I’ve had some truly amazing teachers. Mentors, guides, thoughtful and committed individuals whose wisdom I carry with me to this day. This is not about them. This is about teachers who abuse their potential as channels of influence, because it happens more often than we would like to think. And frankly, everyone out there deserves to stand up to them and to stand up for themselves. High school is just practice for life; if you let a teacher walk all over you, it will happen in college, at your job, and who knows where else. And really, it’s just not right (I’m shaking my head very sternly right now).
Let’s get one thing clear: I don’t want to sit here and hate on anyone. Teachers do amazing things and have so much potential to influence entire lives in incredible ways. Which is why I find it infuriating when they abuse this potential, because they also have the ability to severely impair lives before they have a chance to blossom. Let me tell you a few choice stories. Granted, I seemed to have been a magnet for this kind of thing, probably because I got more than my fair share of sass at birth (though I see it more as verbalized honesty with potential filter-issues that I’ve never bothered looking into).
Fifth grade. Crazy teacher replaces the one who quit halfway through the year. She gave us more homework than is humanly possible – literally, my dad, friend, and his mom spent a three day weekend working nonstop and still didn’t finish it. I was ten. TEN. Three day weekends are for crazy adventures or Pete and Pete marathons when you’re ten. Well, when I was ten. So my dad possibly yelled at her a little bit. Which was not acceptable, it’s never acceptable to yell. It’s also unacceptable to take your frustration out on the angry parent’s child and call ahead to the middle school they’re matriculating into and tell them the child can’t speak a word of English and should be in ESL instead of the Honors track. No joke.
People do this. Why? Because it’s surprisingly easy to, and while I may have issues with my sass filter, others apparently have faulty ethics filters. I have a half dozen more stories of teachers abusing their positions due to personal issues, prejudices (as in, racism, anti-semitism, NO JOKE), you name it, but this isn’t a laundry list of grievances.
I almost thought I was paranoid, and after I switched from public to private school, I thought that the smaller classes and more personal relationships between students and teachers would prevent such abuses. When I got my final grade in 11th grade math, I did a double take. Listen, I’m bad at math. But not that bad. So I went to an administrator, and for the first time my voice was heard. What’s worse than my paranoia is the fact that when the teacher re-tallied my grade with someone looking over her shoulder, it turned out I had earned a grade and a half higher than what she had given me.
This happens. We all know colleges look at 11th grade more closely than others, and isn’t it bad enough that I had to struggle through Algebra let alone the indignity of struggling with algebra. If I didn’t have fingers on my hands I wouldn’t know what 10 was, let alone how to get there from 1.
If any of this sounds familiar, don’t feel paranoid, don’t feel bad, feel empowered and worthy of what you’ve worked for. School administrators should be on your side, listening and acknowledging your issue. If they don’t, go over their heads. Do what you need to do. College acceptances could be at stake because a teacher decided to drag down your GPA in response to a button you pushed, probably unwittingly. In my experience there have been two types of teachers who have manipulated my or my classmates’ grades: ones with racial prejudices (it happens, and I can’t even… the rage) and ones who don’t like to be challenged in class.
Challenge the heck out of them, I say. That’s what learning is. This kind of thing seems to happen more frequently in public schools, probably because the volume of students and overworked administration make it easier for teachers to get away with it. The terrible thing is, many students feel vulnerable, and rightfully so, therefore they often accept the situation. If they stand up for themselves, they aren’t taken seriously because in my experience, most administrators view high-schoolers as overgrown five-year-olds. Which, to be fair, has some basis.
But when it comes to a person’s rights as a student, including the right to receive the grades they earned, there is no reason not to be taken seriously. In the meantime, don’t let yourself become jaded. Just down the hall is another teacher who not only inspires you in class, but probably also sees your potential. Ten years from now you’ll be having coffee with them as your mentor-friend and it will be wonderful. I promise.
featured image is a screencap from Mean Girls (as if I needed to even tell you)