Thank a teacher

I liked school, but I assumed early on that I wasn’t intelligent. We had a rule in my house that if you got less than a B you would be grounded until the next report card. I spent a lot of time grounded… I was told I was just lazy. I could never get ahead or get myself to figure it out in class, so the older I got I would spend all my time and energy figuring out ways to cheat or get by. I became a very successful D student. Nobody believed in me, and I eventually stopped believing in myself.

Fast forward to my junior year of college. I was on a solid track to fail out. I had faked it as long as I could and was beginning to figure out how to drop out without telling my parents. That semester we had a visiting professor, a fresh out of graduate school PhD, who I will refer to as D.A.W. D.A.W. will never know it, but she is one of the most important people in my life story thus far.

She was teaching a course required for my major that semester. It was a 20-person class, and she was teaching many other courses that semester. Needless to say, she was very busy. A month and a half in we had just finished exam two of four, and I failed for the second time. She wrote me a note on the test to sign up for a slot during her office hours. I made a time for the next day and spent the night preparing to awkwardly have to explain why I’m a dipshit…

I show up to her office a little early and she invites me in. We proceeded to talk for over an hour. She started out by asking a bit about me, my major, and we shared some jokes. So far so good. She then mentioned that we needed to talk about my exams. My heart sank. Here we go.  

“I don’t want you to feel bad about your score, I will help you with that! May I ask why you feel like you can’t do this?”

I was not prepared for that question. I was ready for her to lecture me and convince me to drop the class and change majors. I hesitated and said

“I don’t know, I just can’t…”

She sat there in silence, but with a warm smile on her face. I could tell she was not going to accept that answer. I began to tell her that I’ve never felt like I was good at learning, and that I was reaching as far as I could ‘faking it till I make it.’ I explained that I love the stuff we talk about in class, but I just can’t synthesize it for the exams. When I was done giving her my life story, still with the smile, she said

 “I know the exams aren’t easy for you, but I also know that you’re really smart. You participate in class discussions and have a lot of sincere insights. I’m not worried about you passing this class, I’m worried that your mind is getting in the way of your potential.”

Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I swallowed the lump growing in my throat and said all I could.

“Can you help me?”

“Of course!”

She asked for a copy of my schedule and came up with two, hour-long chunks of time for me to meet in her office. She didn’t tutor me much on the material from class, rather she worked with me on several different study strategies until we found one that worked. I remember one exercise we did was her asking me a question that I had answered in class, she then wrote out what that question might look like if it was on an exam, and how it might change. It wasn’t instant but I did begin to understand how to structure my study and be more self sufficient in deciding what is important to focus on.

Exam three came and went. I was sitting in class as she was passing back the graded tests. She got to me and laid the paper face down on the desk. She didn’t say anything and continued passing back other students’ exams. I took a deep breath and flipped it over. 97 out of 100. I had never felt so proud of myself in school. I had a huge smile and was holding back a tear. I looked up to see her now standing at the front of the room, we made brief eye contact, she gave me a smile and a wink, then began the class.

Because of her I not only finished my undergraduate degree much stronger than I started, but I also went on to do my masters and graduate with a 3.9.

Thank you, D.A.W.

Featured Image: Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash


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