What I Want My Students to Know

I did not take any honors classes in high school; while my friends were taking calculus and other advanced placement courses, I was in geometry as a senior. 

I always did fine in French, history, and English; earned A’s and B’s, but I don’t think I ever earned higher than a C- in any of my math or science courses (even that C-, I believe was a “gift grade.”) During freshman year, I failed my pre-algebra class, and was bumped down to the remedial math skills class. I also flunked my Spanish class. Yes, I got F’s in high school—me, a high school teacher myself; it seems blasphemous.  However, I feel my story is so similar to many high school students, and that is why I want to share it. 

I redeemed myself my sophomore year.  I enrolled in French and aced it for the next three years. I loved studying for French. I wanted to learn the language. Yet overall, I only studied for the classes I enjoyed and understood. If I did study for math or science, nothing stuck; I had little interest in those classes and didn’t see the value in them. I can recall so many math and science tests that I went into with no clue as to what I was doing. It was as if my mind was shut off to letting the content in, and I didn’t have a desire inside of me to change that.

I excelled in sports though—basketball, volleyball and track & field.  I won awards and league titles. As my high school years passed by, I didn’t really think too much about what my plans were after I graduated. I would hear announcements about the PSAT, SAT, and ACT, application deadlines, etc., but it went right over my head. I saw my oldest sister attend Brigham Young University, yet it still seemed somewhat abstract and far away. Plus, my parents didn’t push the idea of college on me. 

It wasn’t until my friend got accepted into Brigham Young University-Idaho that I let myself consider the possibility I could go there too. At the very end of my senior year, I enrolled to take the ACT (which was the only test BYU-I required).  When I say the very end, I mean the very end because there I was the day after graduation sitting in a testing room, testing fate. 

Despite graduating high school with a 2.9 GPA, I was accepted to BYU-I for the winter/spring semester. I attended my first winter semester and did well in school. I enjoyed my English and Acting classes, but I found adjusting to the weather quite difficult. I also struggled socially. I wasn’t living in the dorms, I had a hard time connecting with my roommates, and I didn’t see my friend from back home very often. Consequently, I returned home after the winter semester ended; once again feeling uncertain about my future. 

In the meantime, I took some classes at College of the Canyons but eventually decided to give BYU-I one more shot. I returned for the next winter semester. 


The second time around my experience was better. School was good. That semester I took a math class which was above my skill level and my abilities because my friend was enrolled in it.  For the first time, I wanted to succeed in math. I wanted to open my mind to understand. It mattered to me, and it paid off. I pushed myself to learn the math concepts I’d always struggled with before. I remember sitting in my Algebra class taking notes and trying so hard to wrap my mind around the concepts. This time, I didn’t get a “gift” C-, rather, I earned my C- through frustration, long nights studying and hard work. Even though school was going well, and I was living with my friend from back home, I still struggled socially and emotionally; in the end, I decided BYU-I wasn’t for me and returned home never to return again.

Going into college, I knew I wanted to do one of two things, either be a fashion designer or an English teacher, yet I struggled with self-doubt and questioned my abilities. I still saw myself as that girl in high school who just did so-so. See, in high school, I only did what I needed to get by; I only did what I needed to stay eligible to keep playing my sports. I had never really pushed myself and tested my limits; yet the more I progressed through college, I discovered a work ethic I didn’t know was in me. I was surprised that I continuously earned A’s in all my college level English courses, as well as in some other disciplines. I loved the reading and the writing (yes, I loved writing essays). I loved learning to look at a novel, a poem, or a short story in new and exciting ways, and I became excited about the idea teaching others to do the same.  It was then a discovered becoming an English teacher was it for me. 

First, I had to make it through my general education requirements and get my associates degree so I could transfer to a university. It was at this point in my life that I realized why I went to BYU-I—why I suffered through the sleet and snow and frozen buggers (yeah, it gets so cold there it feel like the inside of you nose is freezing).  It was all for that one algebra class I mentioned before. See, when I took the placement test at College of the Canyons, I placed very low in math which meant I needed to pass numerous lower-level classes before I could even enroll in a college level math class, but because I passed that math course at BYU-I, I bypassed all those remedial courses and only needed to take one more math class to get my AA. Had it not been for that, I very well could have spent years at COC trying to pass math. It was a miracle beyond belief, and very well could have been the factor that changed my future.

At this point, I understood how imperative it was that I pass this algebra class at COC. I ended up doing something I never had before: I asked questions and I went in to see my professor during office hours for extra support. It all paid off. I passed my last math class ever with a C. I was set. I walked in my graduation from COC and was off to California State University Channel Islands, but after one semester of commuting that far, I found myself back at COC for one semester as I awaited my acceptance to California State University Northridge.  In the end, CSUN is where I attended for a total of three semesters before graduating with my Bachelors of Art in English. 

I don’t know anyone who jumped around as much as I did on their journey through college. I went from COC to BYU-I, to COC, to BYU-I, to COC, to CSUCI, to COC, to CSUN. I finished college in 2007 at the age of 24. I got married a month after I graduated, and I was hired to teach high school English at West Ranch High School a few months after that. 

My life fell into place because I was doing everything I needed to succeed. It wasn't perfect. I wasn't perfect. Along the way, I doubted my intelligence and my abilities; I wanted to drop out. I was unsure of my path and my future. I felt alone at times. I struggled emotionally, physically and socially; yet through it all, I developed a growth mindset. I learned that if I work hard enough I can get smarter. I can grow my intelligence through discipline and by picking myself back up after I fail. And, most importantly I understood the desire of wanting to succeed. It really is about a change in mindset. 

My students often say, “Well, this is easy for you.” They assume that because I am the teacher everything just comes to me. This is not the case. Even to this day, I need to do my “homework.” I need to develop the same skills I am asking my students to develop. I need to look things up, do my research, study and figure it out. It’s not always easy for me, but I do it for them. I know what is possible if you put in the work. 

I am a lot like them in so many ways. I got bad grades; I didn't have a high GPA; I didn't come from a wealthy family; I didn't have total and complete self-esteem; yet the difference is I’m older and lived long enough to figure myself out, long enough to experience failure, and long enough to understand that I have the ability to change. 

I want my students to know—as cliché as it is—they can achieve anything, but they have to believe in themselves and change their mindset. I spent too much time doubting myself and my abilities. I still find myself doing it, but one thing I’ve learned is to try because you might end up surprising yourself.

3 comments

  1. Yes preach. I had a 2.5 in high school and as a senior in college I'm at 3.7 because I decided I'm worth a vollege degree and I'll do what it takes to excel. My mom also discouraged my college dream which is why I'm 27 and still working on it.

    I'm glad kids can have teachers like you. I hope my one year old has a teacher like you some day who believes in the power of self determination and choice.

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  2. Yes preach. I had a 2.5 in high school and as a senior in college I'm at 3.7 because I decided I'm worth a vollege degree and I'll do what it takes to excel. My mom also discouraged my college dream which is why I'm 27 and still working on it.

    I'm glad kids can have teachers like you. I hope my one year old has a teacher like you some day who believes in the power of self determination and choice.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for sharing your journey, How can a parent raise a child to have this wisdom? I'd like to read your view "what I want my mom to know" as you were growing up into adulthood. I think Your reflections will teach us something about that aspect as well.

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