Bad Apples and Golden Apples
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Bad Apples and Golden Apples

Teachers can make or break students.

Bad Apples and Golden Apples
Huffington Post

This semester, I’m enrolled in a novella writing class. Not surprising for an English major with a creative writing focus, right?

I assumed this class would be easy for me, but then my first story was due. It was a couple days before the deadline and I had very little written. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get into the flow of it.

The more I reflected on it, I realized that I hadn’t written many longer pieces of fiction since high school. The reason was crystal clear to me, even though I’d never noticed until that moment.

One year, I had a really bad teacher. I didn’t write creative pieces for her, but I did very poorly on every essay I turned in. I’d never really thought about it, but before that class, I’d written many pieces in my free time. After that year, I stopped.

I applied to my school’s journalism program for the next year. I got accepted, but decided to back out of the class because I believed that I wasn’t a good writer after I’d gotten several papers back from her.

When I had to write essays the next year, I barely put forth an effort, figuring that I would do poorly anyway because I was a bad writer.

AP English turned things around for me somewhat, because I earned mostly good grades on my essays. But there was always a voice in the back of my head saying that I wasn’t any good at writing.

At the end of senior year, all students got a file of our essays back our senior year. I looked back over the ones I had done so poorly on. Several “comma errors” were marked, but looking at handouts from my AP English class, I realized that most of them weren’t even errors. I had done very poorly and there are only a couple explanations as to why. 1) My teacher didn’t like me for some reason and wanted to find an excuse for me to do poorly or 2) My teacher didn’t know much about correct comma usage.

Finally, I was able to move on. It was okay if she hadn’t liked me or if she had marked some things wrong that weren’t really errors, at least according to a teacher who had a higher level of education than she did. It was okay. And a big part of that mindset came from another teacher.

As much as bad teachers matter, the good matter even more. My senior year, my creative writing/film as literature teacher completely turned my life around. I went into his creative writing class terrified that I would fail. I still thought that I was a bad writer and that he would hate everything I turned in.

He didn’t.

He had no idea that I was so insecure about my writing, which makes his comments mean even more. He meant it when he said my pieces were good. When I decided to become an English major and he expressed his support, he believed in me. I was never some charity case or some student he took pity on. He saw something in my writing that I had struggled to see for most of high school.

Even now, on the hard days (which seem to be plentiful as school goes on), I remember him. He is one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Knowing that he liked my writing--that’s enough to make me keep going on even the hardest days.

He left my high school the same year I graduated. All I can think is that schools need more teachers like him and fewer teachers who are only there on some kind of power trip. We need more teachers who will build students up, not tear them down. I don’t know enough about the education system to know how to fix this issue, I just know that if several students have had issues with a teacher, perhaps it should be looked into. When honors students who have consistently done well in an area start doing poorly, there’s a real possibility that there’s something wrong with the class. I’m not advocating for automatically believing the students, I just think that it should’ve raised some eyebrows. I know that I wasn’t the only student who did poorly. Some of the best writers I know were also struggling. It was the same for the classes that came before us and the ones that came after us, too.

And on the flipside, schools must start prioritizing keeping good teachers. Again, I don’t know the proper way to do this, but I know that appreciation would help. Showing these good teachers that they’re appreciated can make a real difference. I know that there is no amount of money in the world that would’ve been enough for what my creative writing teacher did for me, much less an amount in the form of a raise that the school could’ve afforded to give to him. It went far and beyond just teaching--he changed my life, the way I thought about myself. I think that in my seas of self-doubt, there was a period of time where I genuinely disliked myself. Towards the end of my creative writing class, I met him after school to give him a copy of an extra credit poem I’d turned in. He’d liked it so much that he’d wanted to keep it. I don’t remember the exact words he said to me about my poem about proving criticizers wrong, but I remember practically running out to my car and crying tears of relief and appreciation because I knew that without a doubt, he believed that I would do great things. Those are the kinds of teachers that need to be held onto for as long as possible.

At the end of the day, I won’t remember the majority of things I learned in a class. I don’t remember the exact order of information for an MLA citation off the top of my head. I don’t remember what stories we read in that English class. What I do remember is the way teachers treated me. I remember the bad ones, but mostly, I remember the good ones. I remember the ones who saw me as a shy teenager who hardly ever spoke up in class, but still knew that I had valuable thoughts and feelings. I remember the ones who showed me respect. I remember the ones who showed me kindness. I remember the teachers who were genuine--who showed their class glimpses of their life and parts of their soul. I remember them now, 2 years later, and I’ll remember the good ones when I’m 70 years old sitting in a rocking chair on a porch somewhere.

And as for that bad teacher, all I can say is, “Look at me now.” I was almost broken by one person’s opinion. Luckily, the best teacher I’ve ever had or ever will have came into my life and made me try again. Luckily that teacher saw something in me. Everything I will become as a writer I owe to him.

I’ve had a poem published in a book of poetry before I even graduated high school. I was one of 10 winners for an essay contest. I’ve been published in campus publications 4 times, and that’s only in my first year of school. I have an essay in a book pending publication with an international publisher. I'm also helping to revise some essays for that same book. Not bad for a “bad writer.” But none of that would’ve happened without one teacher.

So if I write a bestseller someday, I won’t forget. I’ll remember the people who tried to put me down and the few people who were there to pick me back up (even if they didn’t know it at the time). When I write books someday, I doubt I’ll ever think of her again, but I know she’ll read every single one I publish. She has no idea how amazing I will be. I plan to show her. That shy girl who sat in the second row in back of the room will prove her wrong.

But more importantly, I’m going to prove him right. He gave me a second chance at believing in myself and being confident in my writing. He empowered me and gave me a real shot at becoming the writer I want to be. I won’t waste it. I promise.
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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