Dear Ms. English Teacher:

You know who you are. I don’t really have to say it. You probably even know why I’m writing this.

I was only 17 years old when you killed my confidence in writing, my ability to research, to build prose, to form theses, to think for myself. You took someone who, for many years, believed she was on the right track for a writing career and nearly destroyed. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Now, I’m old enough to make myself proud and forge my own way, but at some point I almost wasn’t.Β 

I thought about you the other day–the way you gave me an F for a first draft of a paper that was likely deserving of, at the very least, a C. I thought about the way your name tasted so bitter on my tongue for years after. You were the teacher with promise for us all. You gave us an overwhelming wealth of knowledge and notes for one high school literature class. We were “AP” so you chose to treat us a like a college course, in many ways. We thanked you profusely for what we had learned. We were engaged. We read. We wrote. We discoursed. We were on our ways to becoming scholars. But then you gave me that F.

Some part of me is still angry for the way you handled everything. I remember knowing that I received that F out of your own disgruntled grading behaviors. I saw the other papers. They may have had other elements that made theirs better than mine, but I had form. You took a girl who was quite sure of her path in life and sent her into an abysmal spiral. I remember looking at my peer’s paper, seeing how she didn’t even know how to parenthetically cite any of her sources–there were brackets filling her paper that I didn’t even know existed. I looked at mine and realized the key element was my paper was at the bottom of your stack. And as you got closer to mine, weeding through all of the poor papers, you were just a frustrated old coot by the time you reached mine.

I stretched my mind, I expanded my vocabulary, I read peer review upon peer review. And you told me that my thesis couldn’t be grounded in “my own opinion” because “there’s no way I could have one.” Because a well-educated high school student couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the scholars you thought you knew. Of course not. It was in that fatal, vulnerable moment of my adolescence that I faltered, because I had looked up to you until that point.

When I was sitting in my adviser’s office freshman year of college, and he asked me what major I was declaring, I thought of you. Then I thought about all of the years before that that were leading up to this moment. And i pushed you aside and said, “English,” anyway. I felt victorious, but completely terrified of what was ahead.

When I had to write my first college research paper–just a few weeks later–I had a new professor. One with kind eyes and an understanding of what my strengths were. He only knew me for a few weeks and could figure it out. You had a year. He built me from the ground-up and showed me how to piece together a thesis of my own perspective, of my own understanding. When I messed up the citing or I became too tangential, he was there to show me how to not just cut the words out but make them into something valuable to the paper’s cause. He never believed that my words were a waste, instead he showed me how to recycle those thoughts into new paragraphs and footnotes. Because he believed in me. But most importantly, he wanted me to believe in myself.

He let me be weak, only so he could build me back up. And that’s where you failed.

I’m almost 25 now, but I still remember that impact you left on me. And I have to wonder if I was the only one. I wonder if you do this to other students, as well. Because if you do, please know, you have an immense amount of power in a child’s life. And you know how hard I was trying to make you proud.

7 thoughts on “Dear Ms. English Teacher:

  1. Thanks, love. Occasionally I look back on moment like that in my writing/education career and she crosses my mind often. I just had to finally write something.

  2. This is well written. Your former Mrs. English teacher should see it! I bet she would regret how she made you feel when you were younger. Teachers sometimes really don't think about the responsibility they have and about the consequences their decisions can have.

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