8th grade: I was a big dog on middle school campus. I felt both able and allowed to be mischievous. And throughout most of the year I had mixed feelings about Mrs. Humphrey, the short, stern-faced, saccharine, classically PTA-mom-like teacher of my final middle school year.
I guess we just got started on the wrong foot. Actually, I put my foot in my mouth. On our first quiz, a kid wouldn’t stop asking stupid questions, and I blurted out a joke about needing a rifle (this was less than a year after Columbine…Yeah). She didn’t know what kind of kid I was, so she wisely sent me to the principal, who understood I was just a jokester. Later I drew a mustache on a photo of her on the classroom wall, and she told me it’s not nice to defame people like that. From that point on I assumed she didn’t like me.
I was a Weasley Twin; naturally, I thought her an Umbridge.
By the end of the year Mrs. Humphrey and I went from being at odds to playing out a kind of game: I was too proud to admit that she wasn’t that bad, and she understood, and so we pretended not to like one another. But she was the first teacher to use Powerpoint on us, and she had a lot of fun with the rudimentary graphics and effects. She also had this megaphone she could whip out when we weren’t listening, just to get a laugh (and our attention). It was the megaphone alone that earned her my respect, a sign she really was a human being with a sense of humor.
And she was. When we did a film comparison on High Noon and Rear Window, I titled my paper “High Rear, Noon Window,” and she couldn’t stop laughing. It wasn’t even that funny.
Of course, I remember nothing she taught us, mostly because she had a student teacher who swooped in to teach us poetry. I don’t remember her name now, but I know I had a crush on her and she rocked. She assigned us these poetry portfolios, and from then on I was a fan of poetry and believed I was good at it. I wrote poems like this one:
Sir Shrinksalot was small in size
his sword too big for compromise.
And at the end of my portfolio, Miss Cute Student Teacher wrote “your poetry rocks.” I could rest easy, and tell everyone that no matter what they thought of me, Miss Cute Student Teacher, who rocked, thought my poetry rocked, because it did rock. And I guess Miss Humphrey rocked for letting her teach us poetry.
Mrs. Humphrey was a good woman, and kind of a nerd. She encouraged us to make the world a better place, even if it was just by going to theungersite.com to help end world hunger with a single click. I wanted to hate her more when she told me I should try reading Harry Potter, that I would like it, and I told her it was a “little kid book” and pretended I completely hated it. I hated her more when she said she liked “that show Farscape with the lady that’s a plant.” That was my show. She’s supposed to watch Survivor.
Maybe I had developed a subliminal misogyny. Maybe it was her authoritativeness. Maybe I had just decided that as a big dawg 8th grader, I wasn’t supposed to be a teacher’s pet, but either a jerk or a goofball. I decided to be a goofball and like English without admitting I liked being taught English by such a dorky, bossy, PTA-mom-like teacher like Mrs. Humphrey. I was supposed to react to her like I’d react to my mom when she wanted a hug or kiss when dropping me off at school in front of the other kids. And she understood.
Now an English teacher, I know what my 8th grade teacher knew, that you need to have a sense of humor with kids, but help them draw the line between the appropriate and inappropriate. You need to expect them not to want to think you’re cool as the figure themselves out and push the boundaries of challenging your authority. I remember Mrs. Humphreys when I remember that some kids are going to really like reading and writing, but just not like you, or at least act up instead of admitting that they do like you and you’re pretty cool after all.
I also try to use the most boring powerpoint in the world and compliment them with my sage-on-the-stage entertaining style. But I do not have a megaphone.