What About the Teachers?

I wanted to talk about the presence of teachers and schools in the novels we have looked at so far. Some of the books have portrayed teachers as a positive influence, some as a negative and some haven’t even mentioned them. The first student teacher relationship I want to talk about is Miss Bel and Rebee. I see this relationship as more of a mother/daughter relationship than a student/teacher relationship. Rebee using Miss Bel as a mother figure while she is at the school and I think the relationship gives Rebee a sense of comfort. I think this is a fair representation of how a student/ teacher relationship could potentially be in the primary grades. Sometimes the only stable adult in a child’s life is their teacher and I think that this book represented that fact very authentically. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call Miss Bel “stable” I think that Rebee benefited greatly from Miss Bel’s willingness to care for her.

This healthy student/teacher relationship is continued in Swimmers and The Crazy Man. In Swimmers, Hunter has his guidance counselor to help him talk through his relationship with Nial even when he parents avoid this. Although he is not technically a teacher, he is associated with the school and I think it puts him into the same category as Miss Bel. Both Rebee and Hunter have adults, other than their parents, who reach out to them in times of need.  I think the relationship differs by how Hunter perceives his counselor. I don’t see this as a strong example of a father/son relationship, but more of a friendship. This is also how I see the relationship between Miss Sadie Tollfsen and Emaline.

Emaline and Miss Tollfsen seem to have a friendship in the novel that pushes Emaline to express herself through her art. I think that this relationship helps Emaline cope with the loss of her dog and her fathers absence. I also think that this encourages Emaline to focus on herself at a time where everything is centered around harvesting, her accident and Angus. This relationship isn’t a mother/daughter relationship because she still has one with her own mother, but it works to further support Emaline as she grows into her own identity.

The reason I am thinking about these relationships stems from a  discussion about what struggling students get from young adult literature. When I say “struggling students” I mean students who may not have the adult support they need at home, or students suffering with depression, anxiety and other ailments that affect their everyday life. Some classmates and I came to the consensus that young adult texts can act as previews into possible solutions in the life of the struggling students. The students read texts that they can relate with and they get to see how the characters choose to cope with similar struggles.

I think portraying these healthy teacher/student relationships is important because it opens up the door for students to seek help within their schools. During this discussion with classmates, majority of them revealed that their counseling services were either underutilized or almost nonexistent. I think that  portraying these positive school relationships more often in young adult literature can take away some of the taboo surrounding mental health. One novel that does a great job of lifting this taboo is Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson. The main character undergoes a trauma that she is unable to talk about for majority of the novel, but in the end it’s a relationship with a teacher that gives her the strength to confront with her problems. I think that showing these positive relationships in young adult literature would allow students to see that seeking help within a school is an option for them.

On the flip-side of this discussion, what ideas would readers get from novels like The Lesser Blessed, where the only teacher mentioned is negatively portrayed? Would this turns students away from reaching out to their teachers? Let me know what you think!

Danielle S.

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2 thoughts on “What About the Teachers?

  1. Kae says:

    I will admit that I hadn’t thought about looking at the teacher-student relationships in these novels prior to reading your post. It is certainly an interesting cross novel comparison to make, particularly because a number of students have expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of healthy parent-child relationships in these novels. So, in that case, are those novels replacing (or more likely ‘shifting’) the healthy inter-family relationships with teacher-student ones? I would say that it is a good way of encouraging those YA readers who do not have “ideal” or “healthy” relationships at home to perhaps seek out other adults (teachers or other family members – as in the case of Hunter’s aunt) for guidance. The Lesser Blessed might stray from this pattern to emphasise Larry’s need for guidance within his own family or cultural community, as it is Jed who provides his best guiding light and he does so with a very strong First Nations sensibility (i.e. he could be a cultural leader of sorts). But those are just my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have brought up the fact that most of the teachers in the novels we have read, have a more prominent, and helpful role in protagonist’s life than their parents. I do think that this is a good portrayal of the type of guidance a teacher can give, and perhaps novels like Swimmers, The Crazy Man, and The Shore Girl will encourage young adults who have unhealthy situations at home to seek advice from their teachers.
    Students might not be as inclined to reach out to teachers if they have only read about them in a negative way, like the teacher in The Lesser Blessed. It is hard to judge if the majority of YA fiction portrays teachers in a negative way or a positive way, but I do think YA fiction has an important role in deciding that. It is important for teachers to offer help to their class and be approachable, so if students do need help, they can seek that help. If a teacher is welcoming, it does not matter, as much, which novels a student has read to decide if they will seek help from a teacher or not.

    – Preet Gill

    Liked by 1 person

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