I elected to take AP English in my final year of high school. For those not as familiar with the American, specifically, North Carolinian education system, at least during the [decade redacted], an AP class was an advanced course you could take leading up to an exam at the end of the year which could translate into university credits depending on scores. I say ‘elected’ because while all students must pass senior English in order to graduate, no one said you had to do so at the AP level. What can I say? Peer pressure.
I knew from the very first second I stepped into that classroom that this course was not going to be like the ones I’d previously taken. The cinderblock walls that made up the main buildings of my school’s campus, were painted in a mural of literary characters. It was bright and glaring and took a while for my eyes to adjust looking at all that color considering all the other walls around campus were stark white.
The class was barely underway when our teacher began handing out a list of books we would not only be required to read in addition to our regular coursework, we’d be also expected to analyze. I remember thinking repeatedly as more titles were rattled off, what have I gotten myself into?
The question only grew louder in my brain as the class went on. I thought of the rest of my schedule and the demands of my other courses. Classes like science and math. Classes, which I thought would have a greater impact on my future career.
You could still ask to change your schedule during the first two weeks of school, and so after the second class, I approached my teacher to tell her that as much as I liked her style, I was worried I would be overwhelmed and would she mind signing my transfer request.
My teacher listened to my concerns but didn’t pick up her pen. Instead, she looked me in the eyes and told me she thought I had what it took. She asked me to think about it a while longer and if at the end of the second week I still wanted to move to another class she would sign the request without argument. Considering she didn’t know me any more than the other students in the class, I wondered briefly if she had said what she had out of some form of self-interest. Would she get dinged for her performance if kids transferred? I wondered. Then again, I argued, she’d probably get dinged more for kids not passing. Wouldn’t she? Mostly, though, I found myself wanting to believe what she said. I wanted to be that person she thought I was.
I agreed to her suggestion. In the scheme of things, what really, was another day or two?
At the end of the year, we entered the room only to find the mural all but gone with the majority of walls painted the same white as the rest of the campus. Our teacher explained then that for those final days she wanted us to fill in the blank spaces. She would supply the paint and we could pair up however we wanted, but we were to create a mural of our own based on readings we’d done throughout the year for next class to enjoy the following year.
I left behind a piece of myself on the walls of that classroom, if only for as long as an extra year, but I took with me much more.
I’ve blocked out the majority of my high school experience, but not her class, and not the lessons I learned there. For it was there I learned that, while I will be tempted to quit when the work gets difficult or otherwise overwhelming, if I press on the end result will likely prove to be worth the sweat and tears. I also learned that while I might not always believe in myself, there are others out there who are willing to believe enough for the both of us. The trick is to trust them.
It is important to find mentors in life, people who believe enough in you to coach you through the tough times. A simple nod of encouragement by these people can be enough to make the difference between success and failure. And there is no rule to limit a person to just one. You can build yourself a team of mentors if that’s what your path to success requires.
And if you do find yourself one day looking into the eyes of someone considering giving up, think of the people who once believed in you. Look them in the eye and tell them to give it another day. Who knows what a difference your words can make.