Monday, September 24, 2012

Minerva McGonagall and I

When Harry Potter became popular, the students started comparing their teachers to the teachers in the book.

Rowling does an amazing job of creating the typical teachers a person encounters in  his or her school career.  Who has not had Snape, the one who seems so bad who is secretly good?  Who has not had Lupin with his hands on approach and his love of the kids. Who hasn't had Hagrid? He means well but hasn't quite got down how to teach. The disorganized and mostly inept Trelawney?  And unfortunately who has not had Professor Binns who died and got back up the next day and kept teaching.  I felt like he was the funniest comment about some teachers in the series.  He is the boring teacher with the same notes for decades and in this case, he doesn't even know he is dead, he just does the same thing he has always done in the same dull fashion.  He is so dull even Hermione sometimes has trouble concentrating in the class.

I asked my AP Language class in 2006-07 with Charlie, my resident Harry fanatic (I confess to being one of the most fanatical of all), who I was. I had it narrowed to two. I know who I was most definitely in my salad days, but I thought that as time went on and I did away with seating charts, let kids sit on the floor and the sofa and more that I had become the hippie teacher, so I thought I had become more like someone else.  Charlie said I was without a doubt McGonagall (quite a compliment I think) and the class members who knew their Harry concurred.  I said that was  who I was when I was young and stricter, but now I thought I was more like Lupin.  They disagreed. Why, was my perpetual question.  The answer was always the same, "THE LOOK."

I admit I have developed what they called THE LOOK because when you are a five foot teacher you need something and for me it isn't going to be volume.  If a student was talking or more recently fiddling with a cell phone I would just stop talking and stare and stare and stare and stare. I could stare for an indefinite amount of time until the stare would hit the kid and stop him or her.  In my last year of teaching, I had a class in which maybe all but  5 kids had me before so they knew.  A kid was fiddling with the phone.  I stopped , stared and waited. My repeats watched knowingly. Finally it hit the kid who somehow became startled and announced, "My that's intimidating."  THE LOOK has served me well over the years, along with my announcement that "I'll wait" if you aren't listening to me.  I tried to go lower or the same in volume and never louder because I don't have the volume and I think screaming teachers can be like white noise to kids.

Since they were so insistent that I was McGonagall I began testing this with other classes and other years.  I asked the 4 other classes; they all agreed McGonagall. I asked them throughout my next 4 years and got unwaveringly "McGonagall."  Then I decided to ask people who had never seen me teach. I asked my sister who said, "McGonagall." I asked my friend Joe and his son Warren and they immediately said, "McGonagall." This was from a young man whom  I have seen on an average of once a year for twenty-seven years."  THE LOOK kept coming up even from people who had never seen it.

Then the last couple of years as the movies piled up the class of 2010 liked to list the Maggie Smith lines they thought were similar to mine.  They would send me messages saying, "We could hear you when she said 'I have always wanted to do that spell.'" "Mr. Davies, Mr Davies, that is the girls' lavatory." "Potter take Weasley with you, he looks far too happy." "Why don't you confer with Mr. Finnegan?As I recall he has a particular proclivity for pyrotechnics."  The following exchange is somehow like me too when in Book 1, Potter and Weasley show up to transfiguration late but are impressed when she changes from cat to witch:

Well, thank you for that assessment, Mr Weasley. Perhaps it would be more useful if I were to transfigure Mr Potter and yourself into a pocket watch? That way, one of you might be on time. 
Harry: We got lost. 
Professor McGonagall: Then perhaps a map? I trust you don't need one to find your seats. 

I could go on; my students certainly have.  I told them that on some level I have always wanted to be Maggie Smith  and the best of Jean Brodie. I take it, thus, as one of my highest compliments that I am the head of Gryffindor. Thank you all.  

1 comment:

  1. I think they are right on with the McGonagall comparison. As to Maggie Smith in general, she can say more with the lift of ONE eyebrow than many actors can manage in a monologue. That goes right along with "the look" which in my family was always known as "the Teacher Stare." (My kids are building an immunity to my Teacher Stare but it does work on the kids in the school library)