Essay: Portrait of a teacher who hated me.

She was my eleventh grade Accelerated English teacher and the rumor was that if you were in her regular English classes, she wasn’t great, but she loved her accelerated students and it would be just fine.  Ms. P. was tall and well kempt, a no-nonsense woman who got things done.  She had five children, and that, in combination with how early they all got married, probably means she was a Mormon, though of the rare sub-types that used “Ms.” and worked for pay.
The rumors weren’t wrong about her preference for her accelerated classes, she sparkled as the year got going.  We proceeded at a fast clip, blasting through the Scarlet Letter, the Crucible and Huckleberry Finn in no time at all.  The two of us shared the same first name, and I made some rather wise observations at the beginning of the year, so things started out okay, but the ardor faded at least on her part.
I hadn’t always been tracked into the smart English class.  Most of junior high had been spent in regular English with the ambivalent readers and disinterested learners, but my ninth grade teacher had been impressed by my writing and suggested I change things for second semester, so I made the switch.  Accelerated English was more fun because people wanted to be there and we could have actual discussions.  And I read and wrote well enough to keep up with the others.  Things were fine that year and in tenth grade.
But ultimately, I was a lazy student.  I did my homework, but didn’t go out of my way to shine things up.  This worked well for other classes, but not for Ms. P’s Accelerated English.  She wanted blood, sweat and tears and I wasn’t really interested in providing any of those things.  Junior year was also a rough time in my mental health world, and the creeping depression that followed me around that year probably didn’t help endear her to me.
I can’t remember an official moment when I realized she didn’t like me, it was more of a gradual process.  There were comments on my work that struck me as rather harsh, and she didn’t choose me for reading aloud anymore.  I think subconsciously I started slacking off and developed an odd habit of forgetting things were due, which meant scrambling to complete assignments 15 minutes before school started.
When the semester changed over, she started bugging me about assignments not turned in.  I had no idea what she was talking about, but agreed to get them to her.  As far as I knew, I had completed everything, but she was the teacher, so who was I to disagree?  I limped through that quarter, not really sure what to do.  I dreaded going to the class, just as much as she seemed to resent me taking up space, but she was the only Accelerated English teacher, so I was stuck with her.  I can still remember the feeling of freedom that came with the sudden realization that I could transfer to a regular English class.
I did just that, explaining to the counselor that things weren’t working so well in my current class.  The counselor spoke with Ms. P. who agreed to let me switch once I had all my work turned in.  There was a tense day or two when I worried what would happen, because I didn’t know what assignments I had missed. My mother finally called Ms. P. directly and asked what I was missing.  There was a silence while she consulted her gradebook and then a longer silence before she finally said, “She seems to have turned everything in.”  When my mother repeated the conversation, I felt like I’d won, but my mother said we’d both lost.
Regular English was spectacularly easy.  We took an entire quarter to read (re-read, in my case) Huckleberry Finn.  Most people couldn’t finish two short chapters per night and the discussion was anemic, but the teacher was impressed by me and I felt happier there than with the strivers.
Despite my frustration with her, I felt oddly connected to Ms. P.  She was kind of like the bad boyfriend you spend too much time trying to figure out.  Why was she so mean to me?  Did I remind her too much of herself?  Was she taking a strict line to motivate me, and that failed spectacularly?  And why did she think I hadn’t turned in assignments I had completed?
After leaving her class, I avoided her, though I saw her in the spring down on the Greenbelt by the river.  She was riding her bike and I was watching my boyfriend skate, which was an activity I both loved and loathed doing.  I remember feeling embarrassed she saw me taking part in such a traditional girlfriend role.  We both pretended not to see each other.
My senior year she was the editor of the school literary magazine and I remember being very surprised when something I submitted won first prize—I figured she would sink anything from me, she was the kind of teacher who was overly involved in the student activities she supervised.  Was she more hands-off than I thought, or was the writing really that good?  It sent me back to puzzling.  One of my friends told me she had asked where I was going to college and seemed pleased to hear I was heading off to a women’s college.  That she would even ask also confused me.

