That’s right, Elkwood High! Your beloved ninth-grade English teacher Ms. B. is pivoting to a new teaching style! As many students, supervisors, and colleagues know, my current vibe as an educator can best be described as Sweet, Middle-Aged Lady Who Is Easily Distracted by Any Mention of “Mansfield Park.” It’s served me well over the past twenty years of pretending that I couldn’t tell when you were lying, but, as of this summer, I have a new teaching-style mentor, Mr. Yanks, whom some of you may remember as Asshole Tenth-Grade History Teacher Who Got Away with It for Thirty-Seven Years Because He Also Coached the Varsity Football Team to the State Championship in 1994.
I’m giving you a heads-up now, because I know that it can be a difficult transition when a teacher switches styles. Few of us can forget how shocking it was when Mr. Clark transformed himself practically overnight from Shambling Dad Who Names His Biology Units After Eagles Songs into Divorced Dude Who Talks About Microdosing While Creeping on the Moms on P.T.A. Zoom Meetings. And Madame Henri’s switcheroo—from her 2019 vibe as a French Teacher Who Gives Extra Credit for Bringing in Candy You Bought in Quebec to her current, 2021 incarnation as Q-Anon Conspiracist Who Refuses to Record Class or Appear on Camera—has been a lot, I know. That’s why I’m taking the time to explain my choice.
You see, this virtual year has been especially difficult. Maybe it was when I allowed my class to turn off their cameras, and they responded to my questions about the main themes of “Romeo and Juliet” with a mix of silence, audible snoring, audible giggling, and the sounds of Super Mario Kart. Or maybe it was when a student, literally one-third my age, spent thirty minutes explaining feminism to me, a concept which she believed was invented by Taylor Swift. Or maybe it was when Principal Samuels asked me to write and deliver a ten-minute presentation on time management at our faculty meeting because, as he put it, “No one knows how to balance everything more than you ladies with kids!” (A should-be-irrelevant reminder: I do not have children.)
It was during these moments that I began to think of Mr. Yanks, whom some of you may recall. My classmates and I learned so much from him—from the nicknames that American soldiers gave to various venereal diseases during the First World War, to how much a human head weighs (with and without a brain), to exactly what people who get an English degree can expect to earn post-college, to many of Coach Bear Bryant’s best quotations, to how to do a surprisingly decent Marilyn Monroe imitation if you did not like Marilyn Monroe or any other woman. It is safe to say, in other words, that few of us learned much about American history from Mr. Yanks.
However, and this is key, what we did learn both from and about Mr. Yanks was to leave him the hell alone. And that sounds glorious, frankly. No one asked Mr. Yanks if they could go to the bathroom because, if they did, he always replied, “Go ahead, take a whiz right there, I’m not stopping you.” No one told Mr. Yanks that Abraham Lincoln was overrated. No one argued that they couldn’t learn history from Mr. Yanks because prior history teachers had ruined the entire subject. No one asked Mr. Yanks to write letters of recommendation for them, or to come in at 6 A.M. so that they could get help writing an assignment before swim practice, or to excuse them from doing homework because they had harder homework in other classes, or to return their Canadian candy so that they could give it to Madame Henri instead.
So, when we return to the high-school building in the fall, you may notice some changes. All the cheerful posters around my classroom with slogans like “You Can Do It!” will be replaced with décor inspired by Mr. Yanks: pieces of notebook paper on which “No Achievement Trophies Here” has been scrawled in cramped, ballpoint letters; and photos of General Patton. Also, I will no longer buy a box of tissues every day for students’ usage. No silly stickers, either. In short, by next year, I expect to teach in a room completely devoid of all material comforts, except for my sciatica pillow.
It has been a pleasure working with you in my current style, and I thank you for all of the things we’ve shared, especially your thoughts on whether those who can’t do teach. But know that nothing is forever, and, while I’m sorry that the new me will be less helpful and less liked, this pivot will allow me to continue teaching English until my pension kicks in. When we next meet in person, I look forward to giving you a final hug—and then calling you a nimrod who can’t remember how to tie your goddam shoes. If you have any questions about my pivot, please hold them until next year, when I’ll be sure to let you know what to do with them.