My freshmen year of high school I was enrolled in the college preparatory English class. English was definitely not my favorite class. I didn’t know what to expect or know anyone that had experience that could tell me what to expect. No one had already mastered this Discourse that I knew. I walked into our English classroom which was very white, and unwelcoming, and our teacher Mrs. Foley told us we would be writing an essay today. She handed us a rubric and a prompt, which at first looked like gibberish to me, and told us to read it over and start writing. We had two class periods, which were each forty five minutes, to write this five paragraph essay about the death penalty. I was scared and didn’t know how I would ever finish in that time. In jr. high we spent days going over a prompt, writing down points, and gathering information. We would spend days making an outline and finding important information, and figuring out what was needed for the prompt and what wasn’t, but now I had just ninety minutes to read the prompt, gather my thoughts, create an outline, and write this essay.
I was sitting in my seat in the front row of the classroom beside my best friend. We looked at each other with horrified looks on our faces, and both stared at our blank papers. I then began to read the prompt over in my head, but I caught myself every so often looking up at the clock, and seeing the time just fly by. Some people had already started writing before I did, and I became worried that I would never finish this essay. I began to gather my thoughts, and try to ignore the internal clock ticking in my mind. We were now on our own to write our first high school essay. As I began writing it became easier to think of information and put it on paper, but still the information was not coming to me as easy as it had before. The teacher never checked our progress, instead continued grading papers from other classes. We continued scribbling on our papers up until the last second before the bell rang, and we would have to hand it in. I was able to finish this paper and with confidence that I had done well.
After a few days the teacher had finally finished grading our papers and was getting ready to hand them back. I was very scared, but hopeful. I didn’t know how she graded or what she was looking for in a paper. I had only heard rumors about her class being a very difficult class to do well in. In jr. high I maintained an A in my english class and did very well on my essays often scoring grades in the high nineties, so I expected that I would do well on this essay as well.
When she handed me my paper I flipped straight to the back page to see my grade, and skipped every comment she wrote. When I saw that I received a seventy-three, I became very discouraged. I didn’t go back and read the comments because I was too focused and frustrated about my grade, even though they may have explained some of my problems to me. In previous years whenever a teacher left comments, the teacher and student would meet one on one and discuss why she wrote the comments. After discussing with the teacher we would then be allowed to correct our mistakes and hand the paper back in. I couldn’t understand what I did wrong, or how I could’ve done so poorly. I wanted to know, but our teacher wasn’t available to discuss our essays with us. We were not allowed to keep our papers as they were being kept in folders until our senior year. I went home that night and told my parents about the low grade I had received on my essay, they were shocked, as they knew I normally did well.
I remained very discouraged with myself throughout the remainder of the year in the class because I could never do as well as I was doing before. I thought I was never going to get a good grade on an essay again or be able to go home and tell my parents how well I did. I knew for sure I would never master the Discourse of freshman English.
I realized during my sophomore year when we had a new teacher that his expectations were different, and slightly easier than they had been in my freshman year of school. Our teacher, Mr. Phelps, was much friendlier and more welcoming of all of us. Often times he would go over a prompt with us in detail, and let us ask questions that we may have had about it. Our papers were graded differently than they had been graded the previous year. He would leave comments that would help us do better on upcoming papers instead of focusing on that paper that had already been graded. He would go over our papers with us one on one and explain what we did wrong and how we could make it better before we had to hand them back in. When he spoke to us one on one about the things we may have done wrong in our papers, or the things we could have done better, I could tell that he cared about our overall success in not only his class, but throughout high school. This was very different from the previous year.
This experience made me realize that not all teachers are going to be the same. Some teachers will expect many different things, and some teachers may be tougher than others. I learned that I cannot give up because things were going to become tougher and tougher as years went on. Throughout high school many things changed year after year, the difficulty, the expectation, and the attitudes of the teachers. Although this experience did not have the best outcome, I was able to take many pieces of important knowledge from it.