A few days ago, I read an internet discussion that talked about how English is taught in schools. Several people felt the curriculum stifled them, the teacher didn’t recognize their intelligence, and that the stress contributed to their unhappiness.
I’m sympathetic to this line of thinking about the past. If it’s not English it’s physical education. Or history. Or math. Despite a great deal of intelligence, teachers seemed to get in the way. The bad grades weren’t my fault, it was a stupid set of requirements and rules that didn’t make sense. Disappointing grades caused conflict with my parents. Why would you do this to me? I could teach this class.
Although I’m sympathetic to that reading of my academic past, it’s not true. And I don’t hate my English teacher. The assignments I didn’t do may have not been the most engaging and the books I didn’t read may have not been the most important. Digging deeper into my younger self, it becomes clear.
I didn’t hate my English teacher. I hated my adolescence.
Adolescence is both a traumatic process and one every single person has to go through. The perpetrator isn’t someone I trusted or a playground enemy I despised. Biology- it was biology. There’s no good way to get mad as adolescence. It’s incorporeal. I vented at other people. My parents, my teachers, my peers, random strangers on the internet. I vented it at walls, pinecones on the street. The exception was myself, I didn’t hurt myself, I knew too many who did. Even today, when a friend wears short sleeves, the tell-tale scars on her arms are there…their way of fighting something that didn’t come out and stand solid to attack.
Living in my mid 20s, crisis takes a different form. A friend’s mother dies suddenly. Another has to go homeless for a few weeks to scrounge up rent money. Yet another struggles with domestic abuse and develops a drug problem. It all is real, serious, and terrible to them and those that they love. It happens sporadically, though. Someone falls then gets back up again. Then another takes their place. Overall, most are doing okay. When I was thirteen the crisis was now, and everyone I knew was in the same situation. Maybe a bit better, maybe a bit worse. Maybe finishing the crisis, maybe just starting it. It was a warzone.
I don’t hate my English teacher. I hated everyone.
My English teacher gets an ex post facto amnesty. For all imagined crimes committed against me. For allegedly not recognizing my talents. For getting me in the kind of trouble I needed to get into and get through.
I don’t hate my English teacher. I hate thinking about my past.
Sorry, you’re a part of that past. I can’t take back my past anger- the things I said and the much larger, darker bank of things I thought. The most I can do is rehabilitate you and your reputation. Over time I’ve come to think that the worst jobs are those where you have to see people on the worst day of their lives. Bailiffs, abortion clinic workers, homicide detectives. Though you may not be in that tier, you’re close. Every day you walk in to the classroom. At least half of the class is bullied. Some have been sexually assaulted. A couple think about killing themselves at least some of the time. Maybe a few are starting to develop a substance addiction that will stick around for a long time. Nevertheless, you showed up several times a week and tried to make us all give a shit about the English language. A Herculean effort if there was ever one.
I don’t hate my English teacher. I’m just glad that they didn’t hate me.
They didn’t hate me.