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I Wish I Had Thanked Her When I Had the Chance...

The other day, I was cleaning my room, and finally after much self-nagging, I cleaned out my back-pack. And I was amazed by the sheer amount of stuff that can be shoved into one small bag. I rooted through everything, throwing out old Chemistry papers and a whole folder of things from my Health class- but with all the things being thrown away, I knew that there would be just as much (maybe even more) that I would keep. As my cleaning progressed, I found many things that I did indeed keep, promising myself that they would come into use this upcoming school year. I do this every year, without fail, and yet I never seem to use any of the papers. In fact, they sit in my closet for years as the edges turn yellow from age- but I never have the heart to throw them away, always telling myself they'll be useful in their own way at one time or another. 

Strangely enough, the majority of these papers are things that I write in my various English classes. Yes, I know- when will I ever use already-graded essays and short stories ever again? Never. But I love to look back at these papers and see how much I've grown over the years- it's quite amazing, and frankly quite hilarious to read some of the stuff I wrote back in the fourth grade (yes, I have papers that date back that far, don't mock me.).  

So, to get to the point of this whole rambling, I must begin with a quick story...

This year in my English class, my teacher decided to assign a project to us that she had never done with any class before, she called it our "American Passport Project".

This year was all about American Literature, so we studied many great works and authors. Even though our project had to encompass and show a basic knowledge of the units we went over this year, the project in itself was more about ourselves. It was what we being an American was all about. We had to talk about our American qualities, who we thought the "most American author" was and what were some pieces that we read this year that exemplified the American Dream. On a more personal level we had to explain where we though we fit into American society today and where we wanted to go in life based on our sense of self.

Needless to say, this was a pretty lengthy project. So, what did our class do? Why, complain, of course!

And I admit, I was one of the whiniest ones when it came to this project. I brooded and sulked. I ranted about the injustice of it to my friends who had a different teacher, meaning a whole different (much less wordy) project. I just couldn't believe that our teacher would assign such a massive project- at the end of the year when we were all cramming for exams, no less!

I wanted to rebel- have a sit-in strike, get everyone to do a walk-out in the middle of class one day, or just not do the project. Did I?

Psh. Of course not. I'm too much of a goody-two shoes to do that. But I did hold a silent grudge against said teacher after she assigned "the project from Hell", as my friends and I nicknamed it.

I'll admit, I never had a particular liking for this English teacher. She never really said or did anything to offend me. In fact, she's a perfectly nice person. I couldn't really tell you the reason I didn't like her- that is, until today.

I was thinking about this for a long while. Why didn't I like my English teacher? I was perfectly fine with the one I had last year? Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: It's not really that I didn't like her. It's that she made me sort of uncomfortable. The thing about her is she really tries to connect with her students. And I think that's fabulous. It's just that, I think I'm so used to having teachers who really don't connect with me on a personal level, or really understand my way of thinking. Sure, some of them try- and fail miserably. Mostly, that's my fault. I have a hard time letting people in- especially adults. Aside from the adults in my family, I only have a few I really trust and feel comfortable sharing my opinions with. The strange thing about my English teacher this year was that she really did seem to get me. She understood how important writing is to me. She also seemed to get my sense of humor and she really encouraged me to speak my mind. This put me off balance, for the lack of a better phrase. I always have felt that I sort of have this protective barrier around me when I talk to my teachers. They see me, but they don't really know me. But when I was in English class this year, my "barrier" sometimes crumbled a little and my real feelings would show. Whether it was an off-hand comment I made in class, a giggle at a certain classmates witty banter, a simple gesture or an expression on my face, suddenly I was that more exposed to the world.

After many sleepless nights, cups of tea and even some tears, I finished my project. The moment I finished it and looked down at the colorful binder I had compiled it in, I felt a surge of pride. After all this whining and all the late nights, it was finally done. Not only was it done, but in the end, it ended up being really heartfelt. It was me. That day, I went into the classroom and after a nerve-wracking presentation, I turned it in. I'll confess, I had a hard time handing it over; it felt like I was handing in a piece of me. This project had become my metaphorical "baby" over those three weeks. It all began as a bunch of ideas in my head, and grew over time- and finally became a reality (with much pain involved in between). 

After a couple of days, I went back to my classroom and successfully managed to pick up my graded project without even making my teacher turn her head. (I'm very sneaky.) As I tip-toed out of the room, I flipped through my binder and found my grade- an "A". I literally did a dance in the hallway.

A little later, I sat waiting to take my final exam of the school year. As I waited, I flipped through my project, looking at the little comments that had been left here and there by my teacher. Then, I flipped to the back and found a note from my English teacher (she had taken the time to write a note to each and everyone of her students! Time consuming, much?). I read over it carefully, and by the time I was done, I was actually tearing up a little (the note wasn't actually that emotional. It was just me being emotional. Hey, you would be too if you were about to take your last exam of the year and you had just gotten an "A" on a project that had taken up most of your waking hours. All twenty-four of them). She had said some of the nicest things about my writing and told me that she thought I was a very insightful young woman. Right then and there I took back all the mean things I had ever said about her.

So, thank-you, English teacher, for assigning this project. It gave me a lot of insight to the world around me and to myself. Thank-you for being so supportive, even when all I was was cold to you. Even though I spent most of my time those long three weeks fussing about the project, I now value it more than ever- it's a piece of me and it'll be really fun to look back at in five or six years.

I can promise you, it won't end up in the back of my closet forgotten.

hazelsummer hazelsummer 18-21, T May 18, 2008

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