A Woman to Be Proud Of
As someone who struggled throughout high school academically and mentally, I never connected with many teachers. I was a below-average C and D student who showed up to class with missing assignments and no explanation for why I hadn’t done the work or come to class the way I was supposed to. I didn’t care to learn or participate regardless of whether or not I enjoyed a subject.
In my sophomore year, I had a history teacher named Mrs.D and I remember her and what she taught me even now.
I did not have the traditional student-teacher relationship one might think of when one imagines a student saying their teacher changed them. I didn’t come to her class during free periods or stay after the bell rang to talk to her. She didn’t know much about me, and I didn’t know much about her, but she was different from any teacher I’d ever had.
Mrs. D was the person who instilled a sense of self-worth in me and the worth I saw in others, without even knowing she was doing it. She was the first woman and teacher I’d ever had that was an outspoken and unapologetic intersectional feminist. This may seem unimportant, but seeing a woman who so strongly and passionately believed in the power and beauty within other women changed how I viewed myself. She would veer off during lesson plans and tell us information not included in the curriculum just because she wanted us to know what was happening in our world. She would jump and down with anger and pride for the women in history who paved the way for women today. She was attentive and strong-willed, and she cared about every single girl who sat in her classroom, whether they were great students or not.
I had Mrs. D for a study hall, in addition to having her for history. I never spoke to her about my personal life or my academic struggles, but I didn’t have to. One day I was visibly overwhelmed by a pile of missing work and she came and sat down beside me and she said, “You know, Salene, sometimes being afraid to fail at something just serves as a reminder that we care enough to want to succeed.”
She was always amazing at delivering one-liners that stuck with her students, a nugget of wisdom that made them want to be better. So I closed my Chrome book that was overloaded with open tabs, and I nodded, even though I didn’t take what she said seriously at the time.
She didn’t go back to her desk. Instead, she sat next to me and she sighed the way she always did when she felt sad about something that had happened to people in history whom she believed deserved better. She put her hand on my shoulder and said to me, “Your guidance counselor emailed all of your teachers with your plan and ways that we could help you in achieving it. I want you to know that even if you don’t pass some classes this year, I’m proud of you.”
Looking back, I think I rolled my eyes at her when I said, “Proud of what? My 1.98 GPA?”
She laughed and shook her head, “Young girls will always have someone working against them, some more than others. Any girl that tries despite that is someone worth being proud of.”
I wouldn’t have remembered this all so well, but what she said hit me so hard that I grabbed a notebook and wrote it down to put in my journal later that night, and I did. For years I looked at it, even when it was fading and I had to type it into the notes app on my phone. I remember these words and try to thank her for them by being the kind of woman she always was.
When I am feeling heavy from the weight of things, I read those words and remind myself that at least I am trying, and at least there is someone out there in the world who is proud of me because of it.