Deb Elise’s Most Loathed Teacher Ever

Severus Snape

I loathed everything about Emmett Woodshanks (not his real name — his real name was far less Dickensian.  He also didn’t look like Alan Rickman. I probably would have liked him a lot more if he had).

I loathed his nearly-bald head, with its wreath of orange hair.  I loathed his close-cropped beard and mustache.  I loathed his wire-rimmed circular glasses.  I loathed the way he licked his upper lip before each thought, the way he leaned against his desk, and the way he began every single solitary class with the quote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these; It might have been.”

I even loathed that he was short.

I especially loathed that I had to call him “Master.”  No, my middle school education didn’t take place in the 1700’s; I went to a Quaker school.  The men were “Master” and their first names; the women “Teacher” and their first names.  Eventually that switched to “Teacher” for both genders, but in seventh grade I had to call him “Master Emmett.”  I loathed it.

I loathed Emmett Woodshanks so much that my seventh grade BFF and I courted middle school fame with our vast list of popular songs whose words we changed to specifically express our loathing of Master Emmett.

So I’m saying I didn’t like the guy.

My parents laughed at me.  They said I only didn’t like him because he could see through me.  I was one of those kids who skated through school, snagging A’s with as little effort as I could possibly put into them.  That wasn’t good enough for Master Emmett.  He pushed me.  Hard.  If I wanted A’s in his class, I’d have to work for them, and since I really really really wanted A’s… I did.

Master Emmett was my English teacher, and I had him for both 7th and 9th grade (though by 9th he had become “Teacher Emmett,” which always sounded weird to me).  In seventh grade he taught me proper essay format: the introductory funnel ending in a tersely brilliant topic sentence; the clear supporting paragraphs; and the upside-down funnel conclusion.  I found I loved the structure, loved the way it could strengthen an argument until it was irrefutable.

In ninth grade, Teacher Emmett took essay writing to a new level as we delved into comparative literature.  He challenged me to come up with difficult, complex, and unique theses that would require both verbal agility and creativity to support.  Eager to earn those A’s, I didn’t just read books, I went spelunking in them, seeking out obscure underlying themes and fascinating ways each one tied into others we’d read.

I say I was eager for the A’s, but honestly, by 9th grade I was far more eager to impress Teacher Emmett.  Impressing him meant something.

I’d like to say that I became so mature by the end of 9th grade that I even moved beyond impressing him, and felt that achieving a perfect piece of writing was enough… but that would be a lie.  I wanted the approval.  And the A.  Heck, I still want the approval and the A… but under Master/Teacher Emmett’s eye I did develop a true love of what the written word can accomplish, the many layers of a great book, and the joy of wrestling with the language until I find exactly the right words to express what I want to say.

I have to say though, the anti-Emmett songs were seriously catchy.  The BFF and I were sure they’d land us on “Fame.”  Or at least “Star Search.”

Your turn — any teachers you loathed at first and later loved?  Did you ever get back in touch with them and let them know how they impacted your life?

Can’t wait to hear!

~ Deb Elise

13 Replies to “Deb Elise’s Most Loathed Teacher Ever”

  1. My favourite teacher was my R.E. teacher. I never hated him though he did drive me mad. Like your teacher, he was very insistent on teaching us how to write essays and how to argue and expected nothing but your best efforts. And me, I just wanted to impress him, prove that I could do better than he expected.

  2. My English teachers were all hard but fantastic, and I adored being pushed, having someone expect something from me.

    One history teacher was AWFUL. Not hard, and she expected absolutely nothing from me. When I surprised her, she resentfully offered me a place on the history team. I told her I would, but I was too busy prepping for the academic competition in English.

    I’m not sure she ever spoke to me again.

    I tend to adore people who expect a lot from me. Those I loathe are the ones who pass over me, assuming I am capable of nothing.

    1. I love that you had academic competitions — sounds fun and challenging. My school didn’t have that. We also didn’t have prom. Or football. Though we did have Meeting for Worship twice a week, where we could rise “when the spirit moved us” to share. The spirit once moved me to advertise our sixth grade White Elephant sale.

  3. When I started teaching, I made an effort to contact many of the teachers I adored and tell them they’d made an impact. Teaching is a lonely, difficult profession, and it can make all the difference to hear from former students.

    I LOVE that your image of this is Snape. HEE!

    1. I actually looked for “Teacher Emmett” to let him know the impact he made on me, but I couldn’t track him down. My 8th grade English teacher just friended me on FB, which was cool, but while he was a lovely guy, he wasn’t one of those stellar teachers. I mostly remember him b/c one of my closest friends had a HUGE crush on him.

  4. What a lovely story!

    I’m the child of two teachers and the wife of another, so it’s always been drilled into my head to show gratitude to educators. Otherwise, they might smack me with a ruler.


    1. That is VERY lucky. I’ve had only a few real duds. Most of my teachers were at least very good, but the stellar ones are life-changing.

  5. Yes! And one I feared in college – Dr. Smolinski taught Russian Econ and he was so scary and small and dark and had this creepy accent. He reminded me of Dr. M. Munigant, the doctor in the Ray Bradbury story called Skeleton. Lord, I love Ray Bradbury – introduced to me by an English teacher named Jim Bride at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, MA. He had us reading Bradbury and hooked me on the power of a twist ending.

    (PS) Mia’s foot doctor looks EXACTLY like Snape – but wears another color and is very nice! I almost choked when he walked into the exam room.

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