Other English teachers implored students to follow the rules of grammar and proper spelling; Mrs. Odmark implored us to explore our inner lives. When I was in eighth grade, I hated every class except hers. Being in the advanced English class made up for the remedial pre-algebra class I was stuck in for the second year and the wood-shop class full of cruel boys; it even made up for Ms. Costello’s French class and that horrible bûche de Noël that proved to be the year’s most challenging assignment.
Mrs. Odmark had spiky black hair, and it was rumored that her ex-husband was gay. She lived in a condo by herself. All of these things made her seem more worldly than the other teachers. She introduced us to old movies, like Shane, and made us keep a journal that only she read. When I wrote a long entry about Martin Luther King Jr. and my adolescent insights on racism, Mrs. Odmark told me my sensitivities “inspired” her. We did a whole unit on wolves in literature, from Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf to Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, which inspired my own poem “Lone Wolf,” which became my first and only work accepted by Stanley Intermediate School’s literary journal.
No matter how much I liked eighth-grade English, it couldn’t last forever. The inevitable arrived. The following year, I was reminded of just how unfortunate English teachers could be. Mrs. White often appeared to be drunk, and dressed up as Groucho Marx for Halloween. The next three years exposed me to more English teachers, some inspiring (loved that junior-year class on African American women writers), some dreadful (Ms. Rasmussen’s reading The Canterbury Tales in Old English comes to mind). Mrs. Odmark’s class continues to stand out for having been a harbinger of hope in an otherwise bleak junior high school experience.
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