My Teacher’s Invaluable Gift Of Confidence

Many women have helped me grow into the person I am today. My mother, sister, and friends continue to contribute, but the gift of one teacher helped define my approach to life.

By the eleventh grade, I had learned to survive school by minimizing difficult social situations. I focused on my studies to become an A student, which led to joining clubs with other social misfits, such as the National Honor Society and math club. I had also joined the drama club, where my talent for being other people helped me avoid, well, being me.

Miss A, as we called her, was a young and enthusiastic teacher. Her junior and senior English students were inspired by her ability to relate to us on our level, sharing our excitement when our favorite bands would come into town. She taught us to include our experiences in our writing. She made English fun.

New to the school, she encouraged me to join the drama club and audition for the fall production. Her avant-garde approach to casting and direction taught me to see beyond the page. I had hoped to play one of the crazy aunts in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” but instead was cast as Dr. Einstein, who insisted on pronouncing his — that is, her — name as “Ein-schteen.” Miss A’s interpretation pushed me out of my comfort zone as an actress and as a person. I learned I didn’t have to accept things as they were. I could always do more.

Later, during the one-act play competition in which we presented a very offbeat piece, I was unable to connect to the seemingly one-note character of a psychiatrist. The play was risky for an area high school competition, which showed Miss A’s relentless passion for pushing the envelope. She helped me through my frustration and helped me see the importance of nuance. In the end, our play won first place, and I was that year’s best-actress winner.

I used the confidence I gained from her to speak up in other classes and stand my ground when defending my work. My writing would survive the judgment of my harsh senior English teacher thanks to Miss A’s creative support from the year before. At lunch, she opened her classroom to me and others who didn’t want to face the loneliness of the lunchroom, allowing us to eat or just read a book free of judgment.

Today, Miss A and I share a friendship after reconnecting on Facebook more than 30 years later. The baby she was expecting my senior year is grown, as is his baby sister. Now that I’m a mother myself, I have found that I share much in common with the woman who made a huge impact on my life choices. When I told her she was my favorite teacher and that I still carry many of her lessons with me, she honored me by saying she was proud of the woman I have become.

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