Dear High School English Teacher, Don’t Kill My Buzz

I sat at the old worn oak table and nervously tapped my foot on the linoleum floor, stealing glances at my parents as they sat next to me trying to hide their own anxiety. How many students had awaited the unknown in this very room through the years? How many parents accompanied their children, likely being transported to a time when they were the student awaiting the fate thrust upon them by adults they never imagined becoming?

As the hands ticked on the unsuspecting clock hanging on the wall, student became teacher, teacher became parent, parent became teacher, in a place where respect was demanded, expected, drilled into our psyche alongside the alphabet.

You, sir, entered the room without so much as a greeting, never acknowledging us as you took the furthest seat possible, distancing yourself and immediately setting the tone for our meeting.

My parents said, “Good afternoon.” You nodded, shuffled a few papers, letting the silence hang heavy between us.

“I’m told you want to be in Honors English. That’s not a good idea.”

Looking at my parents, I took a deep breath.

“I’ve been in Honors English all through high school and would like to continue taking an Honors English course at this school.”

Another deep breath.

“Just because you’ve taken Honors English at your old school doesn’t mean you belong in my class.”

My father spoke, “Her current English teacher recommended she transfer to your class. She’s doing so well.”

You looked at my parents as though you were surprised to find them in the room. I could see the disdain in your eyes because they expressed themselves with an accent, English not being their native language. You stared them down as I shifted in my chair. I wanted to tell you I was no longer interested in your class. It was evident to me you were a horrible teacher and even worse human being. Anger bubbled up inside me when you finally responded to my parents. So did a little something called determination.

“Obviously, English isn’t your first language and while your desire for your daughter’s transcript to reflect four years of Honors English is evident, I don’t believe her past courses have prepared her for my class.”

Looking back, I should have bowed out then, thanked you for your time and not pursued your class. However, I was young and naive, and you made me feel like I had something to prove. I’m not sure what finally convinced you to allow me into your class, but so began the year of English hell for me.

You were as determined as I was, except your goal was to tear me down, constantly remind me I wasn’t good enough for your class. You shot down my creativity, demanding I follow a set formula for every assignment, going so far as to insist I begin every last paragraph with the word “Thus” and never giving me a grade higher than C. I tried so hard to write the way you wanted, losing my voice in the process, but determined to show you I was a good writer. I approached you for help yearning for positive guidance.

“What can I do to earn more than a C? What am I doing wrong?”

Your response stayed with me for years.

“Nothing really. You’re just not a very good writer.”

And, just like that you extinguished my creative spark. You planted a seed of doubt that grew with each sentence I wrote for many years to come.

I don’t know what became of you, but I want you to know something. My creative spark was reignited. These days, I grow more confident with each sentence I write. I make words come to life and never start my last paragraph with the word “Thus” because to this day that word makes me cringe.

However, I’m going to make an exception today because (no thanks to you) I’ve learned I have a way of expressing myself in writing that touches people enough for them to come back for more.
The beauty is I didn’t have to lose my voice to do so.

Thus, I AM A GOOD WRITER.

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22 thoughts on “Dear High School English Teacher, Don’t Kill My Buzz

    • Yeah, after sharing this post I’ve had so many people reach out with their own stories past and present. It makes me so sad. Your students are so lucky to have you!!! I hope you’ve been enjoying it!

    • Well, unfortunately I did. Teachers have no idea how much power they have over their students. I’m just glad I didn’t let it ultimately define me. I found my way back to writing and am so grateful I did!

  1. Well, he can eat his foolish words now, can’t he? SO honored to have an incredible writer like you include in our book. xo

    • I can’t imagine how tough that was for you! My 12yo daughter just started a new school this year. Middle school is hard enough without being the new kid. She dreaded lunch until I spoke with the counselor and had her switched to the other lunchroom. She’s a different kid and the transition is going much smoother for all of us. I’m so glad the counselor “got it” and made the switch!

  2. Oh my dear friend. I soooo was hoping that you found this so called teacher and got this message to him! But hopefully THIS letter will be saved and perhaps a NEW Idea birthed from it. How about your next project? A book filled with letters to teachers from the writers who were once their students? I know already that I could submit a great teacher story! And unfortunately, as we all have experienced at least once or twice, a teacher like you shared who almost squelched our spirits.
    Leah,
    You are an amazing writer and perhaps you can even thank that sorry excuse for a teacher for giving you the spark to prove otherwise! You certainly have! I’d buy every book you ever write! I already know what my Christmas gift for my friends is going to be!

    • It really is sad that so many of us have had similar experiences with teachers. That would be quite the book too wouldn’t it?! Even today, a friend mentioned how her daughters are going through a similar experience with teachers, how she was told she would never be a doctor, etc. by a teacher when she was young. It makes me sick.

      As always, your comments make me smile, make me walk a little lighter while also making my steps more determined and full of purpose. For this I am ever grateful.

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