I sat at the old worn oak table and nervously tapped my foot on the linoleum floor, stealing glances at my parents as they sat next to me obviously trying to hide their own anxiety. How many students had awaited the unknown in this very room through the years? How many parents accompanied their children, likely being transported to a time when they were the student awaiting the fate thrust upon them by adults they never imagined becoming?
As the black hands ticked on the unsuspecting clock hanging on the wall, student became teacher, teacher became parent, parent became teacher, entering and exiting a place where respect was demanded, expected, obligatory, instilled in us and drilled into our psyche alongside the alphabet.
You, sir, entered the room without so much as a greeting, never acknowledging us as you took the furthest seat possible, distancing yourself and immediately setting the tone for our meeting. My parents said, “Good afternoon” to which you nodded, shuffled a few papers, and let the silence hang heavy between us. My dad and I made eye contact, the look exchanged between us saying, “this should be interesting” as we sat a little straighter and waited for you to speak.
“So, I’m told you want to be in Honors English. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
I looked at my parents and took a deep breath. How could you possibly think it wasn’t a good idea when you had never met me and still hadn’t since you didn’t bother to introduce yourself to us?
“I’ve been in Honors English all through high school and would like to continue taking an Honors English course at this school.”
Another deep breath, silence, waiting.
“Well, just because you’ve taken Honors English at your old school doesn’t mean you belong in my class.”
Well, this was going splendid. At this rate, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in your class after all.
One of my parents spoke, I can’t remember which one, “Her current English teacher here recommended she transfer to your class because she did so well on her first two assignments.”
It was then you took the time to look at my parents, almost as though you were surprised to find them in the room. Immediately, I could see the disdain in your eyes because they expressed themselves in English, not their native language, and spoke with an accent. You stared them down as I shifted uncomfortably in the hard, wooden chair. I wanted to tell you I was no longer interested in being in your class. I wanted to tell you I could already tell I would hate it because it was evident to me you were a horrible teacher and even worse human being. Anger bubbled up inside me when you finally responded to my parents. Unfortunately, so did a little something called determination.
“Obviously, English isn’t your first language and while your desire for your daughter’s transcript to reflect four years of Honors English is evident, I don’t believe her past courses have prepared her for my class.”
Looking back, I should have bowed out then, thanked you for your time and not pursued your class. However, I was young and naive, and you made me feel like I had something to prove. I’m not sure what we said to finally convince you to allow me into your class, but you did and so began the year of English hell for me.
It seems you were as determined as I was, except your goal was to tear me down, and constantly remind me I wasn’t good enough for your class. You shot down my creativity, wanting me to follow a set formula for every assignment, going so far as to demand I begin every last paragraph with the word “Thus” and never giving me a grade higher than C. I tried so hard to write the way you demanded, losing my voice in the process, but determined to show you I was a good writer. I approached you for your help since all you offered was critique with no tools to help me on my next assignment.
“What can I do to earn more than a C? What am I doing wrong?”
Your response stayed with me for years.
“Nothing really. You’re just not a very good writer.”
And, just like that you extinguished my creative spark. You planted a seed of doubt that grew with each sentence I wrote for many years to come. The sad part is, I let you. I allowed you to convince me that I wasn’t a good writer. I let you strip me of the confidence I had when I took pen to paper and made my words come to life.
I was 18 then, under the impression that teachers always know more than their students, that all teachers want to better their students . I’m now 43 and know better. I now know not all teachers are good teachers, not all teachers have their students’ best interest in mind. Fortunately, I also know teachers like you are the minority.
I don’t know where you are or if you’re still on this earth, but I want you to know something.
My creative spark was reignited. These days, I grow more confident with each sentence I write. I make words come to life and never start my last paragraph with the word “Thus” because to this day that word makes me cringe. However, I’m going to make an exception today because (no thanks to you) I’ve learned I have a way of expressing myself in writing that touches people, that stirs enough emotion for them to come back for more. The beauty is I didn’t have to lose my voice to do so.
Thus, I AM A GOOD WRITER.
My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends is officially released today. My story is on page 69. Click the photo to buy a copy!
Have you every had a teacher, a boss, a co-worker, a friend, plant a seed of doubt in your mind? How did you handle it? Did you dismiss it or let it grow?