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Hard spanking and heart attacks: The cast of Teachers on their worst teachers

L-R: Caitlin Barlow, Katie O’Brien, Cate Freedman, Katy Colloton, Kathryn Renee Thomas, and Kate Lambert
L-R: Caitlin Barlow, Katie O’Brien, Cate Freedman, Katy Colloton, Kathryn Renee Thomas, and Kate Lambert

As viewers of shows like Younger know, TV Land isn’t just for family-friendly ’50s and ’60s reruns anymore. The network has been expanding more and more into original programming, with shows like Hot In Cleveland finding solid audiences and even making it into syndication.

One of the network’s bawdiest (and funniest) shows is Teachers, the schoolhouse workplace comedy helmed by the comedy group The Katydids. Six women—Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien, and Kathryn Renée Thomas—whose names all happen to derive from the root name Katherine, The Katydids met in Chicago’s improv scene before moving out to Los Angeles and diving headfirst into television production. With Teachers, the Katydids have found a way to express not only their voices, but the voices of teachers everywhere who—while certainly interested in their students and in education—are also adults with love lives, interpersonal struggles, and a knowledge of both cuss words and sex positions.

With the season finale of Teachers on the horizon, The A.V. Club talked to The Katydids about their teachers. Specifically, we quizzed them about their worst teachers, all while hanging out backstage at Riot LA.

Caitlin Barlow

(Photo: Getty Images)

I used to be a teacher. Can I talk about the worst teacher I ever worked with?

The A.V. Club: Of course.

CB: Great. The worst teacher I ever worked with, I will not say her name, but she was the health teacher. She just openly hated teaching. All she would talk about is how much she hated teaching. So, they stuck her in health.

In fourth grade, they started teaching sex ed. I taught fourth grade. So, my students were in her sex ed class. The next month was this campaign of misinformation to 9-year-old kids

The following are my favorite things that I heard from my students. One: We were waiting in line in the bathroom, and my student said, “Ms. Barlow, I’m going to have three kids!” and I was like, “Oh, how do you know that?” And she said, “Ms. Blank told me that the number of veins in your wrist are how many kids you’re going to have.” Okay, great. In sex ed, you’re telling them that? She also told them that gay people don’t want to be gay, and that gay men want to be women. One time, I walked in, and the teacher was still going with her story, and I overheard her say, “You know, when you’re in college sometime, you’re going to be drinking, and you’re going to make some mistakes.” I was like “Okay guys, we’re ready to go.” I do not know what she was going to tell them.

AVC: How old was she?

CB: She was probably in her late 60s. She should have retired.

AVC: Do teachers have tenure? Can they not get fired?

CB: She had tenure. We tried to get her fired, but she was so entrenched with tenure that... yeah.

Kathryn Renée Thomas

(Photo: Getty Images)

My most traumatic experience was in second grade. My teacher—we’ll just call her Mrs. Smith—was super neurotic. Even at that age, I could tell there was something really weird going on with her.

I am also neurotic. When I was very little, I walked into the kitchen, and I had seen blood on TV, and told my mom, and she said, “Okay,” and then I fainted. So, I’ve had this phobia of blood and graphic stories for a long time.

Anyway, we were in Mrs. Smith’s second grade class, and we were reading an article about a little boy who had fallen off his bike, and wasn’t wearing a helmet, and cracked his head open. It was basically, “We’ll scare the kids into always wearing a helmet.” That freaked me out, so I passed out. When I came to, I heard kids in the classroom going, “Is she dead?” Is she dead? She’s dead!” Kids were screaming, “She’s dead.” I was not dead, but that sent Mrs. Smith into a frenzy. She thought there was something wrong with me physically. She thought I was hypoglycemic, or I had a blood sugar thing, so she said, “From now on, every day, you have to bring a snack in, and you’ll have a snack time so you don’t pass out.” For some kids in high school or middle school, it would be badass, but when you’re in second grade and you’re forced to go out into the hallway and have your own snack time by yourself everyday, and just stand in the hallway by yourself eating cheese and crackers, it just really, really messes you up. I feel like the rest of the year, she treated me like I was really broken. She really did a doozy on me and my psychology and where I am today.

