Math or English?

I went into high school loving math and struggling with language arts. Why? 

I am an analytical, verbal and social person.  Knowing what I know now, I am equally competent in both. So why was I turned on to one and turned off to the other?

Let me suggest my relationships and perceptions of my 8th grade teachers dramatically impacted me.  It is sad to realize how the decisions we make are based upon emotional attachments that can skew our lives and preferences for decades.

In 7th and 8th grade, I had a Math teacher who was 22 and fresh out of college. Do the math. She was about 10 years older than me and an intentional, energetic, gifted, cute, and engaging teacher. She knew how to challenge me, and she did. She offered to take anyone from our class who got A’s in every marking period to a Michigan State Football game the following fall. She was a tutor for the team while in school and had connections. With this incentive, I literally devoured math that year, and it dramatically shaped the course of my life, thinking, and career. I am forever in debt to Ms. Smith/Mrs. Brown. Yes, it was a bummer for me, but she did marry a few years after arriving to teach. Ironically, we still communicate today via email. She continues to learn and engage with her “students.”

Contrast that with my English teacher, who was at least 105 years old and went to college before they had desks! Okay, maybe not, but she seemed ancient and cranky. She looked down through her glasses at me, which sat on the end of her nose with a chain hooked to them and hung around her neck. It would seem we didn’t click for whatever reason. As I looked at my 8th grade report card, my grades ranged from C’s to an A-, quite an assortment. This teacher commented several times that I need to work on “being able to accept constructive criticism.” I don’t doubt the veracity of this comment, but I find it interesting that it stands in stark contrast to several other teachers who wrote the very opposite about me in the same semester!

Unfortunately, I allowed my distaste for the language arts to haunt me for the next 25 years! I missed out on so much reading and developing in this area simply because I “felt” as if I didn’t like it. 

Only after I graduated from my undergrad (without reading a single book) did I fall in love with reading, when out of desire and necessity, I began to read and learn from books on how to appropriately relate to others, especially a future wife.  Then, a decade later, as I learned Greek in my master’s program, I realized that I loved languages as well.

This isn’t about good or bad teachers, though I would like to write about that someday. I give this illustration to explain how I chose to respond to diverse teachers so differently to my own detriment. In other words, I allowed two different teachers to dramatically influence my subject choices for the next 25 years, even if it wasn’t good for me.

Let me be the first to admit that, in the moment, I had no clue that I was doing this. Now, only after a lifetime of learning, teaching, thinking, and coaching others do I see how this happened for me. But I see it happening so often in the lives of people around me. 

  • They have a terrible relationship that causes them to react in unhealthy ways.
  • They allow the dysfunctions of their parents’ lives to script their choices for decades, to their own demise.
  • Because of whom they were compared to in their lives, they choose to be the very opposite kind of person, despite it not being who they really are.
  • They allow the critical words or actions of another to develop a critical spirit in themselves, toward themselves and/or others.

My life was forever changed by Mrs. Brown. But it was also changed by the English teacher, just in different ways. I am desperately making up for those lost years when I ignored reading and language art disciplines. 

There are two challenges for me here:

  1. I must be aware of how I am reacting negatively and positively to those around me because my reactions may not be healthy or best for my long-term growth.
  2. How can I work at being a “Mrs. Brown” to others by through my intentional, energetic, encouraging, and engaging efforts in the lives of those around me?






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