You’d think that my favorite teacher would be the one who sparked my interest to writing poetry, and, incidentally, songwriting. You’d think I would love and thank the woman whoopened my eyes to my passion; the one I currently am pursuing as a career 11 years later. You’d think I would have fond memories of writing my first poems about staplers and inanimate objects. But when I look back at it, I start to tremble at the idea of me running and hiding into the forrest behind my elementary school with my parents crying in the school and the police searching for me, a missing and confused 9 year old.
No one at Sherwood Elementary School quite knew how to handle me, and no one wanted to take the time to figure out how. I was a hyperactive ball of seemly uncontrollable energy. I was the kid they gossiped about in the teachers lounge. They had to warn substitutes about me. I held the record for most quiet rooms (lunch time detentions) that the school had ever seen. I would get kicked out of class on the daily for what seemed like mundane mistakes. I was an unmedicated A.D.H.D. mess, and was treated like I was lesser of a person because of it.
Although I was only 9, I believed that I deserved respect. My teacher thought differently. She thought we were just 4th graders. She didn’t care about us, but we had to hail to the queen as mere 4th grade peasants.
I treat people how they treat me, on steroids. If you treat me with respect, I’ll shower you courtesy, kindness, dignity, and appreciation. And back in 4th grade, if you treat me like I belong in a cage, I’d treat you like an abused dog who hasn’t seen the light of day for weeks.
There was quite a bit of conflict between Mrs. Widen and I for that very reason. She treated me like like a lesser, when all I wanted, and all I needed, was mutual respect. Although I see it now, as a 9 year old, I was not going to be the bigger person and respect her if she was going to treat me like dirt.
I hated Mrs. Widen. Everything I did was wrong, but she didn’t care to show me what right was. She would just yell at me and punish me by sticking me in the dreaded room of silence for an entire lunch period. I never learned how to avoid trouble. She never cared to teach me. I was labeled the fucked up kid and had no idea how to fix it. I knew trouble was inevitable, and began dreading waking up for school.
Until the poetry unit.
Something about the way I would construct words into lines and stanzas, I finally connected to what I was learning. Things came out of my head like rhymes. Finally, I could sit still and work for hours, writing poems and songs all day.
Waking up for school no longer felt like abuse. I started to see a shimmer of light and actually wanted to learn. For a hot minute, I stayed out of trouble because my mechanical pencil, squishy grip, and eraser top were constantly meeting the pages of my yellow argyle composition notebook, distracting me from the other subjects, but also distracting me from distracting my class.
Without getting myself into trouble, I was able to celebrate recess with the rest of the kids. I’d perform my newly written songs for my peers, and they seemed to enjoy it. I was glowing on the inside. All I wanted to do was write more. I had a fever, and it made me the healthiest mentally I had ever been up to that point. When the whistle blew to go back to class, for once in my life, I was excited to get back to work.
Mrs. Widen walked to the center of the room. With her snarky tone, she said “we’re coming to the end of the poetry unit, and none of you are ready to put your poems into a poetry book. Before you meet with me about a poem, check with your neighbor to make sure its good enough. I don’t need to waste my time fixing grammar errors you should already know. This is called peer review. And make sure you’re whispering. If the noise traffic light goes from green to yellow, I’ll give you a warning, but if it gets to red, you all get a quiet room.”
None of you are ready to put your poems into a poetry book. I was insulted. I have been working on my craft for days, and for a 4th grader, I thought it was pretty good. I brushed it off, and began to write.
Shortly after, Principal Zavagno quietly walked in the room, said hello, and handed a white envelope to Mrs. Widen. I ignored it and continued to work. He left and walked down the hall.
“Hey Jessie,” I said as I turned to my 4th grade best friend and desk buddy, “will you make sure this is good enough for Mrs. Widen!”
We began to chat, knowing me and how easily my voice carries, probably a bit too loudly.
“I really like this!” Jessie smiled
Mrs. Widen stood up from her table in the back of the room and yelled, “Dia, Jessie, be quiet!”
With an abrasive tone, I preached “You told us we weren’t good enough, and had to check with our friends before we worked with you, and that’s exactly what I’m doing”
I sat down and once again began scribbling into my notebook.
“I’m not done talking to you” Mrs. Widen yelled across the room
“Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so I’ll be writing,” I talked back.
“Don’t make me get Principal Zavagno.”
“Get him, I’ll be here quietly working.”
She left with an angry strut, coming back with the man who called my parents every time I would get in trouble.
“Dia, come with me to my office”
I ignored him as I scribbled my feelings into my yellow argyle composition notebook. For once in my life, I did what my teacher wanted, and I still was getting in trouble. I refused.
With a more stern tone, he repeated himself, “Dia, come with me to my office.”
I continued to ignore him and continued to write.
“Don’t make me carry you to my office myself.”
I continued to ignore him as he walked to my desk, grabbed my hands, and tried carrying me to his office. I resisted. My face was red with anger. I continued to resist. His hands were grasped so tightly around my wrists, my hands began to turn purple. I continued to resist. I kicked behind me, and hit him right in the sweet spot. He fell to the ground howling in pain, and I ran out of classroom, down the halls, out of the school and into the forrest.
I sat in the middle of the woods for what seems like an eternity. I sat there and cried. I cried until my body physically could not reproduce more tears. For once, I finally was able to do something right, but I was such a fuck up that I couldn’t even make that work for me.
When I realized I couldn’t survive alone in the forest forever, I emerged with little to no dignity.
Later that week there was a meeting with my parents, the teacher, the school social worker, the principal, and everyone else that you’d be intimidated by when you know you we’re getting in trouble.
I don’t even know who said. It was all so surreal, but I was being transferred to the classroom full of delinquents for the upcoming school year. I was being ripped away from my best friends and I wouldn’t even get to have box houses around my desk, which is the only reason I wanted to be a 5th grader!
And it all could have been avoided. If Mrs. Widen talked to me like a human being, maybe I would have listened. If I was treated like an equal, and not a pile of shit, maybe I would’ve tried. If only I paid attention to my own tone of voice instead of matching and surpassing Mrs. Widen’s, escalating the situation on both ends, maybe I could’ve stayed. But no, I was a delinquent.
But I can’t hate Mrs. Widen or Sherwood for completely giving up on me as a person and making me feel like a zoo animal, because without that, I wouldn’t have been sent to Lincoln Elementary School, where they believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. It was then that I learned, I have the power to change myself. And I did. I became the person I wanted to be: someone who could control themselves. Even though I still have to work on this everyday, and I continue to make mistakes, I have the power to continue to improve and continue to see results.
If you are being told you are worthless, don’t listen. Prove them wrong. Show them you can be everything they said you can’t. You can be anything and do anything you want, you just have to believe in yourself and put the work in. Take it one day at a time, and you’ll achieve your goals. When you want to get better, you will.