Kate Lambert

(Photo: Getty Images)

I’ve actually been pretty lucky. I’ve had great teachers generally, but I did have once science teacher who I think was just done being a teacher and just checked out. She was kind of like a Best In Show character. She was really into dogs and dog shows, so she had all these dog pins. She would just leave us when we were doing our labs. She would go into her office, and I think she was working on her dog show stuff. That was just the way it was. We would all do our labs by ourselves, and it was basically like we were completely left to our own devices.

Cate Freedman

My teacher, who was the worst, was from elementary school. I will just call her Mrs. T, although not like the delicious pierogi lady. She was, by far, the most terrifying woman I’ve ever met, or probably encountered in my whole life. She ran the classroom by intimidation. If you answered a question wrong, or if you did something incorrect, she would grab your pencil and throw it at the board. It would break, and you’d be like, “Oh no.” It would just be really scary. She’d yell a lot.

This is a teacher who, when she was giving us our birthday spanks—when you turn eight or whatever, normally you’d get eight spanks in front of the classroom, and everyone cheers—she really went to town. It was the only time in my life I’ve experienced getting for real spanked. It stung, but none of us would say anything because it’s Mrs. T. “We got to get out alive.” That was the one thing I’ll always remember. At the time, you don’t know, but now, I know that was weird. You probably shouldn’t have done that in a Chicago Public School.

She did have a few tiny nice moments. One day, her daughter came in, and they taught us how to use chopsticks. Shout out to that day. That was really pleasant. There was one perfect student in the class, and she really liked her, so they had a good relationship. She always had this student read poetry aloud to the class, but the poetry was always about how great Mrs. T was, so it was a hard year. This was the year I failed all four quarters of spelling, too. So, shout out to Mrs. T.

Katy Colloton

(Photo: Getty Images)

My worst teacher was a substitute Spanish teacher who didn’t speak Spanish. It was in middle school, like sixth or seventh grade. It was my first Spanish class and the first week in, the regular teacher had a major medical emergency and was out then the rest of the semester. This guy came in, and he thought it was just going to be one day, but it ended up being a whole semester. He was panicked.

My favorite day that I still think and laugh about is when he came in sweating profusely, and had over 200 notecards with Spanish words on them, and just read them all. “El gato; cat,” and then just put it down. This poor guy had no idea what he was doing because he didn’t speak Spanish.

Also, my favorite thing was that, for every test he would just hand them out and leave the room for 45 minutes, so we all just got 100 percents on every test because we would just talk. “What’s the answer to number one? What’s the answer to number two?” I still remember he got in major trouble because everyone got an A.

I also had a teacher who gave me a C for being shy. She sucked, too, but that might have been me.

AVC: The other thing is that kids can be really terrible to teachers. You guys probably didn’t make his job any easier.

KC: He had no shot. He was nervous, sweaty, didn’t speak Spanish... I remember he literally asked us, “What do you think I should do?” I’m sure we were horrible.

KL: That’s so sad! When you’re a kid, you think someone in their 20s is a big adult, and they know everything. People in their 20s don’t know what is going on. I speak from experience. I had no idea what was going on.

KC: He wasn’t in his 20s. He was in his 40s.

KL: Well, then never mind. I was trying to help him out.

Kathryn Renée Thomas

I had a teacher that died. It was really traumatizing.

I was in the T.A.G. program. It was the Talented And Gifted program, no big deal. All the other kids called us T.A.G. fags. It was real traumatizing, but we were a tight little group. There was one third, one fourth, and one fifth grade glass. And the teacher, Mr. Barno, was also the science teacher.

I had already done a year as third grader with Mr. Barno as my science teacher, and then went into fourth grade. I was at a table of kids, and we were talking, and we got in trouble, and I never got in trouble. He came and he was like, “You all have to stay in for recess on Monday because you’re talking.” I was really upset about it, and then over the weekend, he had a heart attack and died. I felt terrible because I loved him so much, and I felt like I did something bad. I didn’t feel like I was responsible for his heart attack... well, maybe. You never know. I was pretty bad. But I thought, “Oh, he died thinking I was bad,” or not liking me.

We didn’t have to stay in on recess on Monday, though, so that was pretty badass. We went to his funeral and stuff, and we really loved him, but then I felt bad for the woman that came and took his place afterward, because he was so beloved in the T.A.G. community. She didn’t have a chance because it was like, “You’ll never be better than Mr. Barno.” He was the shit. It was very traumatizing.

On that note, everyone have a great frickin’ day. I hope no one dies today.