Neil Webb had been my teacher and my colleague. He was used and eventually discarded by an educational system permeated by the belief that all teachers should be heroic, obedient, and utterly dedicated to their jobs and students every day of their work-lives, often at the expense of their personal lives. But this “perfect teacher” fantasy does not make allowances for imperfection or dissatisfaction. And asking a teacher to perform in this way ignores the passions and ambivalences that draw some people into the profession in the first place (Jo Scott-Coe Teacher at Point Blank 131-132).
This passage from Teacher at Point Blank gets to the heart of the problem that Jo Scott-Coe faced in her years of high school teaching. She was a tenured teacher and department chair who loved teaching, but eventually felt that she needed to leave the profession because of the extraordinary and conflicting demands placed upon her. Teachers are placed in the unusual position of having to eschew all person desires as they deal with different levels of violence direct towards them and coldness. Any number of times she was seen as strange or even bad because she had not given up all of her personal professional goals outside of the classroom in the writing world and had not martyred herself to the unending demands of her profession.
I love Teacher at Point Blank. So often our literature describes teachers as good people if and only if they have suffered. Think of Mr. Holland’s Opus and Dead Poets Society. The value of the heroes is defined by their loss. The teachers in those movies who did not lose are defined as bad. I’ve always hated those kinds of movies. Loss is not a lifestyle choice. It can’t be, and we don’t ask any other profession to give up personal hope for fulfillment. Scott-Coe’s point here, one of them, is that a person can be a good teacher and not have to face the humiliation and loss that is often asked of him or her.
Jo Scott-Coe will be reading her work at Beyond Baroque on Saturday night with other truly inspired writers and poets like Donna Hilbert, and I will be there in the front row. It’s refreshing to see someone who honestly discusses the world as she sees it, who is unafraid of those who might disagree.