It was Ms. Jinga, my 11th grade English teacher, who first explained to me why the term “motherfucker” was so sexist. “Because fucking a mother would be gross, right? Mothers aren’t sexy!” she exclaimed, loud enough for the class next door to wonder what the hell was going on in our classroom. She paced around the room with her long curly blonde hair flying around her head. “And because fucking a mother would be an insult to her son! That’s why we think it’s so bad to call someone a motherfucker!”
We were fifteen. Our parents, not to mention the principal, would have been horrified if they’d know what Ms. Jinga was teaching us. But she didn’t seem to care. And I was grateful, because that was the year I came out as a feminist, and it was partly thanks to her.
The “motherfucker” lecture had been a digression, actually. We were doing a unit on fairy tales, and learning about the origins of some of our favorite childhood stories. Ms. Jinga used the unit as an opportunity to teach us about victim blaming (Little Red Riding Hood) and about virgins, whores and crones (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) and about our cultural correlations between beauty, virginity and goodness (every fairy tale ever). I had my mind blown and my consciousness raised; I would never look at fairy tales, or at our culture, the same way again.
Then there was Mrs. Reeves, the history teacher who got almost as excited about the gory bits of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror as she did about the BBC Production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” starring the “dishy” Richard E. Grant.
Before her, there was Mrs. Woolley, my slightly eccentric 5th- and 6th-grade teacher, who made us write with fountain pens and who, in our unit on the Middle Ages, assigned us the task of building a catapult that could launch a Barbie doll (or rather, “a plague victim whose body will be used to infect a besieged city”) over the wall of a model castle.
I was blessed, throughout my education, to come into contact with a few exceptional teachers, who inspired me and pushed me and taught me how to see the world in a new light, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Teachers matter. The things that we want to achieve as a human race – better health, economic freedom, gender equality, a world of tolerance and acceptance and cultural understanding – cannot happen without education. And education cannot happen without teachers.
Today is World Teachers’ Day. Make sure you thank a teacher today. And if you’re a teacher yourself: Thank you, thank you for today and for every other day of this year, for everything that you do.