Thoughts from IA Mullin for March 2017
At the beginning of March, I had the privilege to be a presenter at the Eaton Middle School Career Day. I talked to three groups of students about how to start down the path to become an author. I told them to learn about themselves and the world around them. The keynote speaker for the day also talked about paying attention to the world around them as they go through school. The whole day made me stop and think about my own school years. I had been a student in that very building, most of the teachers I knew have since retired, but I could see the same types of interactions between the students and teachers that I had seen as a student. Some students prefer to stay to the sides, wanting to be anywhere but school, while many students work hard to do what their teachers ask of them. It was therefore inevitable for me to recognize yet again the important role that teachers play in the lives of all their students. Every student is affected by the personality and charisma of that individual standing at the front of the room. Some teachers lose sight of that connection, and some make better connections with the students than with their parents, but every teacher will have an impact.
I was one of those hard working students that tried to achieve perfection, and I was lucky to have only a few teachers that I disliked. The majority of my teachers were fantastic, and I feel I learned well from them. Every student has favorite teachers, and I find myself hard pressed to narrow down that list. So instead I have taken the time to look back and ask which teachers were the most influential. Two teachers head that list. Unsurprisingly to me today they were both English teachers. At the time however, I was not focused on writing. I was deeply enmeshed in the sciences. I had ignored the aptitude tests that told me to look for careers in writing and the arts. I had ignored the signs that directed my life toward books. I had chosen to pursue my love of science, and I do NOT regret that choice. I still love science and would not change the course of my life at all. However, these two high school English teachers helped me in ways outside of aptitude or career choices.
My freshman year English teacher asked a simple question on a test. He asked how I learned the answers to the test. We had been studying different methods of memorization such as repetition, visualization, or acronyms. I had a remarkable memory at that time, and simple stated that I read the assignment and remembered the answers. He gave me a C on the test and wrote on it for me to come talk to him. I did not miss any other question on the test and I was furious with the C. I didn’t want to go talk to the teacher, I was so mad I was in tears when my mother directed me to go talk to the teacher first thing the next morning. I was nearly shaking with anger and anticipation when I entered his office. Turns out all he wanted was for me to explain my answer more fully. Once I spoke to him, he gave me the A I deserved. The lesson I learned from him that day, and have carried through all my life since, was that I have to be brave enough to speak up for myself. It is still something I struggle with, I do not like confrontation, and I have trouble promoting myself. However, no matter how I feel, I know that the only way to make a bad situation better is to take charge and take action.
My junior year English teacher’s greatest influence in my life was not a single instance so much as a progression over the course of the two classes I had with him. He asked his students to think about the books we read and find the deeper layers of thought that the authors had written into the story. The Grapes of Wrath is a very popular example of this since John Steinbeck himself said it has 5 distinct layers and scholars have debated many more. My teacher encouraged his students to think about the layers of our own thoughts as well, and I learned from reading the layers in the books he introduced us to how to extrapolate that to the world around me. I learned to read the layers projected by people, how to “read between the lines” if you will. It is a skill, that I use in every interaction and allows me to understand how people feel and react. While it hasn’t helped me conquer my own insecurities, I have found it most useful when developing realistic characters that readers can understand.
It comes as no surprise that these two influential teachers have also had a part in the creation of my world of Redsands. I first created the base plot of the story and the main characters for an assignment in my freshman English class. My freshman English teacher was very pleased with my results. After that I continued to add to the story, filling in the details and expanding the world. As a junior, I knew I wanted to continue to write on the story. My junior English teacher asked each of his students to share a secret with him at the beginning of the year, something we had told to no one else. I wrote down that I wanted to write a book and maybe someday be a published author. That was the first time I had told anyone about my dream of continuing to write my story. It was a secret that I kept from all but a select handful of people for eighteen years. Each of those few individuals have encouraged me to strive for my dream, and have been my greatest source of support.
People say hindsight is 20-20, and I completely agree. Looking back at my life, I can easily see how I came to be where I am. I can see all those influences that pushed me to do what I have and I can see how it has all worked out so far. All of those teachers, both the ones I liked and the ones I did not, had an effect on my life. I am grateful to all those teachers who taught me to be who I am and to face the challenges of the future. I will forever respect those individuals who step up and provide guidance to the students of today.