You’d think that I might have admired my high school English teacher, that she had inspired me to pursue my BA in English and had imparted wisdom that guides my life to this day.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I thought that Mrs. White was unimaginative and didn’t really understand literature at all. She was inarticulate in her obsessive love for Emily Dickenson, and I hated the poet until a college professor explained her merits. Mrs. White taught English as though it were history. Names and dates were important, not for context but for providing objectively gradable information. When she did venture into analysis it was simply regurgitation of what she’d been told long decades previously, when analysis consisted solely of cramming stories into rigidly defined types.
As for wisdom, the words I recall most fondly are a stream of curses.
Our class was about to read “Catcher in the Rye”, and a few students would be spending their time in the library instead. This is because their parents found the book objectionable, and not for being dull. With the affected children still in the room, our teacher explained.
“It’s because of a word. ‘Fuck’. There, I said it. Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
She kept talking, but all of us were still processing what had just gone down. Old Mrs. White had just carpet-bombed us with F-words! We didn’t expect to hear that from any teacher, much less from our prim English teacher.
Perhaps we should have expected it, as she liked to regale us with tales of her rebelliousness. You see, when she married her cousin she wore her glasses.