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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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It's all right to cry, unless your teacher is uncomfortable with emotions

For the next two weeks, I'm participating in the DonorsChoose Blogger Challenge. See the end of this post for details!

My fourth grade teacher wins for Surliest Teacher Ever. His name was Mr. Klein, but I'm almost sure that's not how it was spelled. I can't recall the correct spelling, and this is killing me. It was Clyne or Klyne or Goebbels. Something like that.

Mr. Klein didn't like me, and I didn't like him. My parents couldn't stand him. Now, though, I can't help but feel a little bad for the guy. Because he had no idea what he was up against.


Well hello, Mr. Klein.

(Could I look any more put out by life? Fine, take my picture. Whatevs. Yeah, I know last year I used a brush on my hair, but that's so third grade. Oh, you like my vest? Pfft. I don't even know where I got this.)

Mr. Klein might have given me a hard time, but I'm pretty sure I tortured him. Because there was one thing he couldn't handle: tears. And tears were my mutant superpower. I could soak an entire dress in my tears in seconds. I was always on the verge of weeping. Every report card I have up until fourth grade refers to my crying and whether or not I had it "under control." In fourth grade, I suspect I didn't bother with this whole "control" issue.

Mr. Klein was always on my case for being disorganized and messy. Are any fourth graders capable of organizing their stuff? For whatever reason, the sight of my messy desk drawer filled him with rage. So much so that one day he actually upended my desk and forced me to get on my hands and knees in front of the entire class and clean it up. This was a major error on his part, however, because not only did his outburst set me off, it caused most of the class to follow suit. Faced with twenty kids crying at once, I'm surprised the guy didn't leap out a window.

Now you. Fourth grade. Spill it. I've been loving all your stories. You all get As in my book!

Return next week for fifth and sixth grade (the magical years), seventh (the most embarrassing school photo there ever was), eighth (no, wait, this one is), and ninth (do I have to show you this picture?). allows donors to directly fund projects for teachers in struggling schools. Any amount you can donate will make a huge difference for these teachers! To date we've helped fund FIVE classroom projects. Donate any amount up to $100 and enter the match code FINSLIPPY at checkout, and your donation will be matched. Thank you!

Reader Comments (57)

Fourth grade was the year I stood up to a potential bully aka Mean Girl. I was in a group of five girls, and the ringleader was just bad news: constantly lying and targeting one girl at a time to make everyone hate her. Well I guess it was my turn to be in her line of target. But I was pretty proud of myself because I didn't succumb to her trickery. I just continued doing my thing, and I guess the other people noticed and pretty much sided with me. When she realized she was losing her followers, she befriended me again. Sigh, gotta love elementary school drama.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSleeping Mom

I had Mrs.Kelly in 4th grade who was everybody's favorite teacher. She was cute, short and redheaded, and wore a lot of corduroy and turtlenecks. She believed in a collaborative classroom which meant that it was always really noisy. We had to pick our own spelling words which was kind of boring. Maybe I wasn't ambitious enough. My school picture that year was really awful (closed eyes, buck teeth) that my mother made me get re-takes. Unfortunately re-takes were on a Wednesday, the day I had to wear my Girl Scout uniform to school because meetings were afterward. The re-takes were equally bad, so instead of a closed-eye, buck-toothed picture in normal clothes, I had a closed-eye, buck-toothed picture in bright green uniform with a stupid necktie.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhillary

4th grade. I was in a 4/5/6th grade combination class. That's THREE grades combined in one horrific experiment at a semi under-performing school.

I was always the youngest in class, so considering I was 8 years old, some of the oldest sixth graders in my class were around 12. 8 year olds and 12 year olds in the same class!

Many of the other kids spoke english as a second language, and I, the bookworm, was tasked with tutoring the kids who couldn't read well. There I was, white LA Gears dangling from atop a too-big stool, telling little Luisa, "no you PAUSE at a period. PAUSE. it's a SENTENCE."

Ah, good times.

That was also the year my grandmother died. My super educated, overly formal dad wrote a letter to my teacher explaining that my mother was "bereaved", and when I handed her the letter, she gave it a glance, looked up, and asked, "what does bereaved mean?"

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Just want to add --

I'm really troubled by the tyranny of some of the teachers here in the comments. And yours, Alice. Why do these people become teachers?

Sister Kieran sounds absolutely terrifying. She wouldn't bother to learn her students' names?!

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

This summoned up the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for me--did you read those? There was a Crybaby Cure in which some sort of concoction made the tears flow with flood-level power, scaring the problem right out of the girl in question. Reread them recently as an adult and they are slightly (very) sadistic but still pretty funny.

