-shit crazy people working at a private school.

      • Jennifer
        Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

        I hated my first grade teacher too. She actually goes to the same church as me. I had her daughter for 5th grade and she made my life miserable too. This Christmas my kids were in the church play and the first grade teacher sat in front of me. I turned to my mother-in-law and said “See this woman in front of us, she was my first grade teacher. I hated her then and I hate her now. And her daughter was my 5th grade teacher and I hated her too.” It amazes me how I still feel that way 30+ years later.


  1. Playlist Week 13: Did I Ever Once Cry, Waiting For You To Arrive « Logy Express - Monday, April 11, 2011

    […] Overt references to God and religion in music ordinarily turn me off, and many of their songs are colored by their faith, although only some songs are explicitly about God. For any other band this would be enough for me to say thanks, but no thanks. But there is a familiarity in the way Karen writes about this topic that feels comfortable to me. It was my experience too. As heartily as I’ve rejected religion, I don’t really have anything bad to say about my Catholic school experience…well, except this. […]

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