After my first colonoscopy and my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, I spent about 40 days in the hospital. I was a junior in high school, so that whole situation had to be dealt with. Thankfully I was a good student, and when it was time to deal with homework and missing class, I was able to cope with much of it.
I had great teachers in high school — for the most part.
Teachers Who Cared
My English teacher came to visit me in the hospital. I remember it clearly, her sitting in the chair at my bedside. We talked about a few things and she gave me a gift. She gave me a journal. She said she’d bought it because she liked it, but she didn’t know who it was for at the time. Then she realized it was for me, and she encouraged me to write in it. I did. I do.
My History teacher called me one day. I took a few history classes in high school — not because they were easy “A’s” for me, but because I loved the topic. Most of the kids in the class were honestly just killing time there. My teacher told me not to worry about homework. Enjoy reading the textbook, he said. He didn’t even require me to do the work, he just gave me an “A.” He told me not to tell anyone. Twenty-five years later, I suppose it’s alright to let that cat out of the bag.
These are just two examples of how I interacted positively with my teachers. These were teachers who cared, who knew me, who knew I was worth their time and their energy. They made a difference in my life, a positive difference.
And then there was the teachers who acted like complete asses.
Teachers Who Didn’t Care
I don’t know what teachers thought about my illness. Remember, it was 1989-1990, and many, MANY people thought IBD was psychosomatic. None of my teachers ever expressed an opinion to me about this, but I have to believe that some of them may have thought it.
My Geometry teacher. Never said a word to me. I remember one day him coming over near me after I returned to school, and I heard him ask “So, how are you feeling?” I looked up, thinking he was talking to me, only to see he was talking to the boy in front of me. Now, I don’t know why that kid was out sick, or what his deal was. Why didn’t I know? I didn’t know because I had just returned from 40 days in the hospital and another month at home recovering while studying with a tutor. Another kid could have broken his arm or had surgery or had mono during that time and I would not know. That teacher never asked me how I was or made any mention, or checked in with me to see how I was dealing with learning the subject. I think I got a “B.”
And then there was my Fine Arts teacher. Now, Fine Arts was a newer class, and it was mostly AP students like me looking to learn something outside the box, and art and band students who didn’t see math and English as their main focus. So, kind of fun, also educational. I did have homework in this class, and it wasn’t really the type of thing I could do at home by myself. Not being in class was a difficulty. I had lots of homework for other classes, the classes that would get me into college: physics, math, English. This teacher gave me no extra time for his homework, and when I tried to explain that I would do everything, but just need more time because of the volume of work, he gave me no wiggle room. I may or may not have put my head down on the table and cried in his class out of sheer fatigue. He. did. not. care.
And then he gave me a bad grade. That complete dick.
I’d never received anything below a “B” in my life. I was getting A’s and B’s in advanced placement classes. I got the highest score on the AP English test that had ever been seen at my school. Because of that I walked into college the first day with 9 credits of English already under my belt. And the class I was taking for fun, to expand my knowledge of the world and of the arts, which was not required, was the one I got a bad grade in. Not because I didn’t do the work, not because I was surly or difficult or unwilling to learn. I actually don’t know why. I still don’t understand why the principals let that grade stand. Maybe because the principal and assistant principal didn’t know me very well. And you know why? BECAUSE I WAS A GOOD STUDENT.
I generally let go of things. Some people might think I’m a pushover because I don’t hang on to insults or perceived insults — I just move on. But, dammit, this one is hard to move on from. I know what that teacher is doing today. Other students loved him because he had long hair and was passionate about music and art. They looked up to him. They’re now friends with him on Facebook. If I saw him on the side of the road, I’d keep on driving.
The Bigger Picture
Now, a lot of people would say that a bad grade in a high school class from a self-important teacher is nothing to get so upset about. But for me, it was not just the grade, it was the way I was treated. That I could be a model student, could be putting forth all my effort in my studies after having been through a major illness, and it just did not matter to this man. Why should I bother? I could have cut class and not done any of the work and still probably have gotten the same grade.
Teachers like that ruin our educational system. If you can’t recognize the students that are worth some extra effort on your part, and if you don’t foster their love of learning, why are you teaching? That’s your prime focus. If you are just going to write words on the chalkboard and hand out worksheets and say to yourself “well, it’s up to them to do the work,” you don’t belong in the classroom. Your job is to inspire. All levels of education are important, but high school is the level at which you have kids at the most pivotal part of their lives. Every student is worth your time and effort because you have the opportunity to direct their lives. If you don’t show them some compassion or share with them your love of a subject, you don’t belong there. Make room for someone who still has that spark.
I have the greatest respect for teachers, and I know plenty of them. As a parent, I now see what makes a competent teacher, and what makes a great one for my own children. For the most part, I had great teachers. Inspiring teachers who took their role in my life seriously. I remember so many of them fondly. My 4th grade teacher taught us how to write a check. My 5th grade teacher taught us how to shake hands properly. My 9th grade English teacher told us she didn’t wear cosmetics because they were tested on animals. Those are just a few of the things they taught me that have informed my life.
Thank you, wonderful teachers from my past. I owe you more than I can every repay.