Auntie SparkNotes: Does My Beloved Teacher Hate Me?
So I have this AMAZING English teacher, whom we'll call Jay, just for kicks. I had the worst English teacher of my life the year before, and lost faith in the subject that I had once cherished. Dubious of my oncoming year, I didn't expect much — until my first class with Jay. I learn so much every day, and my faith in the English language has been restored. My dreams of double majoring in English and Art History have been rekindled under the masterful hands of this teacher. When I wrote something well, he told me. He gives praise where praise is deserved. I wanted to become the best possible writer to impress him.
Anyway, I'm taking AP English Language next year, and he'll be my teacher (YES!). After starting to do some prep after the course, I began to spontaneously stay after school and ask him how to get better at this or that over the summer. He's lent me two books for the summer, and got me the AP Literature Summer Reading List (the class I'll be taking in two years) so that I have stuff to read over the summer. He's even (nicely) teased me over wanting the English Content Award for when I'm a senior, something that I had never mentioned or given much thought to beforehand.
Everything seems fine and dandy, right? That's what I thought, until today.
I stayed after, and I was asking him on how to get better at analyzing poetry. Looking back on it, I probably should have worded it better, but I basically said how I felt that I was terrible with poetry and that I wanted/needed to get better. He responded by saying that I'm not terrible with poetry, and that he felt that at this point, it was a problem with my self-confidence.
I wasn't sure how to take this, and I'm still not. Should I be offended? Does my beloved teacher hate me? And do teachers get annoyed when kids ask for a lot of extra help or have lots of questions?
Well, no. Of course not. Teachers are there to teach, and answering questions or providing help to a struggling student is part of the deal; if that annoyed them, they wouldn't be teachers to begin with.
However, people in general—including teachers—get annoyed when someone is fixating on them, needling them, and looking to them day in and day out for attention and validation. And when your teacher told you that your self-confidence could use some work, I'm guessing he didn't just mean on the poetry-analyzing front. Most likely, he also meant it partly as a gentle remonstrance vis-à-vis your seeking his approval so much.
And I'm guessing you've guessed as much, too, or you wouldn't have felt so hurt and offended by it.
But you must realize: Your hurt and offense and immediate reaction (OMG does he hate me?!) just go to show that, um, your teacher kind of had a point. Wanting to engage with him and earn his respect is fine, but making him the sole authority on your value as a student and writer is not. It's pretty clear from your letter that you're placing significance on this one man's approval in a way that's unhealthy for you, and also potentially uncomfortable for him. Part of your teacher's job is to give you the encouragement and guidance you need, but it's also part of his job to maintain boundaries with you, so that your relationship doesn't creep into inappropriate territory. If you're leaning on him for support in a way that messes with that dynamic, or could mess with it, or appears to be messing with it from an outsider's perspective, then it's all the more important that you follow this cue to back off a little bit.
So when you ask how you should take your teacher's comment, the answer is: gracefully, thoughtfully, and to heart but not to extremes. Being told that you need to have more faith in your own abilities is not an insult. It is not a big deal. It is not a sign that you have to stop visiting with your teacher after school, or looking to him as a mentor in things English-related. All it means is that you need to stop putting your insecurities in the driver's seat, make your education (and not the approval of your teacher) your primary goal, and ask for guidance using concrete questions ("Can you give me insights on/show me how to/recommend a book about x?") instead of needy plays for validation ("I'm so terrible at y.")
In short, you've gotten useful advice from a person you respect on how to serve yourself better. Appreciate it. Heed it. Use it. Not just because it'll help you improve as a writer and reader, but also, ironically, because demonstrating that kind of passion for a given subject is the one surefire way to make a teacher think well of you.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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