Tuesday 21 April 2015

Teachers in Middle Grade Fiction: The Trunchbull-Honey Scale

I’ve always wanted to be a primary school teacher and part of my motivation for this was the wonderful Miss Honey from Matilda. She was young (only 23), pretty and just so kind. Her wonderful teacher fashion sense of simple tops, pencil skirts and lovely flowing scarves probably influences my work style even now. I absolutely wanted to be her- not just for the thrifty but stylish wardrobe, but mainly for her sheer enthusiasm for teaching and encouraging children.
Now, as a grown woman, I realise that Miss Honey is not necessarily a realistic role-model for a young teacher. First of all, she didn’t really need to use any behaviour management strategies because the children behaved so well simply because she was just a lovely person. Ah, if only! It just doesn’t work like this. Also, if the story was written these days Miss Honey’s actions towards Matilda (taking her home, getting involved in family disputes) would definitely be contrary to safeguarding guidelines. If the story was written nowadays it would probably involve Miss Honey ringing social services and ensuring that the correct authorities took control.
I realise that Miss Honey was not necessarily meant to be a realistic model of a teacher but instead an idealistic view of what a child’s dream teacher would be- kind, encouraging, pretty, interested in you as a person. In fact, when I looked again at the representation of both Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull I realised that these characters are the personification of teacher behaviours (albeit teacher behaviours with the volume turned up to the max). Dahl presents us with the shouty, scary, strict, borderline-evil Miss Trunchbull as a diametric opposite to the lovely, kind, soft-spoken Miss Honey. In these two characters we have the idealised teacher and the demonised teacher- basically as a young child would see a teacher (good/bad... very little grey area).
 In the real world, no teacher could be exactly like Miss Honey. We need to have both reward and sanction systems, we need to have procedures in place for when children are rude/naughty. However, that doesn’t include chucking those children out of the window by their pigtails. From a child’s point of view though, the portrayal of the two teachers does borrow from their sense of realism.  To kids, teachers are judged on two different scales- whether we can manage the class and whether we are kind or mean to them.  It's a simplistic view which changes as they get older to include more grey areas and allows for a combination of behaviour management and temperament. 

When I think of Mr Hawtrey in The Boy in the Dress I would plot him as high on the aggressive behaviour management side (not as high as Miss Trunchbull) but mean (and hypocritical) whilst Rory's class teacher isn't particularly effectual (Rory ends up pushed in the river) and isn't particularly understanding or kind towards him. 
Middle Grade fiction depicts teachers from the child's point of view... so in honour of this I give you The Trunchbull-Honey Quadrant Scale.

So... who would be your dream MG-fiction teacher and who would be your nightmare?
Where would you plot them on the scale?

Mrs Holpepper: Bookworm

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