It seems fitting to share this on The Birthday of St. John the Baptist. Jesus had someone who prepared the way for Him, but I think each one of us can pick out our people who prepared us for the way.
I can identify several of those from my life, but very few of them were high school teachers. In my world, adults were not people to be trusted. On top of that, I went into high school from a grade school where I was mocked daily for my apparent ease with academics versus my absolute difficulty with anything physical. Well before I graduated eighth grade, not only did I know I was not one of the “popular people,” but I also had a pretty good feeling that I wouldn’t like “them” anyway. Then I got to a high school where the kids who did well in school… were the popular people? What the what? Okay, so those kids were also in sports, but still, academic success was part of the acceptance scheme. You’d think I would’ve thought, “Just join a sport, and you’ll have it made!” Again, see dyspraxia (linked above). I didn’t know I had it at the time (I didn’t even find out it existed until my first two kids were born), but I knew there was something wrong with me. I was not about to flaunt my failings and make the next four years like the previous eight-plus-kindergarten.
So I flew under the radar, academically speaking. I was inclined to sit quietly in class rather than act out, and I was naturally bright (not brilliant, for sure, but bright enough). These qualities put me in “first track” classes, but I did not put forth any effort. Thus, most teachers passed me along through the system with Bs and the occasional A. I was Second Honors Girl. That was just fine with me.
Then came junior year English. My teacher–let’s call him Mr. S–was, I daresay, another bright introvert. I zoned during his class, not due to any failing on his part, but due to my “under the radar” style. Junior year was the year of the dreaded “literary research paper,” which in my heart, even then, I was excited about doing. However, excitement over academics might have put me on the radar, so I did my paper half-assed (forgive me) and at the last minute. Still, I assumed that I’d get my B and keep sliding on by.
I did get my B. However, I also got a comment on my report card, printed in dot matrix on that super thin yellow carbony paper. There lined up several “Is a conscientious student” comments was the first honest and thoughtful comment I’d received from a teacher in high school: “Is not working to potential.”
At the time, I convinced myself not to care. Over the years, though, and especially after I began college, that one line kept coming back to me. Someone else–a grown-up at that–saw potential in me? I could do more than just slide by? I gave it a try. Over and over and over again. I developed a work ethic. I wrote articles, stories, even novels. I submitted and submitted and submitted. I got rejected and rejected and rejected… and I kept trying. I tried not because I knew I was going to make it into the in-crowd of published writers. I kept trying because I loved writing for the sake of writing. And, well, I kept trying because once someone told me on a report card that I had potential.
As the years passed, I did start to get published. When Jane_E, Friendless Orphan: A Memoir dropped, I did spare a thought for Mr. S and wonder where he was so that I could thank him. I knew he had changed careers, so I couldn’t go back to my high school and walk into his classroom and say, “Thanks for helping me be what I always wanted to be but was too scared and lazy to do.”
I got that opportunity over the weekend. Our parish celebrated the 25th anniversary of our deacon’s ordination, and while he was making his “thank yous” just before dismissal, he pointed out his wife, family, coworkers… and his best man, his friend from college, Mr. S! I bolted up so suddenly in my seat that my kids startled and asked me what was wrong.
“That’ s my high school English teacher!”
I cornered him after Mass and introduced myself. I knew he wouldn’t remember me, but I wanted to let him know the difference that one small line made in my life. Let me tell you, it’s really cool to be able to tell your high school English teacher that your second novel is coming out in November.
So, Mr. S, thank you. I remember that a balloo is a bear, that wuzzle means “to mix,” and that I don’t need to be scared of what hard work will bring me.