Learning to Not Hate English

As a child, I learned to read by looking over children’s books with my grandmother, Winnie the Pooh, and other basic reading level books. Afterwards, I graduated to more adventurous novels, such as a basic version of Huckleberry Finn, and other works like it. These adventure style readings peaked my interest in Greek and Roman mythology. In middle school, I breezed through the Rick Riordan “Percy Jackson” series, so much to the point that I had to force myself to slow down halfway through the series just so I could read them for a longer period of time. Alongside those readings, I would look up small facts about the different Gods and Goddesses that I saw within the text. Apollo, Zeus, Poseidon, and all the others of Olympus were my main center of enjoyment during those middle school years. After finishing up on that series, I had an assignment to read the “Hunger Games” series, in which it took a while to read the first book, as we were assigned what to read and when. However, it only took roughly a day to read the second one, and a few hours to read the third one, simply because the actions going on dragged me into the book, taking my attention away from the world and into its own. My passion for Greek and Roman mythology died out mostly after reaching high school, where we weren’t allowed much time to read for enjoyment, rather to get an assignment done. This downgrade in enthusiasm for reading, potentially negatively affected my reading and writing ability in high school, but I can’t remember enough to say with precision if that was the case.

Coming into my senior year of high school English class, I was not as prepared as I had hoped to be. In Junior year, my teacher, Mrs. Lofromento, was not exactly the most influential teacher. Now, when a high school student tells you that they didn’t learn anything in class, the first thing to come to mind is that either they just don’t pay attention, or they don’t understand the materials the teacher is covering. However, this was not the case in my Junior year. Mrs. Lofromento was a short brown haired teacher, kind of ditzy, and at the time pregnant. It is my assumption that, because she knew she’d be having her baby sometime during the middle of the school year, that her actions were somehow rational to her, and only her. Going into that English class, I was prepared to learn, whether it be new works of literature I hadn’t been exposed to previously or some new writing experience to build upon what I already had. This, was certainly not the case.

On the first day of classes, the usual regurgitated series of statements by every other teacher was given to us. Her name, her plans for the school year, a syllabus, and a form to sign saying that we understood it all. After reading it all over, I eagerly signed the paper, mentally preparing myself for the year ahead. However, I slowly realized just how wrong she, and especially the syllabus, was. During the first week, it was expected by students and teachers alike to go slow and not really pressure the students too much, which in retrospect was probably for themselves as well, because no one wants to start grading work on the first week. This behavior continued however, well past the first week, up to the point where she would leave for maternity leave. Now, again, a student says that they didn’t learn anything in class, you think the aforementioned notion. However, when I say that I didn’t learn a single thing in class with her, I mean I literally didn’t learn anything. For the 42 minutes I was in that class, not a single thing was taught to me. Rather than the expected new techniques and literary works, I was able to do my science, math, or history homework in her class. Occasionally there would be a stack of books, some simple reading, that she would assign us to read a chapter or two from. After telling us to do so, she’d walk back over to her computer, and load up some social media outlet, such as Facebook, and scroll through that the entire period. Rather than teaching us something, she acted as if her job, as a teacher, meant nothing to her. This lasted for a few months, up until she had maternity leave.

After she had left for her pregnancy, we were assigned a new substitute, Miss White. At the beginning of her reign over our classroom, she stuck to a fairly strict teaching schedule. Assignment here, test there, write a paper one day, read text the next. After a month or so, she changed, pretty drastically, in a positive way, in my opinion. She sat at the table in the front of the class and gave us all three pieces of crumpled up paper. She told us that we were allowed to throw them into the center of the room if we had any questions or comments about what she was saying. After that, she proceeded to tell us about herself, and not in some quick-time actions, more so as a meaningful notion to get our attention and get closer to us. Of course, there were the bad kids in the class, sitting in the corner, not paying attention to a word she was saying and talking the entire time. However, there was the rest of the class there to listen to her, even the quite kids had some things to say. By the end of the period, almost everyone’s papers were in the middle of the room, with a plethora of questions asked and answers given. We learned more about her in a specialized event than we ever did through the whole time we had the actual teacher, which was an amazing idea. She explained her ideas for the class, what we could do as a group and what would aid each and every one of us to become a better student, not only in that class, but in other classes as well. That year was the first time I had ever written a paper in MLA format, which at first was an alien concept, but was advantageously used and toned with every assignment addition. Miss. White was only with us for five months, and afterwards our old teacher was given to back to us. This came as a disappointment, as it was only a few weeks before finals and reagents and just about everyone agreed that we would much rather have her back than the actual teacher. For instance, Miss. White actually remembered our names within a week, Lofromento, on the other hand, never remembered our names, and often called me Oscar, even though my name is Austin. Although we only had her again for a month or so, I was setback in my learning techniques, back to where we didn’t do any work. This ideology was a negative impact on my Senior year in high school.

Going into Senior year, I decided to take the advantage and take an AP class. Paired with the previous way of doing things, which was again nothing, the work load that was given to me was unprepared for. Over the summer, we were given a reading and writing assignment, on the novel, “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. After spending about a week on the reading, mostly because the story didn’t imprint on my very well, and a day or two on the writing aspect, I handed in the paper before classes started and waited to see what my grade would be. On the first day of classes, we got our papers back, which mine was graded with a 65 in bold red ink. As a student who thought that their writing skill was more toned that that, I thought that it must have been a mistake, and that the teacher didn’t completely understand my paper. So, at the end of class, I walked up to Mr. Z, my English teacher, and asked him about my grade. He sat me down and we had a one-on-one conversation about it, where he explained that because of this grade, my current overall grade was very close to being a failing mark. Of course, I didn’t want to fail, so we talked about it more, which changed my view on how I would be doing my work. Much like with Miss. White, Mr. Z was able to make something in my head click, changing the way I completed and revisited assignments. The ideology of just breezing through a class, not doing any work, was replaced with one of which planning, outlining, and revising took over every aspect of writing. This way of thinking even bled into how I read, taking notes on what was happening in specific scenes of text, and even into other classes, such as history and science. I could feel the way I saw my writing changing, and on the second assignment, I got somewhere around a 90 as a grade. Again, I sat down with my teacher and we talked about how I had improved, which further improved how I did my assignments. This process was repeated for each and every assignment, proving to be an asset that enhanced every aspect of my skills. Mr. Z was more of a friend and mentor than he was a teacher. He never marked up a paper out of spite, anything that was on our assignments in red ink was helpful, any one of his students would tell you that. Talking to him about why he had made a specific mark on your paper was key to learning new and effective ways of improving your future papers, which was reflected in your grade at the end of each quarter. Talking with him made me realize that, even though I had thought I was a fairly toned writer, there was still plenty out there I needed to learn about in order to become even better at what it was that I needed to do.