I am convinced that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Biles, hated me. I hadn’t discovered Hermione Granger yet, but I’m pretty sure that if Mrs. Biles ever read the Harry Potter series, she more than likely put the book down and said “There’s a fictional character just like Kai Mills. An absolute insufferable know-it-all, determined to take on the world.” To that Mrs. Biles, I apologize that you had me at such a time in my life where I hadn’t quite figured out how to use my powers for good. I was a bright young mind (definitely tooting my own horn a bit here) and yet my report cards were filled with things like, “Miss Mills is determined to outshine her classmates,” and “a bright girl, but just a bit reckless,” and “much too talkative for a girl her age.”
As the years went by, that reputation spread. While I had some good teachers (even my own aunt!), I still became known as “the bright yet troublesome child who can’t help herself.”
I still can’t help myself, which is why I became the one thing I never thought I’d become: a teacher.
I had a lot of great teachers, both real and fictional. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Merrit, was the first one to reward me for my academics, which taught me it was okay to be competitive. Meanwhile, Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus motivated me to not take myself so seriously, to actually enjoy the process of learning, and to make friends. I had the privilege of even having my own aunt teach me U.S. History. While she was Aunt Ann at family functions, she was Mrs. Gaines in the classroom, and she taught me to always have a fact up your sleeve, a quote to recite, or a question to ask. Simultaneously, Miss Grotke from Recess inspired me to advocate for myself and others, accept responsibility for my mistakes, and to understand that adults may have been the authority, but were definitely not always right. Still, none of my teachers held a candle to Professor Minerva McGonagall, the sharp-witted yet impeccably kind Head of Gryffindor.
That is, until I met Mrs. Sandra Gray, my high school English teacher. By this point, I had a lot in common with Hermione Granger; I had big bushy hair, I had been voted “Most Intelligent” twice, and I attended The Piney Woods Country Life School, a boarding school that my parents visited so rarely that I wondered at times if they remembered they had a daughter at all.
Mrs. Gray was an avid reader, a flawless grammarian, and a master of sass. To this day, I couldn’t tell you if she had a husband, children of her own, or even a cat. I can tell you, most emphatically, however, that she loved me. When I fell asleep in her class because I spent yet another night in the library, she let me. When I told her that I was writing my senior thesis on a book that she had not assigned, because all the books she did assign I had already read, she didn’t become offended or indignant. She looked over her glasses and replied, “Do what you will Ms. Mills, the report is still due a week from today, at noon.” When I scored a 33 out of 36 on the English section of the ACT, she bought me a box of pizza. When I graduated and finally told her what she meant to me, she answered, “I was just molding what was already there. You now have the power to do the same.”
Flash forward to quite a few years later: I am now a woman who doesn’t want children and yet I spend a lot of time with them. Talking with them, arguing with them, marking their mistakes, fussing at them, sighing as I’m wiping their tears, and pointing out their boogers (even 8th graders still get boogers). In true Ravenclaw fashion, I once spent a bit of class crunching the numbers for my students as an act of rebellious frustration, hoping to make them see just HOW MUCH TIME I spent working on children that did not come from my womb.
For those of you who are wondering, it’s about 2,430 hours a year, give or take. That’s about 240 hours a month, which breaks down to about 47 hours a week. That’s just a rough estimate; I majored in English, not Math.
In having this conversation, one of my students sagely remarked: “It’s almost as if you’re our other parent.”
This gave me pause, a strong pause. Despite all my beautiful baby cousins and my students and their precious antics, I have had no desire to become a parent. Changing diapers, fretting over vaccinations, picking out nurseries and preschools and day schools, trying to schedule playdates, the list of anxieties goes on and on. Not to mention when they get older — having talks about puberty, heartbreak, career moves, politics — it seems barely manageable when they’re in my sight for 8 hours, how could I possibly do it 24/7?
And yet one of my favorite teachers, Minerva McGonagall, did it all.
To save some time, not in any order of importance, Professor Minerva McGonagall did the following badass teacher things:
Wrote a welcome letter and supply list for every student
Physically visited Muggle-born families to quell their anxiety
Rewarded and disciplined with fairness and sass
Defended her students against an incompetent fellow staff member
Called out her boss on his bullshit, more than once
Helped students find their talents
Bought Harry a broomstick when he would have had NO CLUE what to buy
Enforced punctuality and owning responsibility (she definitely should’ve turned Ron into a pocket watch)
Taught her subject with passion and engagement
Comforted students when they were grieving
Defended her coworker against a tyrannical bully
Promoted academic and athletic competition
Handled being looked over for a promotion with grace and class
Gave sound and encouraging career advice
Taught students important life skills
Understood how politics and media impacted education — and warned her students to learn the same
Flawlessly mastered advanced magic
Inspired Hogwarts to defend itself
Battled cancer while making her mark on the muggle world (Dame Maggie Smith IS Minerva McGonagall, PERIODT)
Put her own personal life aside to be a myriad of things her children needed
Knew when to be serious and when to take a joke
People, fans and strangers alike, love to point out — sometimes with cheek and often with sadness — that Minerva McGonagall was never a mother. Well, I’m here to give those folks a well-guided course correction:
MINERVA MCGONAGALL WAS EVERYBODY’S MOTHER.
Her career choice wasn’t just the dramatic punchline to the sob story that comes from the loss of her husband and lack of biological children. It wasn’t just to add another sad spinster to create a diverse set of women (we’ll have a talk about Sybill Trelawney and Arabella Figg at another time).
It was to show the world that great teachers are more than just collectors of knowledge. We’re advocates. Counselors. Social workers. Taskmasters. Expectation setters. Historians. Advisors. Cheerleaders. Activists. Warriors.
As I enter year four of my teaching career, I see that in my students I have my own cast of characters. I have my Hermiones, my Harrys, my Rons, and even my Lunas. I also have a Seamus, a Dean, a Neville, and interestingly enough, a Blaise Zabini. I hope that they see how special they are to me, a childless woman without a husband, who comes to their school day in and day out, hoping to teach her children that they have all the magic they need inside of them. That they can see that in times of trouble, in times of heartache, in times of stupidity, in times of stubbornness, in times of confusion, grief, solitude, and more that they have someone. Even more so in times of triumph, joy, amazement, prosperity, and hope. Because when the battle is over, we all need a Minerva McGonagall to remind us that the walls are still standing, the classrooms are open, and it’s the children that make the school, not the other way around.
Have a biscuit, Professor McGonagall. From one teacher to another, you’ve earned it.