Teachings of Teacher's Past
I will never forget my grade 11 and 12 Philosophy teacher and not just for her bright purple hair. She was 6’2”, slender, dressed head to boot in 1980’s goth and had a homeroom smeared with student scribblings – a rare freedom at my college but one that made sense once you sat within those walls.
She was whacky and wild, encouraged debate and shared a lot with us about her own life. Her quizzes were always hand written and we rarely did any textbook analysis.
Her name was Ms Poulson and she poured her heart and soul into being an educator, paying extra attention to those who struggled with the mathematical application of logic. I remember before an exam she explained the same concept to me four times, with four different examples, at four different paces, to make sure I understood – never once fatiguing.
Ms Poulson’s biggest quirk was the name under which she published her academic works. Her first name was Christine yet she always appeared in bylines as ‘Chris’.
One day I asked her why she used a man’s name. She was quick, but gentle, to correct me, “It’s unisex, I want people to judge me by the merit of my work, not by my gender.”
When I think back to that now, it baffles me. A woman of such flamboyance and intellect had a pseudonym to keep her gender ambiguous. In person, she was the essence of femininity; with her platform heels, Elizabethan corsets and matriarchal nature. Yet in her writing, she was faceless.
I still wonder how she arrived at the decision to do that. Had she experimented with using both ‘Christine’ and ‘Chris’ during university and found the latter earned her higher marks? Was she once mistaken for being a ‘he’ due to her abrasive academic assertions and revere for prominent male philosophers? Did she just not like the name Christine?
Despite the 8 years since I last saw Ms Poulson, these answers might now be more pertinent than ever.
When I recall the women I have looked up to over my life, Ms Poulson comes straight to mind. Bursting with wit, passion and diligence; she was an old soul full of new ideas. Her expertise was not all I aspired to. She was kind and soft in a way that implied a deep understanding of the world.
If her gender was not explicit in her writing, I often wonder if those qualities were, and if readers somehow knew she was a female anyway.
Originally published in The Murray Pioneer