English Teaching Wonder

English Teaching Wonder

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

English Teaching Wonder

Being honest may not get you many friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.

~John Lennon

Mrs. Seley, my seventh-grade English teacher, was the loudest, most obnoxious, put-you-on-the-spot teacher I had ever met. She was crazy, goofy, dramatic, quiet, serious and outrageous, all in the first five minutes of class. No wonder I liked her.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure about her at first. She seemed pretty tough, and I didn’t do well with particularly tough teachers.

And even though I had been a star student in English in elementary school, my grades in her class fell. I went from low A’s to B’s, then from low B’s down to C’s.

But that wasn’t the only class I was having trouble in. Due to personal problems at home and a demanding school schedule, I was becoming more and more stressed out. My grades were suffering. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was talking back to my family and becoming so irritable that I was spending less time with my friends. Straight As turned into C’s, D’s and dreaded F’s. (“F” I found out, doesn’t stand for “Fantastic.”) In fact, the only class I was able to keep an A in was science, which for me was nothing more than a daily nap.

One day near the end of the semester, Mrs. Seley pulled me aside. She explained to me that I needed to get my butt into gear, and that she wasn’t afraid of failing me, regardless of how smart I was. She reminded me that the personal goal I had set to read eight books during the semester was a long way from being met. I had read only two. Either I needed to have a serious cram session or Mrs. Seley would see me again next year. She certainly wasn’t subtle about it.

When Mrs. Seley had finished explaining that I might need to start making friends with sixth-graders, she asked me a question that I hadn’t expected. She wanted to know if what I had written in a previous assignment was true. Two months earlier we had been asked to write about a meaningful time in our lives. Most people wrote about their vacations to Hawaii or the Bahamas or France, but I interpreted the word “meaningful” differently than everyone else. So I didn’t write about a vacation. I wrote a story about the problems that were happening in my life right then. When I write, I write from the heart. Nobody wants to hear about some heartfelt trip to Canada.

Tears came when I thought about all the awful things I had written, and then confirmed to her that they were indeed true. Not out of pity, but out of understanding, she decided to help me with my grades. She cut my reading from eight books to four so I had enough time to finish them before grading time came.

I realized then that Mrs. Seley understood what it was like to be a teenager like no other teacher I had ever met. She didn’t help me because she felt sorry for me. She did it because she remembered things that happened in her own life. And she wanted to give me a chance.

That chance made all the difference to me. I had to admit that I couldn’t rely on myself to do everything that needed to be done. Sometimes I needed help, and with just a little bit of it, I could pick myself back up and start over again. The stress of that time in my life may have long-term effects on my body (I developed lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, and I am still recovering from my “breakdown”), but the long-term effects on my mind were worth it. I learned more than just nouns and verbs in English that year. I learned that I wasn’t alone in the world.

~Nicole Poppino

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