I feel immensely blessed to introduce today's guest post. This post comes from a former student who wrote this piece in response to criticism that I received regarding this blog and my profession. I am so grateful to Maggie for her kind and inspiring words. I hope that the following post inspires and moves all readers the way it encouraged me. Maggie's words make me want to be a better person, and I thank her exceedingly for seeing me as I believe I am. This post brought tears to my eyes, and filled me with both deep hurt and vast happiness. I feel hurt that we live in a world that persistently and painfully insists I am incapable of being both an individual with bipolar disorder and a highly competent, inspiring educator. I feel happiness I know otherwise, and Maggie’s words contradict such ignorance and judgment so articulately. I hope that Maggie will continue to write her own hurt and share her stories, as I truly believe words offer such help and healing, which Maggie also brilliantly attests to here. So, thank you yet again, Maggie, and thanks to all of my continued readers. I appreciate your support!
From the very first day of my sophomore English class, Mrs. ----- left an impression on me. Most of what was in her syllabus was the same as other classes: respect your teacher, come on time, and make up your missed work. But for the first time in a classroom I was in, Mrs. ---- clearly stated that the words “gay” or “retarded” were not acceptable. As a young teen, susceptible to peer-pressure, I had used these words without giving them a thought to their damage because I heard everyone else say them. I was surprised initially when I read that on her syllabus, mostly because no one in that school had ever corrected me or my fellow students when using them. I thought what’s the big deal? These words don’t hurt anyone; they are just words. (Yes, my mom did teach me better than that, but I guess I was still naive.) Another student had the same thoughts as I and questioned Mrs. ---- in a rude manner. I will never forget what she said to him: “Using those words for a synonym for stupid is unacceptable. Whether intended or not, there’s an implication there that is painful. I don’t care if it doesn’t offend you; it may offend someone in this room. This is a safe place for all of you and I intend to keep it that way. I will not tolerate abusive language in my classroom.” And that’s when it clicked for me that I was guilty of this, that it was hurting someone, and so I stopped. (Thank you, Mrs. ----!)
Every day I went to her class, I learned something new and had a few laughs. She was always honest with us and pushed us to be our best. The worst comment I ever got on a paper from her was “I know you can do better than this.” She was right, of course, because I wrote it the night before. She was the kind of teacher that inspired you to do better work because she believed in her students, and she helped us to recognize our own talents, and not because of recognition or the effects to one’s GPA. I enjoyed her so much that I took two advanced debate classes when I was not quite confident in my abilities as a speaker or writer. I was nervous and unsure of myself constantly, but I tried. I was far from great at debate, but Mrs. ---- showed me how to have some fun with it when it actually scared me to death. At the end of the class, I even got “The Best Listener Award.” When she gave it to me, she announced, “This girl hears everything, even when it seems like she’s not paying attention at all. You guys (my classmates) think she goofs around a lot, but you underestimate her.” She had figured me out in those three years of being her student, and I am still very proud of that award!
I graduated that year and lost contact with Mrs. ----, whom I now know as Angela. Sometime last year, I found her blog online and was a little bit startled by the content because I was so used to seeing her as this incredibly professional teacher. When reading her blog, I was first taken off guard when I read the word “fuck,” and her writing also shook me out of my comfort zone, and discussed a lot of darker content. However, it was hard not to love her words. She spoke of many traumatic things I had faced in my life with a fresh, humorous perspective. In each post, I found deeper themes of strength, individuality, hope, passion, and compassion. She was so real -- so unapologetically herself -- that I couldn’t wait for her to post another story every week. I never felt she was encouraging her readers to use foul language or act irresponsibly. Rather, she was encouraging us to be true to ourselves and stay strong, to stand up for what we believe in, and to find happiness and joy in a world that is often unfair.
What she didn’t know until after I became one of her biggest fans, was that I grew up in an abusive home. I watched my mother be humiliated and beaten in front of me since I was nine, and I got verbal abuse every day after school. I had low self-esteem and was very depressed. As a high school student, Mrs. ---‘s classes gave me something to look forward to every day when I got up for school. Now, years later, reading her stories of mental illness and the multitude of struggles she has overcome, Mrs. --- continues to inspire me so much. I said to myself, if she can beat this, so can I. She followed her dreams; she didn’t let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something. She became who she wanted, not who others told her she had to be. Her honest and hopeful words have opened up an entirely new world of possibilities for me.
So thank you, Angela, for showing us who you are completely. You are an inspiration to me and I’m sure plenty of others out there. Thank you for having the strength and courage to show yourself when the world tells you to stop. You amaze me in many ways.
And to all you former or current students of hers out there reading this: there will come a time in your life when someone else will try to diminish your flame, like some people have tried to do here. They will try to force you or ask you to give up that thing that makes you different, that thing that makes you feel alive. Whether it’s because they don’t understand it, they wish they had it, or purely out of animosity and don’t want you to be happy, they are going to try to change you. Don’t let them. Everybody is somebody special. Yes, even you. You are special. You are someone no one else is, and that’s important to the world. (Yes, I still stand by this even if you’ve read this entire post wishing I would shut up already. You are special too, even though you are a turd.) Please don’t change who you are because it may be easier, cooler, or more convenient, because one day you may wake up and not know the person staring back at you in the mirror. We live in a world where everyone is pressured to fit a certain mold. I say fuck the mold! It’s okay to be different. And it’s okay to be you!
But with this realization, you also must also recognize that just like you, others have a right to be different, too. When you see someone be unfearfully themselves, embrace the shit out of that. Don’t ask someone to blow out their fire because you don’t get it or it makes you uncomfortable. Do you even realize how beautiful that is? It is not easy being different. It’s not easy to stand out in a society that wants everyone to be the same. It’s not easy to have a voice when the world shouts at you to be silent. It’s not easy to do the right thing when the wrong thing is considered the norm. It’s not easy, but it is so worth it.
So I ask of all of you, please fan that fire, that fire that warms your soul and makes you feel at home, that fire that screams individuality, that fire that is only dangerous when it is runs out. Fan the fire, in others and within yourself. Celebrate it when you see it and love it!
I hope to celebrate Angela’s fiery spirit, and her words, for much longer; I hope you will join me.
I would like to thank Maggie yet again for this wonderful post! I would also like to make you all aware that I will be posting infrequently throughout the summer as I will be working on my graduate degree during summer session, as well as (hopefully) devoting more of my writing to one project for possible publication. Therefore, should any of my readers have an interest in guest blogging, please message me via facebook. I would love to host your words. I would be especially interested in hosting more former students, as I know there are many skilled writers among you. I hope to have Maggie returning too with her own stories. Please leave her comments and feedback on this post!