“You’ll never make it,” Teacher crushes dreams of young student, makes her cry in front of class

Mary Duncan

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.*

I have two terrible memories of being in school, and both of them have led to anxieties that I have carried with me for all of my life.

The first happened when I was in fourth grade. This was when we began learning fractions in earnest, and I, who had always struggled with even the simplest two-digit addition and subtraction, was beside myself when it came to learning how to divide. I just could not grasp the concept of fractions, and so the memory I have tied to that is being made to miss recess for two weeks straight while I spent extra time with my teacher moving beans from one circle on a piece of paper to another.

Math anxiety has followed me ever since. I was always in the lowest level math classes in high school, only making it to Algebra II before graduation while my friends moved on from Trigonometry to Calculus, which I couldn’t even fathom.

I didn’t go to college directly after high school, as I knew that wasn’t for me, but I did enroll in a community college when my daughter was young. I worked all day and took night classes, spending all my extra money on babysitters so I could go to school. Eventually, I stopped going, because I couldn’t pass the required Algebra course. I tried taking it not once, not twice, but four times in the three years I attended that college. I got tutoring through the college support center, I got tutored by a computer scientist friend, and yet still, I failed. I never did graduate college, because I was always just four credits short. Those math credits.

Ask me to do some long division and I will probably have a panic attack or just run away, but ask me to write you something like an essay, a poem, an article, or even an entire ghostwritten book - I’m golden.

Writing has always been my gift and my joy. I feel empty inside if I don’t write something every day. I am avid at keeping a journal, I blog, I write a poem a day, and still sometimes feel like that’s not enough. However, the one thing I hate about writing is journalism. Reporting news. Regurgitating facts.

When I was in high school I excelled in my English classes and was the teacher’s pet in my creative writing class. During my senior year, I decided I’d finally start writing for the school’s newspaper which required me to take a journalism class. In that class, we learned that all good reporting had to include “the five W’s” - Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Journalism is formulaic, and I find it dry and boring to write. As a creative, I didn’t enjoy this kind of wring at all, so I didn’t put my full effort into the class and it began to show when my grade dropped to a B.

Still, I touted my other writing skills, submitting poetry and pieces of flash fiction to the very newspaper I hated writing articles for, and though they were well received, my journalism teacher did not appreciate it.

“Real writers have to have discipline, Mary,” she lectured me one day in front of all the other students in class when I didn’t turn in an assignment on time. “You need to learn to stick to deadlines, not to mention follow the direction of your editors when they give you assignments.”

“Well, I plan on being a fiction writer in the future, I don’t really care much for this class.”

I watched my teacher’s face turn red.

“Even so, you’ll have to deal with agents and editors who will reject your work and want you to make changes. If you can’t follow directions or take criticism, you’ll never make it as a writer.”

I took that comment very hard because I knew deep down she was right. I knew that to break into publishing and to have a shot at fiction success is almost a one-in-a-million thing, and I hated being reminded of that by someone who clearly had no respect for me or my dreams.

I was ashamed when I felt hot tears falling down my cheeks in front of the entire class and wiped them away as fast as I possibly could, saying nothing else.

The teacher moved on to berate the next kid in class who had disappointed her in some way, and I sat thinking about whether I would eventually make it as a writer.

Well, I have. She was wrong, and even though she may have bent me a bit with her comment that day, she did not break me down.

How would you have reacted if a teacher said something like that to you?

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I write about the weird complexities of relationships to make a better life for me and my daughter through words. https://ko-fi.com/maryduncan

Connecticut State

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