The Boldest Girl in Class

The Boldest Girl in Class

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

The Boldest Girl in Class

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

~Winston Churchill

I’ll never forget the first time I heard my English teacher, Mr. Barnes, make an inappropriate comment in class. He’d just handed out our first assignment and someone asked how long it should be. “Like the length of a lady’s skirt,” he said. “Long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting.” The guys howled and gave each other high fives. Mr. Barnes just sat there and smiled with an annoying little smirk on his face. It made my skin crawl.

As the year went by, his comments became more and more inappropriate. I began to dread his class. He could turn anything we studied into something negative and degrading to women. It was humiliating. How could he treat us like this? Each time he made one of his comments, I wanted to say something, but I was too afraid of him. Besides, everyone called me “Miss Quiet and Shy.” I didn’t like speaking in front of other people and I would never talk back to a teacher.

Toward the end of the year, we started studying The Canterbury Tales, a Middle English collection of stories about a group of travelers. Mr. Barnes made a generic, stereotypical comment about the traveler in each tale we were reading. When we came to the tale about the “Wife of Bath,” I braced myself. Just as I suspected, he told us about how this woman was a typical wife. They only brought her along because they needed someone to cook and clean. I just couldn’t take it anymore. What was wrong with us? Why did we all sit complacently, taking this abuse? The guys were laughing and acting like Mr. Barnes was a stand-up comedian. I looked at the girls and most of them just sat there with their arms crossed and their heads hanging down. It made me so angry. I felt like I was going to explode.

I don’t know what came over me. Suddenly, I blurted out a “Hmm!” My teacher’s head jerked up.

He glared around the room and asked, “Who said that?” No one said a word. It was so quiet that I heard the clock on the wall ticking for the first time ever.

I had a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’d just gone upside down on a roller coaster. I could feel my face getting hotter as the blood rushed to my cheeks. My heart was pounding so loud and so fast that I thought it might jump right out of my chest. What was I thinking? I was “Miss Quiet and Shy,” right? I was already in way over my head. Oh well, I thought, somebody has to stand up to this guy — here goes nothing. I opened my mouth and blurted out, “I said it.” Everyone whipped around and stared at me with looks of horror. I wanted to crawl underneath my desk.

Mr. Barnes glared at me and said, “Do you have something you’d like to say?”

“Yes . . . I . . . do.” I choked out. “I think your comments are stereotypical and rude. They are . . . um . . . inappropriate, sir.” I stammered.

“Well,” he said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Thank you for your comments, Miss Westbrook.”

I don’t think I paid attention to anything else the entire class period. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. Was that my voice I had heard? Did Mr. Barnes really just thank me for my comments? When the bell rang, I grabbed my stuff and ran down the hall to my locker.

By the end of the day, the entire school had heard what had happened. People I didn’t even know were coming up to me and patting me on the back. All of the girls were so glad that someone had finally stood up to him, and so was I. I just couldn’t believe that it had been me!

For the rest of the year, Mr. Barnes toned down his comments, at least in my class. He still told some awful jokes, but they were no longer degrading.

When I handed in my final exam, Mr. Barnes looked me in the eye and said, “You, Miss Westbrook, will go far in life. We need more leaders and fewer followers. Good luck next year.” I was shocked — it seemed like he actually respected me for standing up to him. I smiled and felt proud. Who would have thought that “Miss Quiet and Shy” would have ended up being the boldest girl in class?

~Christy Westbrook

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