Man, that’s an excellent story, and one that really makes me think. I want to describe my mind’s first reaction, but I feel the need to couch it in terms that recognize my own prejudices based (again) upon my upbringing, as well as experiences. I have no way of knowing, based upon what you wrote, how happy or fulfilled your teacher felt in her career. What’s odd to me is not that she’s a woman who has the kind of mind that can pull calculus out of her pocket whenever the need arises, but rather that she’s an English teacher who can do that. My own SAT score balance aside, I’ve found it relatively uncommon to see people who are comfortable working in a language-arts-based career and a math-based one. It tempts me to wonder: was she a teacher who normally specializes in math, but was assigned to an English classroom by an administrator who felt such a class was more “appropriate” for a female teacher? (Ugh.) Was she perhaps such a teacher who ended up in that class not because her boss held such a retrograde view, but rather because that class had a vacancy, she was available and qualified and willing, and so she took the gig? Was she perhaps a teacher who specialized in English who also just happens to enjoy and have a facility for math? Was she simply a philosophically ambidextrous teacher who is fully comfortable in any kind of high school classroom?
Whatever the answer may be, my first thought was “that poor woman,” under the (very possibly erroneous) assumption that, with a mind like hers which she chose to devote to teaching the young, a choice that I consider as noble as can be, this choice very likely earned her painfully low pay and not nearly the amount of respect from society she deserves. (I’m inclined to put good teachers on pedestals.) I hope I’m wrong, and that she found her career very fulfilling indeed. And lucrative too, though that’s pretty damned unlikely.
Two of my math teachers, my 9th grade Geometry teacher, and my 10th grade Algebra II teacher, were middle-aged men who were also the school’s football and track coaches. Just about the most boring and unimaginative men I’ve ever spent time with. Not only that, but I got the distinct impression that they’d been teaching their classes at the same level, from the same old textbook, for a generation or more, and that they’d struggle to describe how to find a derivative just as much as I would today. And God help them if someone asked them how to compose a sonnet or diagram a sentence or what subtext could be found in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.