Letter #154

Content Warning: anxiety, self-deprecation, emotional abuse, insomnia, academic stress, low self-esteem

Dear reader,

Almost a decade ago, I learned I was accepted into an early-college high school. I was thrilled, since I was being granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: that is, the opportunity to graduate with an associate degree before even receiving my high school diploma. Admittedly, I was also excited about my acceptance because I interpreted it as me being intelligent enough to attend such a school. If only I realized sooner how much I would suffer.

I’m going to cut to the chase: my time as a high schooler was some of the worst years I experienced in my lifetime. These four stress-inducing and mentally draining years progressed and worsened in the years that followed, but I’ll briefly touch on that later.

Looking back, I’ve noticed that I experienced a culture shock, but not in the typical way a teen does when entering high school. No, I went from attending a middle school academy where teachers couldn’t or rarely lectured because nearly all the students were ill-behaved (students were constantly arguing and/or fighting with each other and the teacher. Yes, there were even verbal/physical altercations between students and teachers) to an advanced high school where professors prioritized academic achievement.

I won’t lie about not expecting a change similar to this. I was certain that my education wasn’t going to be hindered by my classmates this time around. However, I was caught off guard by the expectations held by my professors. They expected all of us to complete a heavy workload, to complete an exaggerated amount of homework for four courses every other day within a school week. On top of that, we had to prepare for major assignments (e.g., exams or projects) for more than one class on several occasions. Oftentimes these assignments shared exact due dates. You may be thinking that I should’ve known exactly what I was getting myself into. I did…I just didn’t think it’d be this. I only knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t let slip through my hands, especially as someone who grew up disadvantaged. Of course, I later realized that my time as a high schooler was going to get progressively more challenging. After all, my class schedule was eventually going to include college courses aside from advanced placement classes.

In reality, the aforementioned was not the worst part about this. No, not at all. The worst part was the heightened favoritism that influenced most of my professors. Y’know, the favoritism they had toward specific students. In my lifetime, I have only been kicked out of a classroom twice. The first time was in 5th grade, I got kicked out because I failed to understand decimal division. Guess what? I understand it now (well, with a calculator).

The second time, in 9th grade, I got kicked out because I didn’t provide a desirable answer, which “proved” I wasn’t prepared. That day started it all. It started the cycle of never-ending humiliation. More specifically, ever since that day my English 1 teacher would not stop picking on me. I dreaded going to her class because I knew my responses would not be accurate enough for her, even though some of my classmates would answer poorly and in a general way (oh, wait, that’s blatant favoritism, given how they bonded well outside of class). I won’t lie that there were several moments when I deeply contemplated skipping her class. I started losing hours of sleep because I was anxious about being unprepared for her class. It turned out that being “prepared” for her class would never become the case. What did happen, however, was the deterioration of my self-confidence. My self-esteem plummeted like never before. My anxiety got worse. I became much more stressed than I could’ve ever imagined. I lost nearly all of my motivation. All of this affected me academically and mentally for the following two years. Academically, in the sense that I nearly got expelled because of my poor grades. Mentally, I’m sure that can be deduced.

Nearly every year, I had a professor humiliate me in front of my classmates. Sophomore year was my Chemistry teacher, and junior year was my AP U.S. History teacher. What about senior year? No teacher affected me in such a way. My best friend at the time did, though. What happened between my former best friend and me will remain private, since I may never be ready to reveal what I went through. Just thinking about doing that and the entire situation gives me a headache. I will say though, that I never would’ve thought that a person could make me feel a heavy pressure and sinking feeling in my chest when in the same room as me, especially when they dared to sit in front of me and tried to converse.

I want to discuss the favoritism of a teacher I thought didn’t display any and affected me the most. I had a senior research project to complete before the end of April. It was sort of like a dissertation type of deal where one would ultimately present their project and hopefully pass the course, and thus “graduate.” The person who taught this course became a great mentor of mine through my four years of high school. I looked up to them. Heck, I trusted them to the point where I would constantly seek advice. Until one day, when all of that expired because of favoritism.

Senior year is an important year. Aside from closing your teenage chapter to continue into your adulthood, you are presented with many opportunities. At my former high school, as a senior, you’re presented with the possibility to present your project again, but this time in front of a large audience. Of course, there are only so many who could be granted this opportunity. I wasn’t one of them. I also wasn’t interested in being one of them. I was mentally exhausted and wanted to graduate already. I remained disinterested even though my classmates would constantly tell me I would be one of those presenters. It wasn’t until that teacher I admired most told me thrice (within a month and in a way that boosted my hopes through the roof) that I may just have a chance.

