In 1958, when Michael N. Marcus was in the sixth grade, he didn’t like his teacher. Lots of kids don’t like their teachers, but few write books about them, and few writers take 50 years to complete their books.
Marcus says this teacher had a system that let student “group leaders” prevent other children from asking the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom, demanded lavish gifts from parents, and gave spelling tests where a whole group of children would fail if one of them said a word out of alphabetical order. A child who made an error in school, according to Marcus, was often beaten up after school.
Back in 1958, Marcus and his pre-teen classmates thought they had legitimate complaints, but most parents of that era insisted that teachers should be respected because of their position, and the parents were not interested in what bothered their kids. Then 12 years old, Marcus decided that some day he would write a book, “to tell the world what the parents refused to listen to.” After half a century of pondering, planning, writing and editing, the book is now a reality.
He says, “In 1963, when a guidance counselor asked what I most wanted to get out of high school, I shouted, “ME!” I’ve had a few wonderful teachers, but they’re not much fun to read about. My strongest memories are of the bad ones and nutty ones. Some were amusingly inept. But others hurt. In the 1950s and 60s, there was no notion of student rights and no place a kid could go for help. Principals were unapproachable. Guidance counselors said, ‘Don’t make trouble.’ Parents insisted that teachers should never be criticized.”
The book is called “I Only Flunk My Brightest Students — stories from school and real life.” The title is based on a quote from a high school English teacher. Marcus says, “She was nuts.” According to Marcus, this teacher poked students with pins while they took tests, made them talk to and wave to a tree in the school courtyard, and was obsessed with cats, Elvis and the Battle of Chickamauga. One student who seemed to favor Pat Boone over Elvis was given “double F’s” on a homework assignment. This teacher of English also talked baby-talk and purred like a cat in the classroom, and announced, “An F is the mark of true genius.” Unfortunately, Marcus says, “Few college admissions officers understood that this teacher’s F was the equivalent of another teacher’s A.”
The 308-page illustrated book includes much more than school stories.
Marcus says, “It could be viewed as a ‘coming-of-age’ book, with young male silliness and horniness in the tradition of Animal House and Porky’s. It is that, but there’s more to it. It’s a collection of more than 100 stories that span 55 years. They’re mostly short and funny. One is long and funny, and serious and chilling. They occurred in my early childhood, while in public school and college, and while working in advertising, journalism, telecommunications, and as an amateur attorney. Culture clash is a frequent theme. So are food, phoniness and incompetence. There’s lots of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Even the sex and drug stories are funny."