Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Legend of Mrs. Moyer the Computer Teacher: A Story in Three Acts

Prologue

For practically all of my life, I've loved playing with computers. I suppose I get this love from my late grandfather, who always strived to have the latest technology whenever he could manage it. When I was a small child, we'd sit in his ham radio room playing Pac-Man on his PC for several hours. It was amazing.

Despite this love, I absolutely hated going to my elementary school's computer lab.

I attended James Bowie Elementary School from 1992 to 1998. I look back on those years rather fondly, as I had great teachers, I made several new friends, and, despite the occasional bully, had a wonderful time.

The computer teacher during my fifth and sixth grade years wasn't so wonderful.

I won't use this particular teacher's real name in this story, partially out of professional courtesy, and mostly because I still think she's homicidal. Let's just say that her name is "Mrs. Moyer," even though those that knew her will recognize who I'm talking about anyway.

Mrs. Moyer wasn't really a "teacher" in the conventional sense. She ran the campus computer lab out of a tiny portable building as if it was her own personal fiefdom, which each class got to visit about once a month. Beyond that, she never had a real class of her own.

And man, we all thought she was the meanest person imaginable. She had a perpetual scowl on her face, and was never happy. Seriously, I thought she was like a bespectacled little toad hopped up on angry pills.

"Sit up straight!" she'd angrily bark at us as she stalked around the lab. "I'm gonna put thumbtacks on the backs of your chairs! Fingers on home row!"

And we weren't bad kids! In hindsight, we had a few class clowns, but overall, I'd say that we were pretty average. Hearing her talk to us, however, you'd think that we were all inmates from Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay.

Most of the time, computer class would consist of typing exercises, or edutainment games. And if we played games, we had to play them her way.

One time in the computer lab, Mrs. Moyer announced that we were to play Oregon Trail to completion and score a certain point total (or higher), then report our scores to her. From there, you could quit and play whatever you wanted.

At the beginning of this particular version of the game, you chose your profession. She ordered us to choose "farmer" as our profession. I never had much luck with keeping my wagon's passengers alive when I played as "farmer," so I chose "doctor" as my profession.

It paid off. I quickly made it through the game without anyone dying. I was stoked.

But when I went over to report my end point total to Mrs. Moyer, she exploded in a rage.

"YOU DON'T HAVE ENOUGH POINTS!" she shrieked.

"But no one in my wagon died--"

"I DON'T CARE!" she yelled, turning red. "I told you that 'farmer' would have given you a higher point total! Go back and do it again!"

I replayed as a farmer. I achieved her point total. Everyone in my wagon died of dysentery.

Also during my elementary school days, we had these things called "Accelerated Reader" tests, which were short multiple-choice quizzes on certain library books, meant to gauge students' reading comprehension in preparation for standardized testing. As incentive, depending on how high your score was on one of these tests, you'd get varying amounts of "Bowie Bucks," which were redeemable in the front office if you wanted a small prize or something.

The sole caveat, though, was that the AR tests were done after school in the computer lab. With Mrs. Moyer. Alone.

I was so terrified of the woman's temper that I refused to go back there for any AR tests, Bowie Bucks be damned. It took my mother waiting outside the room, and a test about my favorite book (Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White), before I felt sort of okay with taking one.

And I aced it.

And it was the ONLY one I ever took at Bowie.

The consensus on the playground was that Mrs. Moyer just plain hated kids, and this line of thought was exacerbated by her dual status as a playground aide. Though we didn't see her but once a month in the computer lab, we had to endure her every day on the playground.

While the other teachers sat around calmly in their semicircle on a hill overlooking the playground, Mrs. Moyer, outfitted with a visor on her brow and a referee's whistle around her neck, would gleefully blast her whistle at any infraction, real or imagined, from both good kids and bad kids alike. And the supposedly guilty party would have to sit out part of recess.

We grumbled about her nearly every day. To say that she was our nemesis was a gross understatement.



Act I: The Right Lie at the Wrong Time

I was in the fifth grade in the spring of 1997, and my English teacher, Mrs. Bernard, let her student teacher run things for about a month.

For whatever reason, I can't recall this young woman's name. But she was doing a unit on poetry, and was leading us in a lesson on a Wednesday in February.

"A lot of poetry is fictional, or made-up," she explained to the class. "In fact, it's a lot like lying, so today we're going to make up silly lies about Bowie Elementary."

Everyone looked at each other.

"You can't name anyone specific or anything like that, but you can say things about the school in general," she continued. "Like, you could say, 'We watch cartoons in English class.' Does anyone else have an example?"

One kid raised her hand. The teacher called on her.

"We ride roller coasters at recess," said the kid.

"Good one," said the student teacher. "Who else has one?"

She called on another kid.

"We eat Big Macs and pizza in the cafeteria every day!" said the second kid.

"Awesome one!" said the student teacher. "Anyone else?"

I thought of a really good one. A real zinger. It didn't use a person's specific name, but it didn't need to; I was sure it would make the entire classroom erupt in applause. So I raised my hand.

"Yes, Bryce?"

I beamed. "The computer teacher is nice."

There was no applause.

Instead, every single kid in the room gasped. Seriously, I swear that the air pressure dropped in there.

Immediately, I glanced at the student teacher, whose face was falling like a brick, and I knew that I was done for.

"That was really mean, Bryce," she said. "Give me your conduct sheet."

She signed the sheet and wrote down what I had said. And I sat out recess that day.

Feeling like I needed to mitigate any problems that this might potentially incur, I wrote an apology note to the student teacher. In the note I begged for her and Mrs. Bernard not to tell Mrs. Moyer what I had said, because I was terrified that the other teachers would gossip about it, and word would get back to Mrs. Moyer, and then I'd really be in for it.

