I read this report from a teacher of Nobel Prize winner John Gurdon (Medicine):
I’m not positive about the accuracy of things I find of Facebook, but the concept of this teacher’s reports and the stories you read about great minds and their educators’ opinions of them are amazing.
I don’t consider myself a great mind, but it reminded me of my sophomore year of high school and the teacher who made me cry and how I wish that no student is ever made to feel the way that my one teacher made me feel.
I have many friends who have become teachers and every single one of them who hears the story I’m about to tell is shocked. In fact, some of my high school classmates would be amazed if they knew who said this to me…
The Teacher Who Made Me Cry
My older brother and sister both participated in and enjoyed choir. So I joined middle school choir and enjoyed it to until high school. My sophomore year I was trying to balance regular choir and an extra curricular choir as well as a demanding speech team and work schedule. By Christmas break, it was apparent that I couldn’t juggle everything and my dad was no longer able to drive me to early morning choir practice because his work schedule had changed (and I was 15 so no license). We lived at the very edge of the school district and no one else in the choir would give me a ride. I explained to the director that I could no longer participate in that choir. He glared at me but said nothing.
By the end of the school year I decided that speech was more important to me than choir. We had to “try-out” for our final exam and to be placed in the next year’s choirs, as well as receive our final exam grade. I tried out for the exam grade only. In front of the entire choir, the director lectured me about being lazy, called me a quitter, told me that he didn’t want anyone with my “attitude” in his choir and I couldn’t expect to get a good grade anyway (I still graduated from high school with a cumulative GPA higher than 4.0). Stunned, humiliated and in tears I returned to my place on the risers while my peers watched.
That was one of two times that I cried at school in high school. (The other time was when my dad was diagnosed with cancer during my senior year.)
My siblings, especially my sister, excelled in choir and it was very clear that he never actually acknowledged me as Rachel, I was another E-kid who should
enjoy sacrifice for choir. Instead, I prioritized my time and pursued what I was really passionate about. I was successful in speech, in academics and at my part time job. I was never a good singer, no less successful in singing.
I got accepted at every college that I applied to (and was awarded scholarships by each). In college, I worked hard and again excelled. Today, my choices and my ability to prioritize and say “no” to time demands that don’t benefit me (or the other party) has helped me in my career and enjoy my personal life much more.
A lot more stress and more singing in high school wouldn’t have helped me with anything. As a 15-year-old girl, who didn’t handle confrontation well, that teacher did me a great disservice by tearing down my self-confidence and publicly shaming me for not having the set of priorities that he wanted me to have. I was 100% respectful in sharing my decisions to discontinue participating in choir and I carried out my responsibilities to the choir, but I managed to still earn his ire because he believe that vocal music should be everyone’s priority.
As a teacher, he helped a lot of students who were passionate about music become better singers and better musicians. He even trained some famous singers. But he didn’t try to related to students who found they didn’t enjoy music and he allowed his bitterness about other things to seep into what he did and said.
I tell this story not to tear down my former teacher, but to hopefully show others that the opinions of one, even one in authority, do not determine who you are or what you are capable of. I did not become, nor will I ever be, a singer or musician of any sort. But I am not lazy. I’m not a quitter. And I am not better for what he said to me.
What I have determined a decade later and feel should be clearly stated is this:
- Those who work with and by default shape the lives of children and teenagers should be patient people.
- It is never okay to publicly shame a child. My teacher should have tried to understand my decisions and shared his concerns with my decision to quit with me in quiet conversation.
- Every child should be treated as the unique individual that they are and not a carbon copy of their siblings.
- I made the right decision 10 years ago and should never have let him make me regret it for a moment.
- It is better to give up an activity that your heart is not in than to spread yourself too thin. However, you should complete all responsibilities that you have committed to.
- Quitting one activity to pursue something else that you excel at does not make you a quitter.
- One bitter person does not get to determine your worth.