Teachable Moments

So I think it’s probably abundantly clear by now that I do a lot of reflecting. Sometimes maybe to a fault. But I also think there’s those select few moments in our lives that really stand out, no matter how much older we might get. Sometimes those might be amazingly awesome moments and sometimes they might be really painful ones.

I had a teacher in high school. Her name was Ms. Manzano and she taught Algebra. I took her class in the beginning of my high school career. She explained things extremely well and clearly for my particular style of learning and I finished with the highest grade in the class.

Ms. Manzano was also the head of the scholarship club that I was in so we often had lunch time meetings with her even after I was finished with her class. There was one day we all had to grab an application or flyer of some sort from her classroom. I got in the long line that was forming adjacent to her desk. I watched as student after student grabbed a sheet of paper from the stack that was on the edge of her desk while she sat in her desk chair. When I got to her desk, I put my hand on the sheet of paper. She immediately turned in her chair and said in a seething tone, “Do you always just take things off people’s desks without asking?” I don’t remember what my response was anymore. I know I was completely stunned so I might have mustered an awkward laugh or just said “No” and turned around and did the walk of shame past all of my classmates that were waiting in line behind with mortified looks on their faces. I’m pretty sure I either went to the bathroom and cried and I know for a fact I cried at home that night and probably even several nights after that.

You’re probably wondering why I’m sharing this story. It’s not just to call out someone that I genuinely feel wronged me (though not going to lie, that is satisfying), it’s to point out that even those people we trust, the people that we look up to or are supposed to be our mentors, are flawed and can make wrong decisions. I was a scared, extremely insecure and extremely unhappy person for most of high school. I was overwhelmed trying to navigate the world of teenage angst while also having muscular dystrophy. I was reminded on a daily basis how different I was from my peers and because of that I hardly spoke and was very introverted. But I was always…and I mean always…polite and nice. My parents didn’t raise me to be any other way. So when my teacher that, up until that point I had respected greatly, even when everyone else bad mouthed her, belittled me like that when I hadn’t even done anything wrong, and right in front of my peers, I was absolutely crushed. Even if I had done something wrong, as a teacher her job was to foster my success and not tear me down for not being perfect, especially over something as dumb as a piece of paper and especially after she knew how hard I had worked in her class.

I’ll never know why she acted that way towards me that day. She might have been having a tough time herself. I’m sure she was acutely aware she wasn’t winning any popularity contests with her tough class and tough attitude. It’s also sad because I lost respect for her that day too, and it never came back. That’s probably largely my ego talking but to this day, when I think about that memory, it hits me right in the gut. I was too young and insecure back then to realize that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. I beat myself up for years for doing something so stupid when I shouldn’t have because it wasn’t stupid.

We all make mistakes, even those who are much older and supposed to be much wiser than us. From our parents, to our teachers, to our Presidents, to doctors, and police officers. Just because people are in a position of authority doesn’t mean they’re always going to be right or do the right thing. Perfection doesn’t exist at any level, nor should it. Flaws are what make us human. But I wanted to share this story for those other scared, insecure high school girls out there. For people who have ever been belittled by someone they looked up to or was supposed to be their support system. To let you know I’ve been there and to say that it’s ok. That it wasn’t your fault and it doesn’t mean you’re weak or stupid or did something wrong. It’s funny when you go through life feeling one way about a memory then all of a sudden you grow up and say “Wait! I don’t have to feel bad about that anymore because it wasn’t my fault.”

I don’t know if Ms. Manzano is still teaching but I hope that along the way, she’s grown up a little too just like I have. I hope that maybe she’s had some of her own teachable moments that have given her more compassion. I really did learn a lot in her class and though that moment was really rough for me, it gave me my own teachable moment and for that, I’m thankful.

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