“Alexis, can you please stay and talk to me after class?” My 10th grade English teacher, Ms Borden, asked at the end of class one day. No. I did not want to stay behind. I wanted to beeline to the cafeteria to eat a huge panzerotto. I knew what she was going to say, anyway. She was going to call me out for skipping two classes in the previous week. But so what. English class was a waste of time anyway. And the whole school year would be over in less than 7 days.

“Alexis, this is the essay you wrote in class on Friday.” Borden said pulling out my paper from a stack of files as I stood uncomfortably at her desk. Alright. Let me have it. She knew I hadn’t finished reading Hamlet. I braced myself. “You got an 85 percent. You’re a really great writer.”

For a second, I softened. Gave a half smile. “Thanks.”

“But right now, in this class, you’re averaging a 72 percent.” She revealed. Sweet. Over 70. She didn’t think so. “Your marks are being pulled down by your constant absences and missed assignments. Somebody who writes as beautifully as you should be averaging at least an 80.”

I think it was the word “beautifully” that annoyed me the most. She thought my writing was beautiful? What was she even talking about? All I did was mindlessly scribble down an essay comparing MacBeth and Hamlet, without even knowing how the latter ended, just making a lucky guess. I hadn’t even chosen the topic, she had. There was nothing beautiful about that essay.

“I’ll tell you what,” Borden offered when I failed to reply. She had on a proud smile about her coming suggestion. It bugged me. “If you don’t miss any more classes, submit your literary essay on time, and do well on the final exam, I can probably manage to bump your final grade to an 80.”

“Okay,” was all I replied. But it wasn’t okay. What she was asking of me was absolutely unreasonable. She wanted me to write a literary analysis of Ordinary People that was as “beautiful” as that Shakespeare essay. How could I do that, if I didn’t even know what made my writing “beautiful” in the first place. My writing was just a random stream of consciousness. It was easier than thinking. It was as natural as breathing. It wasn’t beautiful, and I didn’t know how to make it beautiful.

I resented her high expectations. I didn’t even want an 80 in the class. Most universities didn’t even look at marks before 11th grade anyway. I didn’t want to risk writing something that she wouldn’t find beautiful and disappoint her. I didn’t want her, or anyone else, reading or talking about my writing ever again.

I never handed in that literary analysis, and I skipped the last few days of class. I still ended up finishing with a 75 percent. I must have aced the final exam. Ms Borden never confronted me about it again, and for the next two years I had different teachers. I never really appreciated how hard she tried. Or how she knew when to back down.

And I, of course, had no way of predicting that this story would constantly spring to my mind ten years into the future. I still think of it every time it’s my turn to be the teacher that counsels a surly teenager who doesn’t think it’s worth it to work to the potential that they have no idea they even have.


70 thoughts on “The English Teacher

  1. Sometimes, we fear failure too much we don’t even try, and, we don’t try, so we couldn’t fail, and, that is the value that we are more than likely, to carry with us for the rest of our lives, and it can be damaging…

    Liked by 4 people

      1. It was years before I properly appreciated my high school teachers. In return, one former student told me, I thought you were the worst teacher we had ever had. Two months into university I realised you were the only good teacher I had ever had. Oh.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Haha, that’s so interesting. I think part of the teenage mindset is to be defensive and genuinely believe everyone is your direct opposition.

        I think some separation from that highschool environment really helps us gain perspective. Some take longer than others, though.

        Thanks for reading 😊

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I loved this. Isn’t it strange to think back to a time when it was hard to believe that I could actually be good at something that had some real value.
    Your teacher was right, you do indeed write beautifully.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you so much for visiting my blog! I enjoyed reading this post and it brought back memories of schooldays and my teachers.Their’s was an endless struggle to bring out the best in us!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I absolutely loved it! Sometimes we have a gift but cannot see it because it is so close to us that it feels like second nature.
    There is a Dua of our dearly beloved Prophet β€œ o my creator, do not take away a gift/ blessing from me to make me recognize and appreciate it after it’s removal”
    May you always have the gift of writing about life in its essence and simplicity!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. With age comes maturity. The innate gift you have…..was obviously not important to you then. But, now you can look back and appreciate what she said about your writing. I wish you could find her on FB. She would be proud of you. Kudos to you for reflecting upon the day she referred to your writing as “beautifully written”.
    She “called the ball” all right! πŸ’™

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Alexis, I won’t use the adverb ‘beautifully’, since it riled you so: but you do write extra ordinarily well. I could picture you standing next to your teacher’s desk and practically listen in on the thoughts in your head…you have painted it so well. I hope I have your permission to share this on my blog site. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In the 9th grade I wrote a book report that the English teacher was amazed with in style,etc. She wanted to promote it, share it in a wider way until another teacher read it, one who had read the book I had written my report on, and revealed my writing had no connection to the actual classic book. It was only fiction on my part. I was exposed in a different angle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exposed, but talented nonetheless. That’s always been one of my biggest fears. Someone finding out I was bullshitting my way through things. Perhaps that was part of my aversion to the praise.

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your story πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I taught school for twenty-six years, mostly fourth grade. It was the grade level our school focused hard on such life-skills as organization, analytical thinking, attention to detail, personal responsibility, problem-solving, teamwork, etc. My hope is that all those students over the years eventually realized, “Wow! Those skills we learned back in fourth grade are actually paying off! I’m so glad those teachers held us to high expectations.” (That last factor, high expectations, has been proven by research to be a best practice, although some of today’s parents don’t seem to agree!) I’ve encouraged myself with my own memories of teachers who positively influenced who I am today. But your beautiful (!) essay here has affirmed my hope that what we teachers work so hard to accomplish is not wasted effort! P.S. Thank you for becoming a follower of my blog, From the Inside Out. I pray you’ll find the posts meaningful, whenever you’re able to visit!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more! As teachers, we are constantly giving students lessons directly and indirectly, whether they realize it or not. We can only hope that in the future, those lessons we worked so hard to teach will finally resonate.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and reading my blog πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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