History and French: the Best and Worst

My single most positive experience as a student came out of an essay I wrote for my grade eleven history class.  I received a mark of 76% – the lowest mark I’ve ever been given on an essay.  I was deeply hurt and ashamed of that mark.  I was a high-achieving students, and up until that point every teacher I’d ever had loved my work inside and out.  As far as I was concerned, I was sixteen years old and the model of academic perfection, people.  Teachers did not criticize me.

…But this history teacher did.  I hated him for it, at first.  My next essay, I worked my butt off just to spite him, and was given a grudging 82%.  Again, unacceptable – and again, I could do nothing but work even harder.  My next mark? 87%.  It was by no means the best mark I’d ever had in a class, but I was flying on that 87%.  I’d never had a teacher push me so hard before.  I spent most of that year and the next wishing I could have him as an English teacher – or, better yet, Creative Writing – so that he could beat the rest of my writing into shape, as well.  I craved the kind of teacher who expected absolutely nothing less than my very best.  Knowing that I’d succeeded in giving him that was the best feeling in the world.

My worst experience as a student came a couple of years before that, in my grade nine French class.  My teacher in that class…well, she hated teaching.  And I mean hated it, to the depths of her soul.  One day we were doing an exercise where we were given a sentence with a blank space and we had to fill it in with the appropriate French word.  We were going around the class reading out our answers to what career we wanted when we grew up.  A girl sitting two seats behind me answered, “I want to be a teacher.” (In French, of course…but that was five years ago.  I don’t remember much of anything from that class.)

Our teacher just stood there at the front of the classroom for a moment, her face suffused with shock and disgust, before saying, “WHY?” like the idea left a bad taste in her mouth.

My classmate did not answer.  None of us said anything.  I was a little scared.  I thought her head might explode, or else she would start to spit venom.  The girl two seats behind me sank down in her seat a little and we continued with the worksheet.

Now, not everyone is suited to teaching.  Miss French Teacher had clearly just gotten to the end of her rope, which I cannot really be upset with her for.  The fact remains, however, that that was the most miserable year of French classes I had ever had.

How about you people?  Give it a shot: tell us all what your best and worst experiences as a student were.

3 thoughts on “History and French: the Best and Worst

  1. I had too many bad experiences with teachers to count. One of the things I can say in general about bad experiences, and it concerns most of my teachers was the lack of knowledge about problems kids may face at home (and how it influences them outside their home) and lack of care (or reactions). From a perspective of a person happy with her life who worked through her issues, I see how alarming it would be for me to receive an essay titled: “Why I like pain”. Yet my teacher, otherwise a great teacher, did nothing. I am pretty sure that my PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation would show through my unsocial behaviours, my odd choice of books, my essays and interests. And yet not even one teacher ever asked me, if everything is fine. No one ever asked my friends, of whom I know now lived in pathological families…

    On the positive note, one of the teachers made a huge impact in my life. That was a class introduced instead of ‘religion’ class (which in Poland means a class in Catholic religion taught by priest, nuns or people trained by them). It was a class called ‘Ethics’ and I remember it as the most enlightening hour in each week. We were given a moral issue (a real-life example was usually given), and we were asked to work through it, discuss it, try to find a solution and decide where we stand. There were no books, no reading, no writing as homework. The only homework was: think about… Our tine group would leave the classroom and went on discussing. We were only 12 or 13 and we were give the best gift, the gift of not being judged and being able to have our own opinions and keep them. The gift of being able to think for ourselves.

    • I know what you mean about the bad experiences with teachers. I never personally had that problem, but a friend of mine a few years younger than me had friends who would go to gym class with cuts all over their arms and legs from self-harm…and the teachers would never say anything. My friend herself would hand in essays and short stories full of depression and dark thoughts, and teachers would say she was a ‘powerful writer’ and leave it at that. I don’t know if that’s a widespread phenomenon, teachers failing to respond or address students’ personal problems like that. I certainly hope that you and I and our future colleagues will have the strength, courage, and sense of responsibility necessary to address those problems however we can.

      Your Ethics class sounds like a wonderful experience. I think it would be amazing if every student could have the opportunity to know that kind of acceptance while being allowed to think about and discuss important issues. I think a lot of students are so afraid that their opinions will be minmalized or dismissed that they learn not to share them, or even to some extent allow them to take form.

      Thank you for sharing!

      • Ha ha! What a coincidence, I actually am a good writer, too 🙂 (What the hell, let me boast – I am just publishing my novel in Poland!)
        Yes, I do hope that this generation of teachers will be much more aware of things in general. I lately heard someone saying that self-harm may be a stage of life and that it brings relief to some teenagers. That someone what apparently a PhD student in psychology… Well I don’t believe that self-harm brings any relief, it brings distraction from mental pain. And there is always a cause for mental pain.
        Anyways, I hope… no, I am sure that we can be more aware and caring and all of it will come naturally.

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