It’s a teacher’s job to get their students to learn, ideally by connecting them with things to love about the subject.  Even then I understood that it is an impossible task to like all your students, so it seemed reasonable—though embarrassing—that this teacher in particular would dislike me.  As an adult, I still wonder what she was thinking, but I don’t fault her for her actions.  She provided a good lesson in searching for what I needed and that sometimes giving up is the best course of action.  It’s not the American tale of striving that we’re all supposed to believe, but it is something that needs to be learned at some time.

5 thoughts on “Essay: Portrait of a teacher who hated me.”

  1. That was the year I had zero hour English with Mrs. Hill and all of the drummers. Pete, Damon, and Scott were in there. Likely we all had to take 0 hour because of our musical pursuits. Wait! It can't be, that must have been sophomore year as Scott would have been gone. Was American Lit our junior year? It must have been. I remember that I would (IDIOT) volunteer (IDIOT) to do projects with those boys (IDIOT) and end of doing most of the work (DUH). AS I was not in accelerated English and never had been. My lackluster English/reading years came earlier for me. In junior high in fact, as really I didn't academically hit my stride until freshman year (at least it started then). Then Mr. Cotton Ward (what a name) helped me to love English class. I remember getting my first A. He so encouraged me and made me feel like I was a contributing member of the class. That English teacher changed me too. I actually saw myself as a scholar.

    As a teacher there has only been one student in my career that I can say I didn't really like and the feeling was mutual for him. I tried though and it still kills me that it didn't work out for us to have a good working relationship. I was certainly a hard ass. I had to be at C.E.S., it was decidedly a tough place to work. But I poured so much of me into my kids that it broke my heart. I can still tell you his name, exactly what he looks like, and how it felt the day he saw me on the bus a few years after being in my class, looked me directly in the eye and snubbed me. I always feel like with roughly 330 students in my gen ed classroom over the years to only have 1 like that is a pretty great thing. And yet, it still haunts me that I couldn't make the difference for him.

    I wonder if Ms. P. has similar regrets.

  2. But Scott was only gone for a month, then he came back. It was junior year. I love Mr. Cotton Ward. What a name!

    I'm pretty sure I don't haunt her, but it was weird, how she didn't like me. I read about other people who had a lot of teachers not like them, so I feel lucky that she was the only one, especially since I didn't like a lot of my teachers.

  3. I too had only one teacher who ever hated me (most teachers LOVED me). She was also an English teacher, one of those "hip" teachers who thought she was friends with her students. I got transferred into her class halfway through sophomore year (along with several other students) because the class I was in was too full (don't ask, I don't really understand it either).

    She seemed to resent me for being a good student. I remember once, she had assigned us chapters to read the night before. I was the only one who read them. So then she designated the class for the day to read them but I already had so I did other stuff. She penalized me for that, saying I should have come to her for more work. I never understood why I got punished when it was the other kids who hadn't done their work. She gave me the only C-grade I ever got in high school, a C+. I had to do extra work to bring my grade up, which made no sense because I was a very dedicated student. My mom was so pissed at her.

    I hadn't felt one way or another about her before being transferred into her class but I certainly hated her after that whole mess. Unfortunately, in my school we all had to take a class in senior year called "College Preparatory English" and she was the only one who taught it, so I was forced to work with her again. By then her hatred for me had disappeared. She gave me no problems.

    I still find the whole thing baffling.

  4. So incredibly weird. Maybe she was going through something that had abated by the time you got to senior year? I think it's funny though, that being too good a student cost you. Perhaps my slacker tendencies saved me more than I know.

  5. I actually had to go and look at the yearbook to figure out what teacher you were talking about an why I had no memory of this person. I think Junior year was one of the few years I wasn't in accelerated English. I, too, had zero hour English with Mrs. Hill. I do remember Sara being in it, but not the drum corp… I remember it mostly because I walked to school in the dark.
    I can't say that I ever had a teacher hate me. Probably irritated them because I didn't actually ever completely apply myself. Now, my younger sister, she had different stories. If the teacher had my older sister, they instantly disliked her too. If they had me, they loved her.

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