Study Guide

Mrs. Donatello in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

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Mrs. Donatello

Rafe's English teacher Mrs. Donatello is a real Dragon Lady. This teacher of terror spends the entire book trying to teach Rafe to appreciate great literature, understand himself as an artist, and to live up to his potential.

How dare she?! What a monster!

In all seriousness, Mrs. Donatello is one of the miraculous teachers that you look back on later in life and realize what a difference she made. But Rafe is only twelve years old and doesn't even start to get this until the last few chapters of his story. Up until then he still sees her as…well, as half-dragon, half-lady:

The Dragon Lady's eyes turn yellow. A long stream of fire comes shooting out her nose. I dive over a burning desk, roll, and jump back onto my feet.

Already her tail is whipping out in my direction. Just before it can stab through my ear and into my brain, I clip off the end of it with my sword. Green blood sprays me in the face. She howls in pain. (22.9-10)

It helps that Mrs. Donatello never gives up on Rafe. She arranges for them to have one-on-one detentions so they can talk. Talking freaks Rafe out, but she keeps trying. She volunteers to tutor him two days a week after school.

Then, of course, there's this gem:

"Airbrook could be a perfect environment for Rafe," Donatello said, and then she looked right at me. "You'd have to take a longer bus ride, but I think you might like it there. The school is a combination of visual arts and academics, for nontraditional learners."

"What, like special ed?" I said.

"No," Donatello said. "It's a school for artists." (72.14-16)

Without Mrs. Donatello, Rafe would have never known about this school. Heck, he might have wound up expelled and repeating sixth grade again. But finding out about Airbrook and knowing that there was a future for him as an artist and that someone believed in him motivates him. It changes him.

And that's all thanks to Mrs. Donatello. She may be a dragon…but she's more like Puff the Magic Dragon Puff than an evil, fire-belching oversized lizard.

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