She Believed In Me
The power a caring teacher can have to change your life forever
It’s been a week since my friend Brent died too soon from cancer.
Moments like this force one to pause. What have I done with my life? What could I do with the time I have left?
Today I decided to think backwards.
The mandatory literary contest
When I was in high school, every student had to either write 2 poems or a short story to enter into the annual Fine Arts Festival.
It’s a great idea, really.
I wrote short stories the first few years. The problem was, they sucked. They sucked because I had no idea how to structure a story that was worth reading. Most of the writing I had done up to that time was the kind that arises from teenage angst.
Then I got the bright idea to write a couple of poems instead.
I sat down for 15 minutes and played with some words. I don’t remember today what I wrote. But I did know that the words needed to sound like music. So I got out my pen and went to work.
I turned in my two poems figuring I had nothing to lose.
I won 3rd place in the school.
What? How could that happen? Are they sure they read my poems? Was this some mistake?
Then they announced it in an assembly, and that was that.
I was in eleventh grade.
Since that worked so well, I wrote two more poems for my twelfth grade contest. I spent 20 minutes of intense creative passion penning these two.
I typed them up and turned them in.
I won first place.
I was in literal shock.
My shock was a mixture of disbelief and ecstatic joy. My words had won!
This raised the bar.
Now I’d have to go to represent my school at the state.
I’d need a coach to get me ready since I’d spent my whole school life blending into the wallpaper so I’d be invisible.
The mess I needed to unravel
The day I started school there, I had the worst experience of my life up to that point.
You can read more about that here:
I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version here.
Mr. Ford was my Bible teacher. He was a strict disciplinarian. Nobody was gonna take control of his class from him. And if you tried, you’d be made an example of.
I didn’t even try. He asked us to turn in our Bibles to Chronicles and I muttered to myself, “I wonder if this Bible has Chronicles in it.”
He jumped on me like a hunter with the rifle scope pointed right between my eyes. He may as well have pressed that proverbial gun right into my flesh.
It was like killing a fly with a nuclear bomb.
I was 11. I had no idea how to handle bullies like that. Sure, I’d met them on the playground. But the teacher? What the hell? I had no context for how to deal with that.
So I build a tortoise shell and I wore that thing everywhere. Nobody was gonna hurt me like that again. I spilled my guts on my diary pages at home, but I wasn’t going to trust anybody with my pain.
I suffered in silence like that all through middle and high school. I chose it, sure. But when you’re young and a teacher does this to you, what else can you do?
Hopefully, you have someone in your life you can trust to help you. I probably did, but I was too blinded by pain to see it.
Mr. Ford might have been a nice guy. But I can’t remember. I blocked every memory of that class after that. I honestly don’t remember a single thing that happened there. All I remember about him is that one painful moment.
Ms. McClure to the Rescue
I had Ms. McClure in junior high and high school English. I took her class in at least three grades. Was she following me?
Seriously though, what I remember about Ms. McClure is that she made English fun. She made class fun. She cared about us not just as students, but as people.
She was also one of the judges for the Fine Arts Festival.
When they selected my poems to win the coveted first prize, she took it on herself to train me to recite them before a line of stone faced strangers. That’s what I’d face at the state competition. She knew that. She also knew about my emotional armor.
I needed someone to believe that I could do this.
We practiced day after day for what might have been a couple weeks. She would nudge me to do better, and encourage me every time I moved an inch forward.
By the time I was to face the panel, I was as ready as I could ever be. My mouth was dry. I had to dig a bit to remember all the words I’d written. We had to memorize them, which added another layer of stress on top of facing the panel of dispassionate strangers.
They were quiet and polite, so my blood continued to flow through my veins without freezing.
When it was over, I felt like I’d just jumped out of an airplane (whatever that feels like) and landed safely on the ground.
I didn’t win the contest, but I did win something more valuable — belief that I had a way with words that was rare and beautiful.
That opened the door to a world of writing success.
- Freelance writing assignments for the past 8 years.
- Guest posts on some popular writing blogs.
- Interviews on a few podcasts.
- The opportunity to participate in, contribute to, and lead a few online writing groups.
- And five bestselling books on leadership and communication.
I couldn’t have done it if Ms. McClure had not believed in me.
Have you had a teacher that changed your life? Tell your story in the responses.
Now go write something awesome.