This is the second in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. The first post is here.
My first post in this series was about a beloved principal. This second one is about a terrifying teacher.
Dr. Greggs taught third grade, and she is without a doubt the person whom I’ve been more scared of than any other in my life.
First of all, she insisted, always sternly, that we address her as “Doctor.” I’ve wondered since then just what drives a woman to demand such recognition from eight-year-olds. It’s like in the Austin Powers movies, when Dr. Evil corrects people who call him Mister: “I didn’t go to an evil university for ten years to be called Mr. Evil.”
Her demeanor was one of the coldest I’ve ever known. She would punish us when our behavior was bad, saying that we had made her “cross.” It took us all a while to figure out that this meant “mad.” Her conduct was impeccably formal: a major grocery store around here is called Smith’s, but she would always call it “Smith’s Food King,” the full name on the sign outside the store. That made us laugh, and that made her mad.
Another aspect of that formality: she would always refer to Martin Luther King as “The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.” And she would refer to him often. She wanted us to do the same, and with the same degree of deference.
I realize now that she obviously lived through the civil rights movement, and that she may have suffered some indignities in her life, for which she compensated by running her classroom of little spoiled white kids as tightly as possible. The principal, as I wrote before, was also a big local civil rights figure, and yet their personalities in working with young children were completely opposite.
Yes, of course this has influenced my own approach to the classroom.
She would scold and correct quickly and briskly, and I can’t help but remember that the insecurity and anger that defined childhood for me really started that year. That might not be a coincidence.
I googled my principal, Mr. Bass, last year and learned some wonderful things about his life, but I can’t find anything online at all about Dr. Greggs. I may not even be spelling her name right–and I’ve tried every variation I can think of.
I wonder why nobody out there has ever put anything about her on the Internet. What does it say about her career with the previous generation that we appear to have forgotten her?