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The short story Gryphon by Charles Baxter has an unusual character, a new substitute teacher at the rural community of Five Oaks in Michigan. The students meet with the strange lady who brings them strange yet fascinating lectures. Miss Ferenczi could be an exceptional teacher in a suitable environment, with her willingness to break the boundary in teaching method, her lectures on new materials never presented in textbooks, and her influence to help the students explore new things.
I wonder if there would be any teacher daring enough to tell the class “six times eleven could be sixty eight.” Miss Ferenczi accepts the normal mathematical answer, but she also provides a different view and solution to the math problem, because “it’s more interesting that way.” When the narrator boy could not spell “balcony” she whispered to him; that the word is ugly and if he does not like a word, he does not have to use it. The students who have the wrong answer and the wrong spelling would always remember the right answers that way; moreover they do not feel ashamed of their wrong reply. They feel better when they are accepted and gently guided toward the right knowledge.
Miss Ferenczi hates the way teachers are supposed to follow the rules, timeline, and the material presented readily in textbooks. When she told the children to open the book she herself “was staring at some object just outside the window.” She refuses to have lunch with other teachers since she wants to stay close with her students. Miss Ferenczi feels comfortable only when she can teach in her own way, not to be directed by any rules or any inflexible method or limit, which makes the students less distracted at the same boring way they have always been taught.
The new substitute teacher appeared in the class surprising the students as much as her strange stories. The kids have never heard of the Antipode stone that would blind people, the Hope diamond, or the plant that can eat meat. The things they get to learn in textbooks are boring numbers and parched tiresome text. Miss Ferenczi knows the kids will love her stories, as she exposes them to amazing facts. Whether true, mythic or untrue, the information she provides is wide outside the schoolbook. They are the historical, cultural, social, and scientific lessons of the world that her students have never been told. The knowledge she gives the members of the class is not only taken from what the school requires, but everything worthwhile to inform them about the universe. Her outstanding, broad collection of matters in different fields reveals a brand new world to the students.
Children at fourth grade normally would blow their nose into notebook paper when there is nobody around, sit in class just to watch the teacher’s actions, and go home to play. It is amazing how Miss Ferenczi captures the kids’ interest, make them focus to a point that “no one even went to the bathroom.” With their old teacher Mr. Hibler, the students would chatter and whisper during the lecture, but with Miss Ferenczi they sit still and are fascinated with her lecturing. They are astounded at a plant that can kill animals, they are eager to discuss whether a half bird and half lion monster is real. They go home excitedly and dig up the dictionary to find out and feel “fabulous” to discover a new myth. She creates an “information hunger” in the children to explore, to discover new things that most teachers can hardly ever do.
Since Miss Ferenczi’s appearance, the students have changed their view. She brings a fresh perspective of life, a strange way to present her lecture, and makes the students eager to go to class. It is because of her that after she got fired, during the lecture, the students pay close attention to the insects unlike they had ever done before. Miss Ferenczi accomplishes what all teachers are supposed to achieve, she is the most wonderful teacher every kid dreams to have.
Baxter, Charles. Gryphon.1985. Rpt. in Compact Literature ReadingReacting Writing. By Kirszner and Mandell. 6th ed. 2007.
“Gryphon: Often Asked Questions.” Rev. of Gryphon, by Charles Baxter. CharlesBaxter. 3 June 2009 .