One of my first and best role models for dealing with difficult situations was my primary school teacher. She was Yugoslavian. Well, she started off as a Yugoslavian, by the time we graduated to high school she wasn’t. She grew up in Srebrenica.
She was a good teacher, but quite eccentric, not like all the other adults who I only remember as being beige.
She had big, thick, curly, black hair that she piled on top of her head so she looked like Medusa, and she wore clothes with big patterns in garish colours. She spoke loudly and quickly, and her words were always accompanied by big, dramatic hand gestures.
The kids in the other class were all a bit scared of her. This combined with the snakes that she bought us as class pets, meant that none of them would deliver messages to our classroom from the other teachers.
In addition to the snakes there were stick insects, gerbils, and a couple of rabbits. We also had a hen each, which we’d watched as eggs in an incubator and then hand-reared once they emerged. The classroom often resembled a farm-yard as Mrs Medusa tried to pass on her love of nature and teach us about responsibility.
Mrs M is the reason I love history, and especially knights and castles. She herself was obsessed with Boadicea, we had to study her for a whole term. She told us she wanted us all to be like Boadicea. I’m not sure which hoards she had in mind for us to overthrow, perhaps she was thinking of home, but I can still remember everything she taught us.
When the war in Yugoslavia started we had a special assembly, were the head teacher explained that there was a war going on the country that Mrs M came from, that her mother and brothers were still living there, and that we should all make an extra effort to be nice to her because she was quite upset by it.
After that we would have supply teachers from time to time because, we were told, Mrs M was visiting her mother back home. I was, and still am, confused by this. Even at age nine we understood that they don’t run regular flights into war zones. It would have made far more sense for the mother to have just moved here.
Other than that she carried on teaching us as normal, although she became pretty moody. I suppose she probably couldn’t afford not to. Or her family back home couldn’t afford for her not to.
She was in school teaching the day she heard her family had been killed. She went into the head teachers office for a really long time, and when she came back we could see she’d been crying, lots.
Then she took us outside for break like nothing had happened.
Ten minutes later the combination of the news and being surrounded by a hundred and fifty screaming kids triggered a breakdown and she just lost it.
There was a big, heavy bell that was rung to sound the beginning and end of every break. She grabbed that and it rang, and rang, and rang.
Then when everyone was stood still staring at her she started ranting, and raving, and screaming, telling us all what bad, thoughtless children we were. She reduced half of the school yard to tears. Then she sent us all back inside, wondering what on earth we had done wrong.
She went home after that, and we were all given a note to take home to our parents, explaining what had happened and why. We never saw her again.
For weeks and months afterwards this episode was the talk of the area, among the staff and parents as well as the pupils. The adults, despite knowing what had happened to Mrs Medusa’s family, openly talked of her as ‘the crazy woman’ and a ‘mental case’. Dozens of complaints were sent to the school about them ever having employed this person in the first place.
It’s one of the reasons I no longer live there.
Most of the kids who went to that school grew up to be just as ignorant as their parents.
I remember a few years later, after we’d moved up to high school, when I was about fifteen, I watched a programme on the Srebrenica massacre. The next day I told a girl in my class about it, and how that must have been what happened to our primary school teacher’s family. She replied that she would be glad if that was what had happened, and that the woman deserved it for being crazy, and foreign, and because she scared her.
It really depresses me that that repulsive girl now has her own, equally repulsive, offspring.
But I try to think now, that Mrs M managed to carry on teaching thirty boisterous under-tens for three and a half years. And teaching them well, while half the people she loved were being shot at and most of the adults she had to work with were racist.
Kinda puts a lot of my problems into perspective…
photo from Wikipedia.
10 thoughts on “Mrs Medusa”
Oh, I love this post, but it breaks my heart a little bit. I have such fondness for many of my teachers.
Thank you. I still can’t think about it without getting mad as hell with everyone who lived in my town at the time.
Loving this post! So true
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Great post! I don’t mean to steal Sophie’s comment but I am training to be a teacher for that exact reason. And it’s a shame people are so closed minded and not sympathetic about things like this and I hope Mrs Medusa managed to recover from her loss and teach elsewhere because she sounds like she was a great teacher.
I did look her up online recently, she was easy enough to find, her real name was very distinctive. She’s still in the same town, but it didn’t say whether she was still teaching, and it seemed wrong to actually contact her.
This is exactly why i want to be a teacher – to have an impact on a young person’s life!
In that case I’m sure you’ll be great 🙂 More people should teach for that reason than because they can’t decide what else to do.
I often wonder if people really looked at what was happening the wide world what would that to our little world we put ourselves in, i have been to several different countries and have seen and done things there that i an not proud , and was given medals for what i had to do, not because i wanted to go it you see but in the end my hand was forced it was either me or them and the men around me, it was them. Serbia, Bosnia, Iraq and Afaganistan, would that we could look beyond what we are told to see, what would we see, when i took my last granted leave from military service i stayed in Iraq and followed a photographer around and I looked through his eyes at what he saw, it quite opened my eyes to see how the war affected the very life around me, “the bad guys” were few and far between, and the everyday ordinary people were what bothered me the most, people just trying to go about life in a normal fashion was a chore just to do laundry was a deadly job, finding enough to eat wasnt easy and i wondered at that point what would happen to americans if we actually had to fight on our own soil, would we as a people be as resiliant and resourceful as these people i have lived and fought in amongst for over 2 years, or what about the UK i think that they as a people would fair better than Americans because they have been involved with war in there own country before, but us in the US ya we fought the french and indian and the british and each other but would we survive a modern war, i cannot answer that question. we as a country have been involved in every major conflict around the globe and not once until 9/11 did we ever have something happen on our own soil, i am a patriot and proud of my service to my country but i have to say we would be handed our ass if ever a conflict were to happened upon our shores. those two weeks spent in and around the ordinary people of a country that wasnt mine was eye opening to day the least. i guess i am telling you this because you saw things differently for your teacher and her family, war is the end all of things, killing people for any reason that is different than your own is why the human race is failing now and has failed since the first caveman bashed another over the head with a rock, humans are destructive and wasteful and arrogant, if i believe something that you dont believe i am not going to go to war with you over it, that is what freedom is and what i fought for, you have a right to believe what you want and no one has the right to tell you different, and then we have the problem that often times people feel the nee to defend themselves for what they believe in, ah hell you get my meaning i will stop now, trust me i have had alot of time to think on war while in war. so now i will be quiet.
Thank you so much for sharing.
I never know quite what to say to people who’ve served in the military, I always think that anything I have to say about wars must sound so trite to someone who’s actually been there.
I really can’t imagine what it must be like, the thought of losing having that structure that we give to our day, the routine of get up, get ready, go to work, come home, do chores, etc is scary enough. Never mind the fighting.
But I see exactly what you mean about not fighting people just because they aren’t like you. I got so frustrated by mother when I spoke to her about this teacher. She hated her, and she hated her because she was foreign. I kept trying to get through to her that the whole reason there’d been a war was that some people had decided that it was okay to kill some other people because they weren’t like them, and the things she was saying were the first step onto that slope.