For those of you who have read "The Cat and the Coffee" Drinkers by Max Steele, this is a response to a prompt on whether or not the teacher, Miss Effie Barr is a good or a bad teacher.

In life you get your fair share of good and bad teachers. I myself have experienced this many times in my years both in school and out. It is up to you to decide which are good and which are bad, however. In the story, “The Cat and the Coffee Drinkers,” I believe that Miss Effie Barr is, in fact, a good teacher, because the relevant skills she teaches and the amount that the students learn and seem to enjoy the class.

Admittedly, there does seem to be many negatives regarding Miss Effie’s teachings. For example, she does not cover all the subject matters and when she does, it is only briefly. Math and science exemplify this fact. The students only briefly touched upon math through buying things from the store and receiving change. In science, they only learned some botany and maybe some chemistry through the chloroform. To many people, her “curriculum” (if it can be called as such) lacks the fundamentals that many of us are used to. In addition to this, the way she teaches is also negative. She makes it seem as if the students are doing her housework chores for her, rather than learning.  Miss Effie also “t

eaches” in a very detached way where she shows no emotion to her students. Another striking example is the fact that Miss Effie wants her students to drink their coffee black, which may go against some of the student’s wishes. Finally, Miss Effie does teach many questionable things, such as how to lie and give a fake name and how to kill a cat. Furthermore, she tells her students to keep some of these away from their parents. These combined may cast a dark shadow on Miss Effie as a teacher herself. 

On the other hand, most of the aforementioned “negative” things seem much more positive and educational when looked at from a different perspective. This perspective paints Miss Effie as a teacher who teaches all her students what is necessary to learn in life, albeit in an emotionally detached way. This is the perspective that I agree with. All the points have another side to them. All the things that Miss Effie teaches are immediately pertinent and relevant to daily life. Manner and how to clean are integral in the lives of anyone. Without these, especially manners, you cannot hope to succeed at anything. Maybe Miss Effie makes the children do her chores because she can’t do them herself. The children not only depend on her, but she depends on the children too. This approach of having them do things such as cleaning everyday could build discipline and help the children perfect the way of doing it. The black coffee could be a metaphor for the bitter things in life and having the children drink it could be preparing them for the ups and downs of life itself. As for her apparent emotional detachment and the killing of the cat, I believe that there are perfectly valid reasons for that as well. Miss Effie’s detachment could be yet another lesson of the harshness of the real world, something that she may have experienced first hand for herself. This also allows her to concentrate on her work and let nothing stop her. On the other hand, she does display some emotion such as when she reads. As for the cat, I believe that killing it was the only thing to do and that nothing else could be done to save the cat. This also illustrates to the children the sorrow of death, firsthand. It would save them from some of the pain if they were to have experienced a human death as compared to an animal’s first. Finally, the last bit that points to Miss Effie being a good teacher is the fact that parents want their children to attend her class. There was even a waiting list for students to join her class. The children also seem to like her class. All of this leads to a huge sign that say that Miss Effie is a good teacher!

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  • brittney on Jan 30, 2012

    why would the title be appropriate for this story? i was wondering because its an odd title, why would it be called “the cat and the coffee drinkers’?

  • Lesile on Jan 30, 2012

    It would be called that because she teaches the children how to drink coffee and she has a cat. This cat was old and loved to fight (with other cats). When he one day came home, torn up and bleeding, Mrs. Effie had her students help her put him to sleep. It’s a bit crude I find.

  • Fortunate Son on Oct 15, 2012

    Is that all these children were to her? ‘Coffee drinkers’? And is that all ‘Thomas’ was to her — ‘the cat’? Is the title perhaps a reflection on ‘Miss Effie’s’ distance vis-a-vis logic/reason and emotion? Yes, it was ‘reasonable’ to simply kill the cat, but is it really a positive lesson, to teach children how final death is without the elevation of the presence of grief, memory, and compassion? Is it really teaching to say, this is how something is, and this is what one does, or are these dictates of what really ought to be individual decisions?

    I read this story in 1970, and even unto now I remember its bizarre, even surreal coldness. I wish I’d had the nerve to write to Mr. Steele and ask him what the heck he meant by this story. But it’s too late now.

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