Fourth grade wasn't great. I was in a French immersion school and the French teacher that year was a pinchy, bitter, mean Frenchwoman named Madame Renard (fox--perfect). She was hateful and in the months before I got glasses I was sure she wrote only in red or green on the projector to torture me, since I could only see the blue or black high-contrast pens. She never said anything to my parents about my constant requests to sit closer, and it never occurred to me to mention it to them. Such headaches! We found out later that her son was a drug addict, and then I think her husband left her?

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate F

I am wondering, Alice, if your school had a policy against hiring female teachers?

My fourth-grade teacher was named Mrs. Freshwaters (100% truth), and all I remember about that year was that she read aloud from 'Charlotte's Web’ every day before lunch. She had a great Wilbur voice.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

In 1952-'53 my fourth grade teacher was Mr. Connolly, a good guy. I see myself grinning with huge Bucky Beaver teeth and wearing my new white baseball t-shirt. This year's fierce team name scripted on the front is WARNEKE PAPER BOX COMPANY. Is that a step up from the previous year's METRO RETAIL FLORIST?

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersteve shilstone

Fourth grade was a pretty good year for me. Partly because I had a teacher named Mrs. Bramson who had the bounciest Charlie's Angels hair ever, and partly because I would pay a boy named Willy to take his pants off under the lunchroom table while singing "Ain't Nothin But A Hound Dog" (10¢ each time).

I found out last year he committed suicide. I feel partly responsible.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHildie

Fourth grade was probably my favorite year because I had Mrs. Black. She was young and tall and tan with a sassy, chin-length frosted 'do that curled up at the ends toward her mouth. She would openly sing my praises to my parents and my classmates. I could do no wrong in her eyes. (One time I forgot to turn in an assignment and I was so ashamed that I lied and told her I remember putting it on her desk, and she still gave me an "A"! I suppose she figured that, hypothetically, I would have gotten an "A" anyway, so why not?)

Every day after lunch we would come back to the classroom and she would read allowed to us. Before she'd start, she would choose two students to stand behind her chair, each massaging one shoulder as she read. Nowadays, I think asking your students to fondle you is a felony. But back then it was considered an honor, and kids would all jockey to be one of the chosen. The best part was that she picked me almost every time. I think Mrs. Black liked me. She really, really liked me.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdgm

I had an awesome 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Smith. She was the teacher that everyone wanted. It was also my first year back in school fulltime after being out for nearly 2 years with chemo. I came back with about an inch of hair, socially behind and with one leg. Needless to say the year sucked. We were in the trailers, which was a big deal because it meant you were finally at the top of the elementary totem pole. We were about 3 weeks into the start of the year when the school decided to move the 4th grade out of the trailers and back into the school (sending those pipsqueak 3rd graders out). The administration never directly told the 4th grade it was because of me but we weren't stupid. I was hated then. It was my fault we were no longer in the cool trailers. I had one best friend who decided she was no longer my friend and was socially inept after missing all of 2nd and 3rd so making new ones just didn't compute. Thankfully, I had Mrs. Smith who did her best to deal with me and my PTSD.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKati

Oh, Kati! I'm glad you had Mrs. Smith, but that is ROUGH.

Sheila: the school was probably 50/50 female/male teachers! I just always got the men. Kindergarten and 3rd were the only years I had lady teachers.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralice

Melissa's nun story way tops mine. Holy mackeral, what a nun she had! I had Sister Helen, who was widely known to be the Meanest Teacher at my school, and also the only nun left besides the principal. She was largely a pain in the ass, not letting me and my new BFF sit together in Mass (because of the laughing we did, of course), but I remember when this very troubled girl in our class stole some rinky-dink school supplies from my desk, Sister Helen showed her true colors, which were good ones. She had this very adult, matter of fact conversation with me about whether I wanted to see this other girl punished, and we kind of both alluded to this other girl having the hardest life of anyone in the class, and we sort of agreed that she would talk to the girl but handle it carefully and with care and with a minimum of punishment. Who knew? The toughy old nun was wise and caring, and I remember how respectful she was of both me and that poor girl who was really having a hard time.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Fourth grade was my first year in public school. There are stories, but I think I'll save the good ones for sixth and eighth grade...the year of Summer Camp and the year my Mom was my English Teacher (subtitle: how to humiliate your adolescent).

