My new English teacher reminded me of a hawk as her dark eyes surveyed the class over her angled nose. Severe was the word for her — the jet black hair surrounding her young face, her crisp clothing, her high-heels that she rested definitively on either side of the podium in front of her.
As she explained the curriculum of AP Literature, I recounted what I had heard about this teacher. No opinionated senior drops of wisdom had been left for us — she had been absent from school for two years for the birth of her daughter. Most recent reviews called her “strict” and “mean” — but how reliable were the judgments of wimpy underclassmen? I was clutching on most tightly to the appraisal my English teacher last year:
“Your AP Literature teacher lived in the Soviet Union at a young age, so the regime there was very much a reality for her. She was my student teacher for a while before she taught in Russia. When a position opened up here, I contacted her. Now, I wouldn’t have asked her to come all the way back here if she wasn’t good at what she does,” he ended with a firm look.
…She finished warning us about academic dishonesty and seemed to switch into a mode less formal, less distant. “A lot of rumors go around about me; some of them are true,” she said. “Get out a piece of paper — you have a pop quiz.”
Did she just smirk a little at our surprise and nervousness?
She drummed her long nails against the podium as she waited for us to place pen to paper. “First question, out of ten. True or false: I am a certified scuba diver.”
A pause. “Wait, is this about you or us?” someone asked, puzzled.
“About me. Next question! I burned my mouth this morning on an extra-hot chai latte.
This weekend my mom took me shopping for school supplies.
I refuse to grade homework on Football Sundays.
I lift weights four times a week.
I have a tattoo on the back of my neck” — she did a 360 for us, the back of her head covered by her hair. And now I realized that the underside of her hair was dyed a dark purple.
“I’m in an all-girls volleyball team called Spicy Tuna.
I think Karenin is more interesting than Vronsky.” I wrote a confident T on my paper, as well as “#SAME.”
“And I named my daughter Anna, after Anna Karenina.”
She revealed the answers, proving most of them to be true — excluding the Football Sunday one, including the neck tattoo.
I had an uncharacteristic outburst: “What!” I blurted out. “Are you gonna show us?”
She fixed her eyes on me, and I instantly felt small. “If you’re good,” she said, her faint accent stretching out the oo. “Or if you can guess what it is.”
It seemed to be the question of the week: What do you think of her?
“She is my role model,” I gushed as I walked outside with some friends afterschool. “She is who I want to be. She scares me but inspires me at the same time.”
My friend Priyanka commented, “You know, I heard someone say that she is intimidating because she’s so comfortable in her own skin.”
And I thought about that for a long time, because it is precisely accurate.