I’ve spent the past 18 years of my life in school. It’s the only thing I’ve known since the day I was old enough to remember. In all this time I’ve spent in school, I’ve never truly understood what my teachers have done for me – at least, not until now.
At the end of every semester we are asked to rate our professors, and my favorite question is always: “The instructor expresses interest in wanting students to succeed.” This is a big one, because it goes beyond surface level meaning. This question, to me, asks exactly how effective this professor was in encouraging their students to succeed not only in school, but also outside the classroom; standing by them when they were frustrated and needing assistance; and aiding them in a way that promoted learning and enthusiasm.
This semester I worked with an incredibly discouraging TA, Patrick. Somehow, he took an undergraduate lab course and turned it into a nightmare. It may have been the “no bullshit” attitude I took with him all semester or it may have been bad luck, but he always gave me worse grades than the people in my group with identical data and analyses. It’s important to note that I did have one teacher do this to me once before. But in doing so, he was sure to let me know that the reason for grading me to higher standards was because he saw immense potential in me, and wanted to push me. These words are empowering. These words tell me that I have an ability that I should build on and it made me believe in myself as a writer and as a person in this society.
Patrick did none of these things. Patrick did not show enthusiasm in our success. In fact it seemed like he wanted to find reasons we shouldn’t succeed. And as if I couldn’t dislike him any more, today he pushed a sensitive button. As I walked away from my last meeting with him (for which I’d successfully argued why he should give me/my lab partner points back on our final project) he said this:
“You know, theres 2 things I’ve learned in grad school. One is that scientific communication and writing can be complicated and picky in the real world so I graded you as such. And also, just because you care passionately about something doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at it.”
I’m sorry, was this supposed to make me feel better? How is an undergraduate student who is exploring their strengths and weaknesses and learning how to fit into this world supposed to feel comforted by hearing that they may never be good at something no matter how much they care passionately about it? Never in my entire 18 years of school have I had a teacher tell me they didn’t believe in me or that my passion wouldn’t take me far. Thankfully I was raised and taught by my teachers that I can achieve anything that I set my mind to, and that if I have a passion, I should stop at nothing to pursue it and live it. So thank you for the words of discouragement, Patrick, but I will choose to believe that caring passionately about something will always take me somewhere. This world will notice what I put my heart into. I guarantee this.
In honor of Patrick, I wanted to recognize a couple of the teachers in my life who truly embodied what it meant to be a teacher:
To Mr. Rodrigues: You taught me that my mind is brilliant and worth sharing with the world. You made me believe that I had an ability that could make a difference in people’s lives. You taught me how powerful it is to have a unique voice. More importantly you taught me that my voice matters. Because of this, I have become an empowered woman who isn’t afraid to express her true voice. Thank you.
To Ms. Gaddis: You taught me that being a girl doesn’t make me any less good or any less qualified for anything in this world. You taught me that perfect sentence structure is meaningless if we don’t learn how to use it to better our society. But above all else, you taught me that my heart and my morals would carry me further in this world than knowing how to write a perfect paper. Thank you.
To Patrick: Take note.