The great teachers stay with you forever

standard October 2, 2008 Leave a response

A long, long time ago I went to Law School. No, I’m not a lawyer, that’s M’s job. Law School was a misguided decision following on my disastrous failure to be a successful Medical student. (College in France is a bit different. There’s no undergrad so you have to make career decisions before leaving High School, which is brutal to say the least.) Law School offered no math, no physics, and no biology, so it was right up my alley after a year of nothing but math, physics, and biology; hell for a literary mind like mine.

What I didn’t take into account when I made the rash decision to change career paths was that what Law School did offer was a lot of memorization and boring, boring, boring classes. Ugh. Constitutional Law? Even thinking about it makes my eyes roll back in my head. I struggled from class to class, learning as much as possible and spitting information out painful exam after painful exam. I didn’t pass all my first year classes, so I was held back a year so I could pass the two I’d failed. When I finally successfully completed the first year I threw my shoulders back and braved the second year, refusing to admit that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t the place for me either.

By now I was three years out of High School and starting from scratch just didn’t seem like a viable option. But I won’t lie to you, I was sporting a decidedly defeatist attitude about the whole thing. Oh, I tried, I really, really tried. I did all the reading, I spent time in the library, but it was as though I had been given the wrong translation dictionary. Nothing really made sense or clicked. Things that seemed to be crystal clear to my friends were pure gibberish to me. There were so many students in the program that I doubt any of my teachers noticed my struggles, or cared much if they did. Students were dropping out right and left, pretty typical in a French university, and I’m sure they thought I was just going to follow suit.

And then one day my Civil Law TA handed back an assignment and after seeing my reaction quietly asked me to stay after class. I had failed the assignment miserably despite spending hours on it. I stared straight at the desk and fought back tears and waves of despair until the end of class, not hearing another word that was said. As the students filed out he came to sit besides me. He was a huge African man, patient and kind, so unlike all the other snappy short tempered TAs. He talked to me for a long time, told me he knew I was smart, he could see I was trying, urging me not to give up. I walked out of that classroom with my head held high, not convinced that I could succeed in law, but at least no longer persuaded that I was a half-wit.

I didn’t finish Law School, as I mentioned, I’m no lawyer, but thanks to that one teacher who was able to see through the hoards of students to one really dejected girl and give her back her self esteem, I figured out what it was I really wanted to be studying and I made the appropriate switch to the English department to pursue the literary career I should have been aiming for from the start.

Today I’m sure he’s forgotten me, but I think of him often when I’m struggling to remember what I want to be doing, what I’m good at, who I am. He believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself and I always try to keep that in my heart.

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