Long story short, the day when the presenters would be announced came. I waited frantically all day for that specific teacher to approach me with news. They did. They pulled me out of class and told me I didn’t get it. We walked down the hallway as they spoke (I don’t even know what they said to me because I was distraught), took a turn, and knocked on a classroom door. They proceeded to announce the final presenter. I was humiliated like never before.

I cried so much that night. I felt like such a failure that day. That day, I concluded that the only thing I accomplished in my high school years was making a fool out of myself. That day, I learned that favoritism is an advantage for those who are more successful. The presenters included the valedictorian, salutatorian, class president, and others who managed to get picked for the first AP Capstone/AP Research course, another course that this teacher taught. I may not have earned a spot as a speaker as I later hoped for, but I did earn a spot as the executive producer for that event (well, out of pity by the same teacher. Although, looking back, it did serve as a great resume booster).

It’s been nearly five years since I graduated from high school with my associate degree and high school diploma, something I’m positive a handful of my teachers and classmates thought was impossible. It’s been five years since I’ve finally decided to reminisce deeply about those mental health struggles I endured as a teenager. I don’t think that teachers realize how much of an impact they can have on their students. It can go two ways: that is, they can positively or negatively impact their students. Considering that favoritism can govern the mindset of a teacher, such an impact can take a great toll on an individual level. Favoring one student over another doesn’t produce any desirable results. What it does cause is an effect on mental health levels. Favoring one student because they aren’t struggling with the subject taught over a student who constantly struggles doesn’t measure overall intelligence in any way. Take me as an example. I became preoccupied with desiring success in a single class to receive intellectual acceptance from my teacher, leading to me performing badly in my other courses. That didn’t mean I was unintelligent as they likely thought. That especially didn’t mean I was a failure as I thought. I was going through a tough time and didn’t even realize it then.

Teachers also tend not to take into account that their students have a life outside of the classroom and that their lives may not be well-balanced. A teacher once told me that personal/familial issues aren’t an excuse for incomplete homework. For a great portion of my life, I lived in a disadvantaged neighborhood, or what some refer to as “the hood.” It wasn’t the best place to live, but we had to work with what we had. How are teachers supposed to know about that? They don’t have to. Some may not even care after a student opens up to them about their at-home situations. Instead, what I strongly believe more teachers are supposed to know and practice more is sensitivity. For them to be sensitive toward all of their students, not just those they favor (or chat with during class, lunch, or off-periods). To not belittle the capabilities of one student over another and instead offer a helping hand to experience their success as well. In this case, to understand that their students are adolescents. That their students are at a stage in their lives where rapid changes are occurring physically, socially, emotionally, intellectually, and so on. As adults, teachers should understand how important growth and acceptance are in that stage. There’s no reason for a teacher to darken the curiosity of a student due to a struggle. There’s no reason for a teacher to turn education into an unexciting experience. There’s no reason for a teacher to create an unsupportive environment. There’s no reason for a teacher to favor several students over others. There’s no reason for a teacher to prioritize academic achievement over a student’s mental health.

Whether mental or physical, health always comes first regardless of who you are.

It’s been nearly five years since I became an undergraduate student, or a junior in college as a 19-year-old. Nearly five years after my high school graduation, I realized my mental health wasn’t quite at its best. I may have graduated from high school, but those comments and actions by particular former teachers went unforgotten.

I was at my lowest at 21. I became severely overwhelmed by many things, including my online business, courses, and family issues. Eventually, I lost myself. During that time, I constantly asked myself, “Will I overcome this?” and “Were they right?” It’s been nearly five years and I still haven’t forgotten what I underwent as a teenager. It’s been nearly five years since a handful of teachers would constantly say that this is what I should expect college to be like: “CHALLENGING.” Oh, it indeed was challenging at times, but not mentally draining. Notice how I never once mentioned that my college professors gave me a hard time like my high school teachers. It’s because they didn’t. My college and university professors are some of the people I’m most thankful to for healing my self-confidence. The comments and actions of my former high school teachers no longer haunt or hurt me. Their absurdity has been overshadowed by the encouraging comments and actions of my professors. The negatives have been replaced by positives. What’s lost has been found. I have been found. Whether or not this resonates with you, will you allow yourself to be found or will you lose yourself at the hands of others?

It takes one action or comment to damage the mental health of an individual. Likewise, it takes one action or comment to heal the mental health of an individual. Increase bright outlooks, and reframe ruminations. Never disregard well-being.


A silhouette of a helping hand

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