First published March 27, 2014
This isn’t the first teacher to pass away since I became an adult, but it was the first to make me cry.
In my 11th grade year, I learned to love my writing, to have confidence in my schoolwork, and to believe that my stories are essential and must be told.
She skipped school, smoked and drank every weekend at the ski resort where she hung out with her friends.
During the winter of my junior year, she included me in her group of largely male friends. Boys who smoked marijuana, drank booze, and smoked cigarettes. I watched as my new friends went into drug dealers’ homes as I sat in the car alone in the dark.
I was standing next to my friend while she walked out of our little village grocery store carrying a stolen bottle of wine, and I said nothing.
I used to travel in the backseats of cars driven by people whose drivers were drunk or stoned.
I got drunk for the very first time on an absurdly small number of orange wine coolers in the back of a Cutlass Supreme and then proceeded to puke all over the picnic tables at the nearby highway McDonald’s where I ended up working a few months later.
In the back of that same Cutlass Supreme, I had my first real kiss.
I was a completely different person than I had been only a few weeks earlier, almost astounded by my own transformation.
Previously, I had been dressing up for a play in which I fought to fit in for many years of my life, and now I felt like I could finally fit in with this crowd, who didn’t judge me for anything other than how fast I could chug a beer.
Mrs. Pierce had a front-row seat to the madness that was my junior year of high school, and while she watched the transformation, she never said anything other than to help me get the words out onto the paper in front of me. The problems I was having with my family and old friends were all reflected on the assignments handed to me.
It was in her class that I understood writing could be a form of escape for me. An escape without having to consume a case of wine coolers, smoke a joint, or dress in all black to prove my edginess. I was still trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Writing could be a solution for me to stop dressing the part.
In Mrs. Pierce’s class, I was much more than the dumb girl with smart friends. In Mrs. Pierce’s class, I was much more than the quiet chick who secretly spit out the beer she had drank back into the bottle because she was terrified of getting drunk, but also terrified of being sober.
Mrs. Pierce’s class was the first time I felt like the student I so wanted to be because of how she taught me and how she responded to even my most mundane stories. She didn’t evaluate my grammar or sentence structure, she just let me write.
Mrs. Pierce approached me in late spring 1987, near the end of my rebellious streak, holding one of my papers and said, “Kari, I can’t wait to read the book you someday write.”
I can still see her smile as she returned to her desk at the front of the room. Did my English teacher just tell me I had the potential to be a writer? That I’d be able to write a book? Don’t writers have to be good at school? Don’t writers have to enjoy reading?
It turns out that writers only need to be encouraged to tell their stories.
Mrs. Pierce was the only thing good I choose to remember about my junior year in high school. To be honest, she is really the only teacher I can remember vividly from my entire high school experience.
Despite the superficial changes she observed in me that year, my 11th grade teacher believed in me.
I intend to dedicate my future book to her.
She left a lasting influence on me at a crucial time in my life.
I wish for everyone to have a Mrs. Pierce.
Here is a journal entry I kept from her class. It isn’t the piece she was referring to regarding “reading the book I would someday write,” but it’s the only piece I saved from her class. Why? Because I received an A. In high school, I rarely, if ever, saw this grade.
I can vaguely remember my kindergarten to 6th-grade years at my elementary schools. But one thing I can remember is the teachers not granting freedom to us kids. We had to do exactly what was expected of us or we would get into “trouble”. Trouble usually meant not getting to have our “breaks” or having to stay in during recess. Now, if we get into trouble, it either means detention or suspension from school.
The teaching methods are a lot different also. We do harder subjects and we learn how to apply them to our society. Teachers now help us to understand why reading, writing, speech, mathematics, and science are important for us in the future. All that was important in our younger years was that we could learn how to do all of those subjects. We didn’t or rarely had to worry about homework. We’d go out and play with our friends and not have to worry about things like tests, finals, bad grade cards, detentions, notes from the main office and the guidance office.
When we were younger, we didn’t have “cliques”, such as the “popular” group or the “hoods” or the “nerds”. We didn’t cut down on people because they couldn’t dress nicely or weren’t as rich. We all played together and it didn’t matter. We were good friends and that’s all that mattered. Sometimes I wish I were a kid again.
I didn’t have as many problems and I know we all had more friends.