My high school experience could have been better. The faculty was the biggest reason why my school failed me. I clearly remember the many sins of my high school teachers. For example, my science teacher would actually flirt with the senior and junior male students. She would tickle and tease them in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. The teacher in charge of student government sent me home before an important meeting because I was wearing leggings. I pointed out that another student was also wearing leggings and he shrugged it off (probably because that girl was friends with his daughter). My Bible teacher was a pushover and let students disrespect him in class. My chemistry teacher let us cheat during exams. My Spanish teacher made fun of my laugh and accused me of being hungover in front of my class because I threw up. My volleyball coach barely let me play, even in scrimmages, because of blatant favoritism towards certain girls and cliques. I once asked the office assistant if I could go to my car to get Advil because of really bad cramps. She said no. I was in a lot of pain, so I went anyway, and she gave me four detentions.
After having to deal with the hypocrisy of my Christian school teachers for three years, I had had enough. At a chapel during my senior year I made the “rebellious” decision to sit down during worship. We were expected (forced) to stand during worship. I didn’t agree with this as everyone has their own way of worshiping. My science teacher who flirted with her students came over to me and asked that I stand. I said, “No thank you”. She brought over the principal. Still, I refused. By this point, we had created quite the scene. I was threatened with detention. I didn’t care.
Honestly, at this point in my high school career, I was a punk. I was fed up with everything I had seen from adults and didn’t respect them anymore.
Luckily, I had one teacher that served as an amazing role model to me. My art teacher was someone I truly respected. She came to my aid, and asked if I would take a walk with her. I agreed, only because I knew she cared about her students and about me. She always went the extra mile to form authentic connections with her students.
She would genuinely talk about her feelings and passions in class. She would even get emotional at times, making me see that it was okay to be vulnerable. Her classroom was a relaxed place and we felt safe to be silly and goof off, but we knew we were still expected to do our best work. She walked this line so well.
I wouldn’t have softened to her in that moment if she hadn’t put in the consistent effort during the three years prior. I had seen her open up in honesty to her students and I had seen her own up to mistakes, so I went on this walk with her. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it wasn’t about “my behavior”. She assumed good intent with me and I had a change of heart.
Most of my high school teachers did not mentor me well. I don’t remember much art technique honestly, but I remember my art teacher’s kindness. Educators have a far-reaching impact, one that extends beyond teaching proofs or conjugations. My Spanish professor at community college, for example, encouraged me to learn French and push myself with another language. When it came time to apply for transfer, I initially only applied to state schools. I had deemed myself unworthy of UCs, but my Spanish professor pushed me to apply to at least one. So, I applied to UC Davis, where I went on to get a degree in Spanish and French which eventually qualified me for my job as a Spanish and French teacher.
Now the torch has been passed to me. I have the opportunity to change a heart, just like my art teacher. I have the opportunity to build up self-esteem, just like my Spanish professor. Educators, your students are watching you. They are observing how you respond to challenges, how you speak to others, and they can see your heart. You have the opportunity to make such an impact ─one that is longer lasting than you might think.