To this day, I don't know if anyone actually told Mrs. Moyer what I'd said. I always liked to think that the other teachers quietly agreed with me, laughed about it amongst themselves, and didn't tell her.

Anyway, I bet it's probably the only time in history that someone has ever gotten in trouble for calling someone else "nice."



Act II: Chicken Soup for the Soulless

We had a nasty cold snap the following year. One day was particularly ugly and overcast.

My mother, saint that she is, decided to pack a Thermos of chicken soup in my lunch to keep me warm. She used a ceramic Thermos that was pretty well insulated, and the soup was indeed still warm when lunchtime rolled around.

"Just make sure that nothing happens to this Thermos," Mom had warned me. "It could break if you dropped it."

That particular year, recess was held immediately after lunch. Any kids like me who brought their lunch could leave their lunchboxes in a little alcove next to the cafeteria doors facing the playground. From there, you could go down the sidewalk and away to half an hour of freedom.

This presented a problem. On the one hand, I could leave my mom's breakable Thermos in the alcove, but it would be out in the open and could be smashed. On the other hand, I'd have to keep the thing with me all recess, and not do anything that could accidentally damage it.

Then it hit me: the teachers!

Most of the teachers that monitored recess knew me and liked me; they'd be in their little semicircle, and I knew that Mrs. Wheelis or Mrs. Howard or anyone, really would gladly keep my Thermos safe and sound underneath one of their chairs.

So I walked down to the hill where the semicircle of chairs were set up. And none of my teachers were out there yet. The sole individual sitting there was Mrs. Moyer.

Dang it.

I silently weighed my remaining options. I really didn't want to leave the Thermos in the alcove, but I also didn't want it damaged if I kept it.

Surely SURELY this woman had an ounce of compassion. Maybe she'd help me this one time.

So I took a gamble. I approached the semicircle of chairs.

"Mrs. Moyer?"

"What do you want?"

"Well, my mom packed me some soup in this Thermos, and she asked me not to break it or anything," I said. "I was wondering if you could watch it for me?"

She squinted her beady little eyes and stared at me.

"No, I will not," she said. "It's your responsibility. You watch it."

I slumped a bit, defeated. It had been an unsuccessful and ill-advised gamble, and I figured that waiting for the other teachers to show up would do no good she'd probably tell them off for helping me, or get after me for using another teacher to overrule her so I began to walk back up the sidewalk to the alcove. It wasn't an ideal solution, but at least it would be safer.

"Where are you going?" Mrs. Moyer hissed.

"I'm going to put this with the lunchboxes," I said, turning back around.

"No, you are not," she said, scowling. "It's your responsibility, your mom doesn't want it broken, and you're going to watch it all recess long."

So I sat on a bench, all recess, about forty yards from the semicircle, with that stupid Thermos sitting next to me, while all the other kids were happily playing, and I stared daggers at Mrs. Moyer as she sat there autocratically watching the playground from her perch. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Later, it occurred to me that, both directly and indirectly, Mrs. Moyer had been the reason I'd sat out two full recesses.



Act III: Denouement

The spring of 1998 was my last semester at Bowie. Mrs. Moyer became a distant memory as I advanced through junior high, high school, and college. After my terrible kerfuffle with some Angelo State professors in 2007, I found myself as a college dropout with just enough college credits to get a job as a middle school and high school substitute teacher in the local school district.

Some of my sub jobs took me to the Central High Freshman Campus, a former junior high that had been converted into a campus exclusively for all freshmen in Central's district.

One of the teachers there was my former sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. Almond, who remembered me, and hugged me as soon as she realized who I was.

And one of the other teachers there was Mrs. Moyer.

Mrs. Moyer was a real teacher by then, complete with her own classes and classroom, but she was completely unchanged from how I had remembered her a decade prior. She yelled at kids in the hallway, still acting very much like the same bespectacled toad hopped up on angry pills that I remembered. And every kid grumbled about her even after getting into my classroom for the day.

Seeing all this brought back a wave of familiar terror from the depths of my reptilian hindbrain.

But I couldn't fathom how strangely different she was in the teachers' break room. She actually smiled in there, liked telling dirty jokes, and often complained about her students. It was a truly bizarre experience seeing her so amicable, and I had trouble processing what was happening. It was like a divide-by-zero error in my brain.

In any case, I opted to avoid her if at all possible. Call it irrational, but I didn't want her to remember me.

One day, I had a job substituting for Mr. Bailey, my beloved former freshman geography teacher, who was in the hospital ailing from the disease that would eventually take his life. I filled out that day's substitute report, making sure to leave a friendly personal note, and walked down to the office.

Mrs. Moyer saw me and ran to catch up with me.

"You're Mr. Bailey's sub for today?" she asked, walking alongside me.

"Yes, ma'am," I said, trying to stay casual. "I was getting ready to drop today's report into his box."

"I'm actually going up to the hospital to see him," she said. "If you like, I could take it to him for you."

My mind momentarily flicked back to the incident with the Thermos.

"Sure, that would be great," I said, cautiously handing her the report. "Please tell him I say hi, too. I'm a former student of his."

"I sure will," she said.

She briefly glanced over at me with a quizzical look on her face.

"What was your name again?" she asked.

Oh no.

"Bryce Parsons," I said, quietly bracing myself.

"Ah, okay," she said. "I'm Nadia Moyer."

So she apparently didn't remember me. And at that moment, without thinking, I gave the only response that seemed appropriate.

"You seem nice," I said, grinning.

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