Teachers in Oklahoma held nearly a week long walkout protest over school funding. These protests are beginning to spread across the nation in red states. They’re demanding higher wages and more resources for students. I encourage you to read more about these protests and what students and teachers not just need, but deserve, to thrive and succeed. For the purpose of this blog post and recent events, I’d like to take the time to talk briefly about two teachers who had a lasting impact on me, and why they among hundreds of other educators are worthy of more than they are receiving.
In high school, I didn’t care much to be an all “A” student. If I got B’s, I was more than satisfied. Did I let C’s slip through, absolutely. Math and science were challenging for me. My parents were never extremely hard on me as far as my grades were concerned, but they always vocalized that I could do better, if I really tried.
I wasn’t really trying, even though I said I was.
I was trying more or less in English, Art, and History. The subjects I enjoyed. But even then, my efforts were not exemplary. I was extremely lazy, and severely critical of my writing and art that hindered submissions of my best work out of fear I’d disappoint my teachers similarly the way I disappointed myself.
This outlook was confronted abruptly one morning after I submitted an essay to my English teacher well over a week late. I couldn’t get the words right, and I didn’t think I ever could. I procrastinated, and because some of my friends hadn’t even finished their assignment I decided to blow it off too. The topic was of interest to me though, and I found myself writing it without the intention of turning it in. When class ended, my English teacher asked me to remain seated. When everyone left the room, she sat in the desk next to me and abruptly asked “where’s your essay?”
My ears were hot and I could heart my heartbeat thud inside them. There wasn’t an appropriate way to answer her. I decided to lie, and responded with “oh…I just, haven’t finished it and thought it was too late to turn it in, I got really busy.” I could tell by her face she wasn’t fooled. She was a very serious and stern teacher, her stoic expressions were cold and the only time she smiled was when she read. What she said next were words that caused me to hate her until the day I graduated, it was only during college that I realized what she said was monumental and pertinent.
“You write well, but if you keep this up, you’re never going to make it in college. You’re going to waste away,” she had said coldly.
I remember the words well because they made me cry; not then and there, but after I left the room. Being accepted into college was an enormous accomplishment for me as a first generation daughter of immigrants, and her comment stung. It was malicious and I only focused on that portion of her sentence for years to come. It wasn’t until I took a philosophy course in my second semester as a freshman when my professor took the time to email me something similarly; “Despite you not making appearances in class often, you write really well. I hope you’re doing something with your words. You were only second in having the highest grade in the class because of your class participation.”
I remembered my English high school teacher, and her complement. I wrote well. Then her concern; letting my words and ideas waste away. She saw potential in me that I didn’t even recognize in myself yet. Could she have worded her attempt at advice any better, sure, but she was not a sentimental kind of person and I didn’t understand then what she was trying to achieve out of one of her students.
The second teacher brought up a very similar worry to my attention. He was my Economics teacher, a class I cared nothing for initially. This teacher remains a profound educator to me because he ignited curiosity and interest in economics. In one of my exams, he too asked me to stay after class just to say “I know you’re better than this. You answer the questions in discussion out loud correctly, you’re interested and want to dive deeper but something’s holding you back. I don’t think I have to tell you what that is.”
I knew what he meant; the company I kept.
To keep this story extremely short, it was because of this teacher that I parted ways with a lot of my friends senior year of high school. For the better. I focused on my school work and other friends that I should have valued more. I still visit him from time to time and thank him for telling me exactly what I didn’t want to hear, but needed to. We’ve since then had a more elaborate discussion about myself that year, and it surprised me how intuitive and attentive he was.
Is it that surprising though? Teachers spend a lot of time with their students, some more than their family members. I’d argue most teachers do care immensely about being an educator, the lessons they put out, the atmosphere they create, the sparks they want to ignite. Ask this prompt to anyone you know, and without a doubt they can think of at least one educator that has impacted them in some shape or form.
These teachers deserve the world and more; I’m thrilled they’re taking a stand and asking for it.