Today is World Teachers’ Day

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.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted October 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I loved my teachers since I was a kid, my english teachers were very cool and treated me like an intelligent adult. Hey, Susan J. Douglas has an article on teachers http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6327/the_teachers_are_all_right/

  2. Posted October 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I always thought it was a reference to the insultee’s own particular mother and thus painting them as a violator of the incest taboo.

    • Posted October 5, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I don’t think the term has anything to do with mothers being unattractive. A motherfucker is someone who would fuck his/her own mother.

      Anyway, I’m an English teacher, so yay teachers!

  3. Posted October 5, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Two of the most memorable things to happen during my years in high school both happened during Mrs. Swanson’s Honors English class (and neither were directly related to the curriculum). The first was when she told our class that if she had her way, all the school’s athletic teams would be called the “Wildcats” instead of the boys being “Wildcats” and the girls being “Lady Cats.” It never occurred to me how sexist “Lady Cats” was until Mrs. Swanson pointed it out. I didn’t call myself a feminist until years later, but I think that moment woke something up in me. It’s clearly an important moment in my history, seeing as I remember it so well nearly 10 years later. Mrs. Swanson also made me write a report on Susan B. Anthony instead of Isadora Duncan (we weren’t allowed to write about people who were mainly known as entertainers), so it’s because of Mrs. Swanson that I also have an interest in feminist history. So, thank you Mrs. Swanson for helping me become the feminist I am today!

    Oh, and the other memorable moment? I had English class first hour on 9/11/01.

  4. Posted October 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Yeh, Sam, “motherfucker” is an insult because of incest taboos: if there were a stigma against having sex with mothers, we’d all be only children. Possibly Ms. Jinga was making a joke to make her point. Doesn’t detract from teh awesom of Chloe’s stories, though.

  5. Posted October 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    This one’s for Ms. Kitchen: I was always overshadowed by my brother in high school. He was older, a better student, more popular, and well-known by all the teachers.

    You told me that when other teachers talked about my brother in the staff rooms, you would smile and respond, “Well, you should just see the way his sister can write.” And if you had never said that, I might have never remembered my childhood dream to become a writer. I haven’t given up on that yet, and I owe you so much for giving me that nudge.

  6. Posted October 5, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Any teacher who talked about “motherfucker” in the district where I grew up would have been fired on the spot.

  7. Posted October 6, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you Ms. Paula Cate, my 11th grade English teacher, for helping me come out of my shell and utilize my speaking and social abilities. My 4th grade teacher Ms. Williams for being generally awesome, 6th grade teachers Ms. Smith and Mr. Lowry for spurring my interest in science and geography, and Professor Barbara Powell for unlocking my feminist views.

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