I recently found a paper I wrote in high school about my family history. The paper wasn’t dated but I was able to narrow down when it was written based on how it was written and the comments that were left by the teacher. The only comment on the paper was correcting me on the date that slavery ended, which challenged the credibility of a section that I had written. I was in the 10th grade.
The paper was carefully written to get a good grade. It was interesting but it was dry. I told a story with background information I received from my great grandmother and her sister, however the story was simply rewritten from their memory. I barely recognized it as my own writing because it lacked inspiration. At this point in my life, I already knew I wanted to be a writer and being in her class challenged that.
As an adult I can look back on my teachers and recognize the ones who were just trying to get through their day. She wasn’t one of them; she just didn’t like ME. This was hard to deal with because other than a 5th grade Science teacher, this wasn’t common. For the most part, with English teachers in particular, I was a student who teachers would say they enjoyed having in their class.
I was in AAP English and I had her again in the 11th grade. I am not sure how long I was in her class before I said something to my parents. This is an odd memory because I didn’t say much about school to my parents and they never had to come to the school office for anything. I see the snapshot memory of a meeting with us all in the guidance counselors office. I recall the teachers defensive body language and knowing I didn’t want to go back into her classroom.
My schedule was changed, however since she was the only AAP English teacher, I had to go into a regular English class. I was no stranger to the kids in the new class. Someone asked me, “What are you doing in here?” referring to me belonging to the smart kids English class. I shrugged it off saying the teacher and I didn’t get along which seemed to translate to me getting put out - a favorable excuse.
I blended in and pretended not to like my new teacher right along with the other students. She was mean, she gave us a lot of homework, and she challenged us, but I really liked her. I don’t know if it was spoken or if she wrote it on a paper that she expected more from me; and then I gave it to her. I recall an honorable moment when she announced that out of all of her classes who wrote letters to the editor about the Iran-Contra scandal, mine was chosen to be published.
I found another paper graded by my 9th grade English teacher. “Kenya, I truly enjoyed your story. You have a creative flair that has a touch of poetry. Beautiful title.”
Teachers and parents are mentors. They can destroy a spirit as easily as they can uplift one. I cannot imagine how a second year with the teacher who didn’t believe in me would have affected my future. It is a delightful memory to know that my parents supported my feelings toward my teacher and I was able to move from her classroom.
Here’s the thing... At some point as adults we need to believe in ourselves to achieve our dreams but before that, as children we need someone to say they believe we can do it. It's not always the caliber of the school or the students in class that bring about a "good education". It is the caliber of the teacher and his or her desire to inspire.
I am probably going to rewrite that family history story one day for Dr. Davis, who believed in and expected more from me.
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