Chapter 16 of the P. and G. Story Part IV

Terror in the Classroom

Wesel High School for Boys - Now the Court House

Wesel High School for Boys – Now the Wesel Court House

There were also the weak and incompetent teachers, who should have chosen a different profession. If they had only known the tortures from revengeful students, who focused with uncanny precision on their weaknesses! These were the teachers, who would not dare to report any unruly behavior to the vice-principal out of fear of being accused of having no control over their students. Dr. R. was teaching mainly Math and Science to the lower grades, but unfortunately for him was assigned to our class for Social Studies, in which he enlightened us with what he had recorded in his dilapidated thirty-year old notebook about the Soviet Union as an underdeveloped country. Strictly speaking he was not teaching us anything. With his back turned to the class he simply copied his outdated information on the blackboard, which we in turn copied into our notebooks. Any experienced teacher worth his salt would know that turning your back to the class is an open invitation to disaster. Upon a finger signal from the leader of the pack the entire class acted in complete unison, where each individual was hiding behind the anonymity of the mob finding protection from punishment through group solidarity. The inner voice of conscience that tells us what is right and what is wrong was drowned by the rush of emotions, that temporary high of having power over somebody who is invested with authority, but who is incapable of exerting it over a bunch of immature adolescents. One – the left finger of the ringleader went up, all students as if driven by a magical force grabbed their textbooks with their right hand. Two – the middle finger went up, that was the sign to lift the heavy books above our heads. Three – the leader’s left hand spread wide open, and in unbelievable synchrony of motion the books slammed the student desks sounding like the explosive bang of a single gunshot. Dr. R. swiftly turned around. There was terror and bewilderment written on his face, as he looked at a well-behaved class very attentive and ready to take more notes. All eyes were fixed on the board, as if the terrifying explosion had not happened at all. We students offered a picture of exemplary behavior, with which Dr. R. would have been delighted and proud. If the principal had walked in this very moment, he would have praised him for his excellent control. However, it was only an illusion. The diabolical game went on, until the poor teacher could not take it any more. He left the classroom and mustered enough courage to report to the vice principal that he could no longer control these louts. He asked for and received a reassignment to a more manageable class. Now it was our turn to find out what it meant to be harassed. For the dreaded vice principal well known for no nonsense army-style teaching methods took over the Social Studies instruction.

Old Fashioned Classroom of the 1930's

Old Fashioned Classroom of the 1930’s

At the far end of the building at a good distance from the regular classrooms was a tower, which housed the room for music instruction. We climbed up the stairs twice a week for our lessons, which we did not find overly inspiring, because our teacher, Mr. T., wanted us to sing for the most part old-fashioned folk songs, to which he played the accompaniment on the piano. While singing in school was a time-honored tradition in all German schools, we openly rebelled against the idea of using our beautiful male voices on silly little songs we remembered from our elementary school years. As it turned out, Mr. T. had never learned to control a rebellious class like ours. The physical distance to the principal’s office was an additional disadvantage. But by far the biggest handicap was the poor selection of songs, which one would describe in modern jargon as inappropriate for our age level. Testing the teacher’s patience we started off by changing the lyrics of the song “High on the yellow coach”. The chorus line at the end of every verse, “But the yellow coach is rolling”, was transformed into “But the Harzer cheese wheel is rolling” (Harzer cheese is one of the more odiferous cheeses and originated in the Harz Mountains). Each time we repeated that ridiculous line, we sang it a little more loudly and more boisterously. The music teacher tried to ignore the adulterated version of one of his beloved folk songs. Revealing his true weakness, he incited us to seek stronger measures. Soon we were deliberately singing off key and as far as our deep voices would allow in high-pitched tones like a clutter of cats whose tails had just been stepped on. This was too much for our music teacher to swallow. His anger gave him courage to rant and rave calling us names we had never heard coming out of the mouth of the normally placid and rather peaceful teacher of music and religion. His whole body convulsed, his eyes wide open with utter contempt glared at us, and he screamed out the word that described us best, “SADISTS!!!”

His mouth so far ajar could no longer hold his dentures in place. They popped out and landed with a clatter on the floor. Nobody moved. There was dead silence in the classroom. We were stuck in a morass of embarrassment. We had gone too far. I felt guilty and still feel guilty thinking about it today that I had not opposed the shameful escalation of psychological violence perpetrated against a defenseless human being. After Mr. T. had sufficiently calmed down, he bent down and picked up his dentures off the floor, and without saying so much as another word left the music room, quietly closed the door behind him, as if not to disturb our remorseful silence. The next day he did not show for work. The rumor had it that he had suffered a nervous breakdown.