When I was a sophomore in high school, I had an English teacher obsessed with symbolism. She was round and old and smirked condescendingly all the time. Hers was the worst attempt at a smile I had ever seen. It wasn’t expressing pleasure or even bemusement. Because it always arrived a second before she answered my questions, I perpetually felt as though she never took anything I said seriously. I was a joke instead of a student. Her answers never satisfied my questions.
I liked English class because I loved to read. I looked forward to the class as a way of throwing myself into someone else’s story, 50 minutes where I didn’t have to think about my own. Every day I walked into her class hoping that today would be the day she would teach a lesson that reminded me why I loved books and loved writing. It never happened. I remember thinking no wonder kids hate English class and hate reading. I’m starting to hate reading!
I think it was her way of trying to hide the fact that she was tired of teaching The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, but hadn’t taught long enough to retire. Still, she plowed through assigning us essays about what the color red meant, why Daisy had a green light at the end of her dock, and why that was significant. We even had to decode the front cover of the book. I had read To Kill a Mockingbird in 7th grade. When she reassigned it to me, I reread it in an evening. I had loved that book, and really identified with all the characters in it. She ignored what I knew about the story and made me answer questions about it chapter by chapter, forcing me to fakely “predict” what I thought would happen next. She treated Boo Radley like a plot device instead of a person. What did his character represent for Scout?
And she played favorites. The ones who spit back up everything she told them like it was too good to go down once.
My favorite teachers were always the ones who showed real sides of themselves-that they had a personality underneath the pedagogy, that they got frustrated with us when we couldn’t understand what they were teaching, and that they never apologized for having a bad day.
To this day, I can’t see this teacher as a human being. One day, she brought in her high school yearbook and upon looking through it, I saw she had graduated with my favorite math teacher. When I brought this up to her, she said she didn’t know him, and that was the end of the conversation. I don’t know why she bothered bringing her yearbook unless to prove that yes, she was 15 once, too. And it was a long time ago.