I love to hear stories from people about teachers who have impacted and influenced their lives by encouraging or investing in them when they were young. There’s no doubt that teachers, youth leaders and other adults play an important role in the lives of young people, and that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.
I was lucky enough to have some incredible teachers in elementary school at the Montessori school I attended. I’m still in touch with more than one of them, and I’m thankful for the role they played in my life.
However, I almost think it’s the negative ones who have had a bigger impact on my life. It was these three teachers who unknowingly pushed me to prove them wrong:
In Junior High
I continued to attend the same Montessori school in 7th and 8th grade, and we had a new teacher for my last year at the school. I later found out that after I had graduated she told the other students in our class that I had no common sense.
Now, let me be clear — book learning is definitely my strength, and at the time I was very naive. I also have a horrible habit of overanalyzing everything, which is why I’m a terrible cook.
However, a teacher should never talk about a student behind their back to other students. I think that’s pretty much a given. Thankfully, once I got over the initial discouragement of hearing the story, it pushed me to prove her wrong.
In 9th Grade
In 9th grade, I attended public school for the first time. The first week of school I did very poorly on an English test, and when I went to the teacher to ask for an opportunity to earn extra credit, she basically laughed at me. Now, I won’t get into the pros and cons of extra credit, but I will say that I think extra credit is a pretty good life lesson since you often can get further in life by working harder to make up for areas where you lack.
But that wasn’t the part of the experience that really impacted me.
My mom attended parents’ night the following week, and this same teacher used me as an example in her class, telling all of the parents about a student that was upset that she hadn’t gotten an A and that “we” would just need to accept that we couldn’t always get A’s.
My mom later told me this story, but I never did accept that, and I think that experience contributed to my efforts not only in high school but also in college, where I graduated magna cum laude with a 4.0 GPA.
In High School
Later, I had another teacher — and I remember Mr. Wilson’s name because, sadly, he was a teacher I really liked and admired — who left the Christian school I was attending at the time to teach at another school. A friend of mine asked him if he knew me, and once again a teacher tore me down to other students, telling her that I might be smart but I had no common sense.
Again, it was probably true at the time, but I was extremely hurt that he would say this to someone, especially a close friend of mine.
I’ve never forgotten any of these experiences, and they’ve pushed me along the way to prove these people wrong. I’ve thought many times about tracking each of these teachers down and telling them just how their words affected me, but I don’t know that that’s necessary or would even be helpful. I am thankful, though, that I didn’t allow their words to discourage me to the point that I stopped trying. Somewhere along the way I developed a little bit of common sense and became a successful entrepreneur. In many ways, I should probably thank them for the role they had in that.
We will always have people in our lives who criticize us or don’t believe in us. We can internalize their words and allow ourselves to become discouraged, or we can take them on as a challenge to reach our full potential.
Are there negative people in your life who have inadvertently spurred you on to do more or be better?