Who teaches English? In one sense it is an impossible question to answer, for when I look at the teachers I know and the teachers-in-training with whom I work, I see a bewildering array of types. They are young and old, aggressive and laid-back, political and apolitical. They come from teachers' colleges and universities. Some love Henry James and others find his work unreadable. Some are into pop culture, whereas others are deeply traditional. Some write poetry; others are afraid of poems. They all love (or hate) grammar. They are mostly women but seem to resist prevailing gender stereotypes. And even the trait that I once believed to be the mark of all English teachers—that they talk a lot—has proved unreliable, as I encounter more quiet students who want to teach English. No, there is no single type who teaches English. I might agree or disagree with so-and-so's beliefs about teaching grammar; I might argue with someone's love of James, dislike of Dickens, or passion for Poe; I might believe that we need more men in the field. Still, I know that there is no formula for success—and so there is hope for you and me.
Though there is no one type who teaches English, there is, however, a stereotype, a cartoon image of the English teacher that persists in the popular imagination. She looks something like Miss Grundy from the old Archie comics—her hair, normally in a prim bun, coming loose as she loses herself in a passage from “Thanatopsis.” She has an inexplicable love of ancient literature (pre-World War II when I was an adolescent, but nowadays pre-Vietnam) and an irritating habit of correcting people's language. She seems to be cast