We live in a society in which our teachers are supposed to be more than our educators. They are supposed to be our mentors. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. It is a sad day when an adult acts like an adolescent, and an even sadder one when an adolescent finds herself feeling lost and confused in the wake of an adult’s misguided actions.
Simply put, high school is confusing enough. Teens do not need teachers’ actions adding to the bullying and social drama.
I am a naturally thin girl. I always have been, and, for that, I will make no apologies. No one should ever apologize for his or her natural physique. I was in eleventh grade when, as per usual, one of the girls in my class started a rumor. She told fellow classmates that I was anorexic, and this, apparently, eventually made its way from her lips to my math teacher’s ears.
I did not find out about the rumor until I sat, crying in front of my guidance counselor, begging her to believe me when I said that I was perfectly healthy, only to hear her affirm that she assumed it was a rumor and never had any reason to believe otherwise. For those of you who read my blog, you know that I was an easy target in high school. To find myself at the face of an ugly rumor was not an unusual position.
After the mandatory meeting with my counselor, I confronted my teacher. I was so angry. Why would she run with a rumor straight to my guidance counselor before first talking to me? The teacher provided no explanation and, essentially, brushed me out of her classroom.
In future weeks, I would rationalize Ms. Rossella’s decision. She was torn. She did not know how to process the information, so she went to the only source she knew who could possibly help rectify the problem. She reached out to another adult.
But as the weeks went on, peers continued to stare, and, even worse, Ms. Rossella acted differently toward me. She was colder, less approachable. I will never understand why. But, in my opinion, it seemed she wanted to be the friend to the majority, rather than the advocate for the minority. If the other students did not like me, she was not going to either. That was what I thought.
She took my life and she turned it into a nightmare. It’s not exactly easy to prove to someone that you do not have a psychological disorder.
Years later, I look back at this incident with a broadened perspective, and I seriously question her actions. If Ms. Rossella thought the rumor to be fact, why wouldn’t she want to talk to me, genuinely talk to me, one-on-one and work to help me through the problem or refer me to someone who could? With just a few questions, I would have told her that one of the girls in class was bullying me for a while—forwarding and changing the wordings of my text messages to the boy I liked and spreading rumors like wildfire. I was insecure enough as the unpopular, nerdy teenage girl in high school. I did not need another person, especially an educator, making me feel ashamed and embarrassed for my natural physique.
And though this is just one example, it sheds light on a myriad of issues that I feel must be addressed in schools if we adults truly wish to be mentors to the younger generations. Teachers need to think about their actions. They need to have the proper training to handle difficult situations, and they need to remember that they are the adults, the guiding forces in lives of students.
They need to be more like Mr. McTrunugh, another high school teacher of mine. As mentioned earlier, in high school, I was not the cool girl. I was the nerd, the bookworm who would rather read “Dante’s Inferno” than gossip incessantly about the latest make-ups and break-ups. And, for that, I was constantly tortured.
One afternoon, in Mr. McTrunugh’s class, a classmate made a negative comment about my hair style in front of the class. Used to these types of things, I did not give her the satisfaction of a reaction. But my teacher did. He berated her, and, in doing so, he defended me. He told the girl that if she said one more word, it would only prove that she, herself, was unhappy and insecure. And, for that, I had, and still have, the utmost respect for that man.
Finally, a teacher who was not willing to sit on the sidelines and watch the bullying play out! I believe being a mentor to students does not always mean playing it safe and staying neutral. You have to fight for these kids, and you have to give them a reason to fight—a reason to fight for their rights to live lives in which they are comfortable and secure with the young adults they are beginning to become. You have to give them a reason to fight for decency and integrity and compassion, things society seems to be seriously lacking lately.
A teacher’s job is more than to just follow a lesson plan. It is to be an advocate. It is to be the voice that these kids so desperately need to hear.
And for all the teens out there reading this, if there is one lesson that I took away from all these painful memories, it is that I should never be ashamed of who I am. You never have to apologize to anyone for your identity. You are strong, you are beautiful and you are more than enough. I know it, and you should know it. Do not let a lousy teacher, do not let a jealous peer, do not let anyone diminish your integrity. Ever.
*All names mentioned have been changed to respect the privacy of the individuals