What were the reasons for Miss Caroline Fisher's difficulties on the first day of school in To Kill a Mockingbird? What can be said in her defense?
Miss Caroline is a newcomer to Maycomb, fresh out of college with lots of new and modern ideas about teaching. Some of her ideas are not so sound, however. When she discovers that Scout can read well above her grade level (in fact, she may be the only student in the class who can read), instead of recognizing Scout's advanced abilities, Miss Caroline demeans Scout--and Atticus' teaching skills. The teacher later punishes Scout for trying to explain why some of the children had no lunch money. Her display of corporal punishment--lightly patting Scout's hand with a ruler--only brought a "storm of laughter" from the class.
While the other children are shoeless and dressed in overalls, Miss Caroline wears high heels, nail polish, makeup and a red-striped dress.
She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop.
She proudly claims to be from North Alabama--an area looked upon with skepticism and scorn by most of the people in Maycomb. When she screams and becomes frightened at her first sight of head lice, she loses control of the class once again. Matters only get worse when Burris Ewell calls her a "snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher," and Miss Caroline breaks down in tears: The children now become the teachers, trying console and comfort the distraught Miss Caroline, who finally blows her nose and regains her composure somewhat.
Miss Caroline can be both faulted and excused for her inexperience and lack of knowledge about the town in which she is teaching. She probably figured that her college education had prepared her for any problems that might have arisen--a mistake made by most rookie teachers. Atticus explained this to Scout, through his advice to "climb into his (her) skin and walk around in it" before making a final judgement.
She had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham... it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb's ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.