Mean Time: “The Good Teachers”

“The Good Teachers,” by Carol Ann Duffy appears to be a reflection on a girl’s time in school. At the beginning of the poem, she mentions how she prided being a good student and earning the respect of her teachers when she writes, “You love Miss Pirie. So much, you are top/of her class” (Duffy 7-8). Then, later in the poem, Duffy writes, “But not Miss Sheridan. Comment vous appelez. /But not Miss Appleby” (Duffy 13-14) indicating that not all of the girl’s teachers in school were likable. It appears that these teachers who do not garner the respect of the girl turn the girl away from having a good attitude about school. Duffy writes at the end of the poem, “You roll the waistband/of your skirt over and over, all leg, all/dumb insolence, smoke-rings. You won’t pass” (Duffy 19-21) implying that the girl rebels by becoming more sexual, insolent, and a smoker. The phrase, “all leg” is a reference to her newfound sexuality, “dumb insolence” refers to the girl’s new habit of talking back and becoming disrespectful of her teachers, and “smoke-rings” probably refers to her taking up smoking. The poem traces the path of a student through school that is probably not all that unfamiliar to the ones that we might have taken or seen others take. A lot of us in high school had friends who became sexually active, disrespectful of teachers, smokers, or a host of other rebellious qualities. In this particular instance, it is doubtful that Duffy wrote the poem about herself because in her notes, the names of the teachers in the poem change as the drafts of the poem progress. For example, at first, Duffy uses “Miss Robinson” as the name of her history teacher, but then in the final draft, the history teacher’s name is “Miss Ross.” This is a poem to which all of us can relate, especially since Duffy uses the second person throughout the poem. It feels as if Duffy is speaking directly to us. The fact that she appears to use generic teacher names further depersonalizes the story from Duffy and allows us to enhance our connection with the story. If Duffy used her personal teacher names, then it would automatically attach the story to Duffy because we would read the poem as her unique experience instead of a general form that could be applied to ourselves or people we knew.

3 Comments on “Mean Time: “The Good Teachers””

  1. Brittany Stoudemire says:

    Although the teacher’s name changed does it really mean that it is not one of the names of teachers that she has had? Or do her notes specifically imply that the teacher is “made up.”

    Even if the story was specifically applied to Duffy’s life I think that as readers we would still be able to relate to the scenario. I agree with what you said we all have friends or even ourselves who have experienced some of the same things.

  2. Jordan Lewis says:

    I’ve been particularly interested in the issue of characters and narrators in both volumes of Duffy’s poetry and how that affects the way we relate to them. In The World’s Wife, each poem makes clear up-front from whose point of view the poem is written. The reader is pretty much confined to think of the narrator as that one person who is far removed from the reader. There’s no mystery in that.

    In Mean Time, it’s more difficult to figure out the identity of the narrator, and I think this lends itself to the reader coming up with an identity. This identity would mostly be a product of the reader’s preconceptions and experiences, therefore making it much more personal

  3. Reza Bhiwandiwalla says:

    I believe the poems in Mean Time serve to incite an emotional response in the reader, and this poem does exactly that. You can’t help but think back to your old grade school days and draw comparisons between the poem. Duffy is really good at nailing emotions. On several occasions, I couldn’t help but feel that her descriptions were almost perfect for my own emotions when looking back at middle and high school.