So there I was, beads of sweat slowly forming on my upper lip. I looked around the room with paralyzing fear. Everyone else seemed to have their heads down, furiously scribbling what they knew the answers to be. I, however, didn’t know a single answer, and the clock was ticking. How was it even possible that I could have been enrolled in this English class all semester, yet I’d never attended a single lecture until the day of the final exam? And how could I have neglected to study for this final…knowing very well that this test would determine my grade for the class and whether or not I would march across the stage with my fellow students on graduation day? Suddenly, everything went hazy and a slightly annoying beeping sound roused me from sleep and my panic-stricken dream. Oh, thank God–it was just a dream! Relief overtakes me.
If your’e anything like me, you understand the crippling fear of this recurring dream. You see, I have been out of high school for precisely 14 years, yet I still have nightmares on a semi-regular basis that I never actually earned my college degree. In those dreams, I am just three credits shy…and in my cruelest of nightmares, the actual class I am yet to complete is a MATH CLASS. Oh dear God, I’m doomed! So when the alarm finally does go off after a night of restless sleep, I’ve never been more relieved to awaken to reality.
For me, this dream is even more horrifying than the one where you show up to school or work, minus a piece of necessary clothing—like your shirt or your pants. Don’t ask me how it’s even possible to get out the door only halfway dressed without realizing it before it’s too late and the staring and laughing ensues. The point is, I’m still haunted by this thematic nightmare years after what I believe to be the culprit placed this deep-rooted fear in me.
Ah, the culprit–my high school English teacher. (Insert evil, terrifying music here.) In order to protect the “innocent,” let’s just call her Mrs. L. Now please don’t mistake me–Mrs. L was an amazingly brilliant teacher. She taught me so much about historic works of literature and even about the romance of the English language and writing, itself. I’d even be willing to admit that she played a role in shaping me to be the writer I’ve become. Only, it was not without a price.
You see, Mrs. L struck fear into the heart of every student who crossed her path. She refused to be an “easy” teacher who allowed students to simply coast by in her class without any real effort. To the contrary, she forced her students to not only study, but to dedicate themselves to the kind of studying that included late nights, cramming and tirelessly poring over the materials to achieve the kind of grade that would make our parents beam with pride. I even have a theory that she purposely put the hardest question at the beginning of each of her tests in order to shake the students who came into class that day with confidence and feelings of preparedness.
At the end of their high school careers, every student who filled a desk in her classroom felt a kind of respect for Mrs. L that only one who had toiled and struggled for an A could feel. To this day, I can honestly say she was one of my all-time favorite teachers. She was, in a sense, the Robin Williams to my Dead Poets’ Society. You know–that one teacher who imparted her wisdom and forever influenced you in a truly profound way. Perhaps she even had something to do with my decision to continue on to college to obtain a journalism degree (which I am happy to report a math class did not prevent me from earning). She certainly helped instill in me a love for writing. She allowed me to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when I passed an exam for which I had studied my heart out.
Her perpetual goal of striking fear into the hearts of her students and her unyielding dedication to preparing them for college and perhaps more importantly, the real world, is what made her a great teacher in my book. Does Mrs. L still play the starring role in my current-day nightmares that raise my heart rate and cause me to awaken in pools of sweat, gasping for air? Absolutely. Yet I still commend her for her teaching style, and I am appreciative of the passion and drive she instilled in me. And deep down, I bet she would relish knowing (and even let out a throaty, masochistic chuckle) the kind of powerful influence she still has on this now-32-year-old writer.
Well played, Mrs. L….very well played.