See you in a few days! Mwahahahaaaaa

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRahree

Ah, 4th grade! That was the first time I ever heard (from my reading teacher) that I was "disorganized," a characterization I internalized and that haunts me to this day. Whenever someone says I'm organized, I contradict them; and whenever anyone seems to think I am disorganized, I secretly hate them.

4th grade is also when I fell behind in math forever, thanks to my awesome prowess at math and the 70s, which made my teacher decide that I should work independently at my own speed.

But it is also when I was introduced to and encouraged to write poetry, so that's a good thing...I think.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMomVee

Snap! Fourth grade must have been the year of desk dumping. I loved my teacher (Mrs Zatzkis; she only wore neutrals) but she kind of had trouble tolerating my idiosyncrasies (hair chewing, daydreaming and a messy desk).

She must have really lost it once because I remember she apologised to me, saying that the things I did that annoyed her reminded her of things she didn't like about herself. I'm torn between admiring her honesty and thinking she could have found a more private way to work through her self-loathing.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpuncturedbicycle

I'm pretty sure that if I could remember my childhood, I would be a much better writer.

Fourth grade, the teacher with the parched, bleached hair. She favored the boys, always. And she got mad at me when I (and a couple of others) dared to leave her class for our regularly scheduled in-school violin lessons. I could not get away from her quickly enough.

4th grade is the first school year that I can recall any of. I met my BEST FRIEND (who would figure into some of the dumber moments of my life for *years*) and spent time with her at recess running around (we were horses you know) and eating grass (yup, horses). I remember eating popsicles for some school function that had been kept frozen in dry ice - which led to me standing at the water fountain trying to melt it away while I still had taste buds on my tongue. And I remember being horribly, terribly sad because they closed our school at the end of that year - without consulting me. The school! As if I wanted to go to some poor second choice with stuck up kids! (I rode the RTD bus to a different school for the next two years because I HAD to be with my BEST FRIEND!) Oy vey.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMari

All these fabulous people who remember their primary school years with such clarity! My primary school memories are foggy at best, and there's no way I can distinguish year 1 from year 6. I do remember Miss Lever (who taught me in years 1 and 3?). We all called her The Dragon and she marched around the school playground like a female Napoleon with a whistle. She was known for her strict discipline, but much later I realised she was an excellent and caring teacher. She also, apparently, had a torrid affair with the PE teacher Mrs Phillips but I was entirely oblivious to that. There was also, at some stage, a Mr Peters whom I hated because he was an arrogant dick, and a Mr Mackeller who allowed us to listen to music during maths (which could only serve to improve that dreadful subject, even though music choice was dominated by the boy who passionately loved Europe and Foreigner). Primary school was much better than high school - that I do remember.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermiraball

In just one short year, you turned into a total badass! I absolutely love the attitude in this pic. We would have been friends in fourth grade:)

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mommy Psychologist

You are consistently making me laugh with these posts. Thank you - I need it right now.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShosh

When we immigrated from Russia, I was supposed to start fourth grade. But I didn't speak any English, so the school thought that third grade would be more appropriate.

After a Splash-like year of watching TV, I learned English and then went straight to fifth grade next year. In other words, I never went to fourth grade, thank you very much for rubbing it in with your fancy story of the great time you had there.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarinka

4th grade was Ms. Kroll. She was young, ditzy, and had lots of curly blond hair. She once told a student she was going to "nail him to the wall" and then wondered why all the kids were freaked out.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR

I figured out that the even years (2nd, 4th, 6th grades) were just "reviewing" the stuff we learned in the odd years (1st, 3rd, 5th grades). Thus, I went into 4th grade thinking I was going to be horribly bored. I was right - but not just because it was a year of no new material (except memorizing multiplication tables, I think) because I had Mrs. Greiner, who was in her last year of teaching before retirement. A retirement that should have taken place years prior, to be truthful. Anyway - she was constantly talking about how much she liked the classes that came before ours, and when she was tired of teaching (often) she had us copy pages out of the dictionary. The only way I got through that year was the fact I got to leave one afternoon a week for my Talented and Gifted enrichment classes.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Kline spelled like Goebbels - HAaaaaa! I CAN'T STOP LAUGHING! Snort.

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

4th grade. Gah. My teacher was a prissy petite woman with Liza Minnelli hair and pursed lips. Once the girls got to (had to) watch film strips about the mysteries of menstruation while the boys ran around wildly outside trying to peek in the windows. Good grief. I guess the 70s were not all that enlightened. And I have mercifully blocked out everything else. I have a feeling it was wretched, so it's just as well.

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

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