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Virginia Journal of Education

First Person: Narratives from the Classroom

Dealing With Ms. Berry

By Amy Issadore Bloom

“You are liar,” Ms. Berry said, her neon pink, witch-length fingernail pointing right at me.

I wondered how much that manicure cost and, maybe, why she didn’t save the money to pay for the upcoming field trip which she would inevitably claim she could not afford. Not wanting them to miss out, the school would end up paying the small fee for her two children.

“And a phony,” she added.

There was no mystery about where the anger was coming from: I had recently accused her of pocketing cash that had been collected for cheerleading uniforms. I knew she had done it: Calling me a liar was no doubt a defense mechanism for her guilt. I wasn’t sure where the phony came in. I was polite to her, and kind to her children, but never pretended to be her friend.

I didn’t understand or agree with why Ms. Berry would need uniforms for the girls in the first place. They were only in third grade, and we had no sports teams to cheer for. I was part of a grant-writing committee for the school, and knew we needed funds for things like computers, summer programs, and books students could take home. Cheerleading uniforms just seemed ridiculous to me.

However, it had been nice to see Ms. Berry so involved in school, and enthusiastic about something. I knew she was in a difficult place – her husband was in jail, she was unemployed, and she was overwhelmed raising three children. She seemed so focused, and happy working on the project. Good for her, I thought, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the cause.

Then one morning I watched as she approached our security guard and asked him for the cheerleading money. She didn’t have a little form on a clipboard for him to sign, nor did she have a special envelope, or any type of receipt to give him for the donation. She just took the money, and put it in her purse.

I mentioned something to the gym teacher, who I assumed would handle the situation with some tact and professionalism, or at least act on an “anonymous tip.” But he must have said something directly to her, along the lines of, “Ms. Issadore thinks you are stealing money.” No wonder she was so angry with me.

She had no doubt learned different “conflict resolution” skills in the tough neighborhood where she lived than I had in the suburban Pennsylvania neighborhood where I grew up. It wasn’t my intention to have a face-to-face confrontation, certainly not without any other staff members around. It was a situation better left to the administration.

As it turned out, I didn’t get to talk much anyway because a colleague arrived to our shared office space shortly after Ms. Berry started telling me off. I was relieved, but absolutely dreaded seeing her after that.

Our school was a very close-knit community; many of the parents came to chat with teachers and staff during drop-off and pick-up. I worked hard to leave my ill feelings for Ms. Berry aside, and continue to treat her son the same way. David was one of my best first grade students, and years later inspired me to write a story about the death of our class fish. For her part, Ms. Berry must not have told him about our conversation, because he continued to be as doting as ever with me.

It isn’t easy to compartmentalize like that. Even if we don’t have such a blatant negative experience with a parent like I did with Ms. Berry, we can sometimes still have a tendency to assume “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” We meet parents at a conference and sometimes make a quick judgment, even though we hope they don’t do the same of us. We assume we know all about certain students because we have taught other kids from that part of town.

Sometimes it is unavoidable - parents can be just terrible. So we have to be the role model, by how we act, dress, speak, treat each other, and express opinions.

The year after I left that school, Ms. Berry was actually caught stealing funds. I admit that it gave me a little satisfaction. It proved I was not in fact a “liar” or a “phony.” It meant that the administration took a stand, and was standing up for the best interest of the students and the school.

Really though, it made me feel sad for David and especially his sister, who was looking forward to that new cheerleading uniform.

Issadore Bloom (, a former member of the Fairfax Education Association, is now a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. You can read more of her writing at


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