I don’t care if George Bernard Shaw gave us the greatest modern incarnation of the makeover myth – when it comes to teaching, he’s a pompous twat. On behalf of teachers around the world, I thumb my nose at you.
Today is National Teacher Day, and in honour of it I decided to blog about educators in romance. As I was thinking about books with teachers, I realized that compared to other professions, teachers actually get pretty good press. They know how to relate to children, are held to be intelligent and are usually hardworking; half the time they solve a mystery or two, and nine teachers out of ten figure out what’s wrong with the kid (absentee parent, lack of love, wanting to paint instead of do math, etc.) and use it to unite child with parent. Sure, there are the occasional boring tutors or cruel headmistresses, but they’re rarely bad enough to qualify as villains or evil.
Is that good or bad? Well, far be it from me to complain about giving teachers respect where it’s due (notwithstanding the anachronistic psychobabble spouted by Regency governesses). I mean, I’m a teacher, and I know how difficult it is. I’ve spent hours preparing a lesson, then have it explode in my face. I’ve wanted to tear my hair out because 30 kids are doing 30 different things and thinking 30 different things.
But I’ve also had days when the most impossible situations arise, and I handle them without a flicker of an eyelash because I know exactly what to do in that situation. I’ve had lessons that didn’t go according to plan, but magically worked even better. And I’ve had moments that remind me why I’m teacher, and why I’m in the best profession in the world. So yeah, I’m all for a positive image of teachers, because it’s damn hard what we do. Those three months of vacation? We’ve earned it.
However, fairness prompts me to criticize the overly miraculous depictions. Yes, we love it and it’s rewarding – but it’s not as easy as romance novels sometimes make it look. Where’s the staying late at all hours, the taking marking home? Where are the hours of preparation and behavioural misunderstandings, and small steps and tiny triumphs? And that’s just on the vocational side; I’m not even talking about the people who should never, ever have been allowed in a classroom, let alone near a child.
I wonder if the positive image is symptomatic of a larger assumption about teaching, that it is both highly respected and highly misunderstood. We occupy an extremely important part of a child’s development – I’m not downplaying our responsibilities. But we’re also not all like Julie Matheson in Judith McNaught’s Perfect, with her super volunteering and organizing and sweetness and goodness and understanding students 150% of the time.
As for stories with a balanced view of teachers and teaching, the two that immediately come to mind are Anne of Avonlea and These Happy Golden Years, the penultimate book in the Little House series. L. M. Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder were both teachers, so they knew exactly what they were talking about. That moment when Anne feels horrible for punishing a student, then discovering that their relationship changed for the better? Yeah, I’ve had that. Or the moment as Laura’s trying to teach ten different children at vastly different levels, and screams in frustrations, then finally figures it out? Yup, I know what that’s like.
In contemporary romances, Janice Kay Johnson’s books (like Snowbound) come to mind as someone who understands teaching. Also worth noting (especially in today’s legal climate) is Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet?, because a) it’s the hero who’s the teacher, and b) his reputation was ruined by the heroine, a former student.
As for historical romances, the governesses abound, and nothing really sticks out except a general impression of women who subscribe to 21st-century ideas of pedagogy. But honestly, I gravitate towards them nonetheless, and it comes down to Jane Eyre. I never loved the book, but the premise behind it hits a bulls-eye. No, not the bigamy and child abuse. But the idea that a woman can make a living from her wits, be it Victorian England or 2012 Toronto; that she can be loved not for her fine eyes and dancing grace, but for her intelligence and kindness to children and adults alike. And that a man can recognize her and value her (even if he pursues her in slightly unethical ways).
Yeah, that appeals to me. And despite my questions and small concerns, it draws me to teacher romances every single time.
So what’s your take on teachers, schoolmarms, and governesses? Do you find the theme too clichéd, or do you love teacher romances?
- Jean AAR