It astonishes me how easily I could have gone through high school without encountering any sort of influential adult. Plenty of students suffer through a string of mediocre teachers, learning writing rules and math formulas that never translate into real life. I could have easily been one of them. I could have continued at my K-12 charter school and never set foot on my high school’s campus. The school computers could have made my schedule slightly different. And I never would have met my english teacher, who has had the most influence on me, more than any other person, ever.
This is a teacher who has taught me and many other students to have intellectual curiosity, to think logically, and to really listen to others. In his class, I’ve learned about our societal flaws, from school systems to cultural norms. I learned became tougher and learned that sometimes I do things very wrong, and I learned to take criticism. I’ve learned to think about and take responsibility for my actions. In short, he’s taught me how to be an adult. I’m still young and I certainly need a lot of practice at it, but I know how it’s supposed to be done. I could go on and on about how his lessons have helped me navigate my life at home and how I know they will help me in college and in my adult career, but I’m going to get down to specifics.
My english teacher was not simply a personal favorite of mine. He was everyone’s favorite (mostly, some students couldn’t handle being pushed). He’s influenced a good portion of my graduating class, and many before us. Through the last four years that I’ve been taught by him, I’ve seen stereotypically low-acheiving students make complete about faces. If our incoming freshman class knew what colleges they would be accepted to four years down the road, we all would have laughed. And it is entirely due to our english teacher that so many students who other teachers gave up on and expected to fall through the cracks are going on to college now. He sought them out in order to make a real difference in the world. His no-nonsense attitude and straight talk had an effect on those students who may not have graduated. It was an incredible thing to watch, the kind of mentorship I would someday like to emulate.
His curriculum and teaching style were unlike any I had ever encountered. It was an english class, but we rarely wrote. The focus was on thinking. If you can think well, you can write well. We had class discussions where all the students got the same grade. It was at first a terrifying experience, what if the other students didn’t participate? But it forced us to take responsibility for one another. We did video and audio projects that took months to put together. Crap would not be tolerated. We knew that our projects could not be thrown together, and for the first time ever, my class found that we had to actually think and work in order to make a good finished product. My class was entertaining and amusing, the perfect blend of work and play. Our english and history teachers would swear (shocking in our freshman year, not so much anymore), and tease us. I’ll never forget the day they threw a boy’s shoes out the second-story window to make a point. They got to know us all well enough that they could tell when an individual was aching to say something in a discussion.
Our discussions covered philosophy, racism, politics, and education. I learned to follow my dreams, but that it would be difficult. More importantly, I learned that it would be a lot more difficult for other people. Until his class, I never knew institutionalized racism and classism was happening all around me. Some students in my school who never had him as a teacher still have no idea. I learned about the glaring imperfections in the school system I attended, the big lesson there being to know and learn about your environment. I have come out of high school with a thirst for information on these issues in the world today.
In my sophomore year, I realized that when I was a senior, I would be in emotional turmoil when my last english class came around. That was yesterday. I cried the night before. It’s incredible how fast four years can go by. I wish I could go back and do each class again. I was never bored in his classroom, and I’ll probably never have another teacher so influential. Despite all the bad teachers I’ve had at my high school, I’m sad to leave my schooling behind, if only for the amazing experience that was my english class. But I realize that if there’s anything my english teacher has taught me, it’s that I have to bring these things I’ve learned with me into adulthood.
So take this from a student: A good teacher makes a difference, and we need more of them.