Dear Teen Julie,
Relax. This isn’t a life or death visit. Today I’m here with a tiny piece of insight and wisdom. I know about the Math teacher that has made a habit out of humiliating you. Already you’re getting defensive, I’m sure. It’s not a big deal, right? Your mind drifts during class and your attention veers away from the chalkboard and out the window. So he keeps drawing those big birds on the chalkboard, the bird that is waving and saying, “hi, Julie” in the little thought bubble he so carefully creates. I can’t even remember when this little joke began? He said you needed to spend less time studying the birds out the window and more time studying Algebra. I think that’s how it went the first time. Then began the familiar joke—he notices you well…not noticing him teaching, he stops solving equations and starts drawing the big giant bird until everyone is laughing and you’re pulled out of your daydream. Because staring at a bird on the chalkboard is going to help you learn Algebra better, apparently.
But you do keep staring out the window during class. And this is the second time you’ve taken semester two of Algebra because you didn’t pass it the first time. So he’s got a point. You do suck at paying attention. Besides, it’s not a big deal. And it is kinda funny.
If it’s not a big deal, why do you slide down in your seat and turn bright red? You’re not an overly shy person. You’re not easy to rattle. And you’re sixteen, definitely not a child anymore. You’re supposed to be able to handle this type of feedback. It isn’t supposed to bother you.
But it does, doesn’t it?
So here is my tidbit of wisdom for you from the future you: no matter what fault you’ve committed, no matter how poorly you perform or set yourself up for this type of teasing, criticism should always be productive and purposeful. You may be strong, but the next student to stare out the window in that class might not be as thick-skinned. He or she may come out with a far more scars than you will. The question you need to ask yourself is: how will this teacher’s approach improve your chances at passing this math course? Will the threat of humiliation scare you into listening? Probably not if we’re being honest. Mostly because we both know you don’t want to drift off, but it happens and you’re trying and well…yeah, I get it. Feedback should challenge you, it should push you to work harder or even to decide that you’re not ready for something, but it should never be used as a means to humiliate. Never. Not even from teachers. Especially not from teachers.
I’m not sure if there is a whole lot you can do to change this situation but it’s important to remember that a caring criticizer won’t focus on what you can’t or haven’t done but on what you should and can do. A caring teacher may tap you on the shoulder and say, “listen, this will be on the test” or “I know it’s important for you to learn this so pay attention.” This is how you deserve to be treated no matter what your grade is. And this is how you should treat others. You haven’t misbehaved or disturbed anyone. You haven’t hurt any other students by your subpar academic performance, only yourself. You are worth that bit of respect, you are important enough to be left out of the big class joke.
Present Me/Future You
P.S. you will pass the class this time, btw (that’s texting code for “by the way.” You’ll learn more about that around the year 2004).