To say I had a rough time in high school would be an understatement. A lethal combination of an undiagnosed learning disability on top of nonexistent self-esteem made me basically useless in the classroom. I couldn't focus, I couldn't care...sometimes I just slept. The teachers let me. I got average to below average grades. My teachers and guidance counselors dismissed me as lazy and unmotivated. What I was was scared. I was anxious and depressed all the time, and I didn't understand why.

I first met Mr. Baird when I was in tenth grade. I don't remember how, but somehow I was one of two tenth grades in a Creative Writing class--the other kids were juniors and seniors. And yes, I found the majority of them to be terrifying. I was quiet. I doubted myself.

Mr. Baird saw something in me. He recognized in me a bravery that I didn't know I had. He encouraged me to pursue writing, which barely survives as the sole thing that I know I'm good at. He introduced me to the school's literary magazine, The Criterion. He spoke to me with actual interest, and never once was anything but genuine. It was Mr. Baird who encouraged me to keep writing in college, despite an entire school trying to convince me that this would be a foolish investment. By my senior year, most of my peers were frantic to get into AP classes so that they could get into good schools. Mr. Baird (thank god) told me not to-not because he didn't believe I could, but because he knew what was important was my passion. Most people think this is crazy, but when my best friend didn't get into AP English, Mr. Baird was THRILLED-for the same reason.

My guidance counselor told me that with my grades, we should probably look at "a lot" of safety schools. She told me "NYU" would be a reach for me. I wasn't encouraged. I wasn't motivated. I was being further convinced by the school that I was useless, and the damage of that has had lasting effects. When I talked about going to a liberal arts college, I was treated like a mentally ill person talking about delusions of grandeur.

Of course pursuing a liberal arts degree is "risky" in this day and age, but that depends on your definition of "risky".  Never for a second do I ever look back and wish I'd taken an "easier" route. I am incredibly blessed to have had someone like Mr. Baird to recognize my strengths, and help me cultivate them.

I think (and hope) that I'm unrecognizable from the freaked out sixteen year old that first took a Creative Writing class at AHS. I've found my voice. I've graduated with a B.A in Literary Studies, and have had my plays produced. That's not to say I'm not having a difficult time. But I wouldn't be happier doing anything besides what I love. What I wish for every high school student is the opportunity to nurture their talents, and not be chided for being different. I know that my high school experience-as difficult as it was for me-is nothing compared to others. What the adults need to know is that teenagers are also human. And remember that they were once confuse and frightened like us.

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Comment by Giulia Giboni on February 7, 2013 at 1:56pm
*uncharacteristic, sorry for the long post!
Comment by Giulia Giboni on February 7, 2013 at 1:03pm
Sometimes I think I repressed a lot of my middle school and high school years and experiences, frankly for the same reason. I was extremely anxious and depressed all the time, and I was quiet and had a self-esteem that was non-existent. I just floated by, and I liked it that way. I wanted to be invisible even though my mind was a spinning chaos of thoughts and feelings and fear.

Mr. Baird was seriously one of the first people who made me feel smart. Like I had a good, rational, and wise head on my shoulders. He encouraged the concept of being different and being a loner, all in the name of a higher understanding and more intimate view of this thing we call life. I was always thinking of crazy shit and had so much to say, but god forbid I ever say it out loud, even if it was a valid point or an interesting statement, I just didn't feel important enough to speak...anyway, that all really changed in Mr. Baird's English class. As many of us were, I was excited to go to class, for him to pick our brains! What's more, I was excited to speak and participate. I know it's obviously makes one more inclined to speak up when one knows one is liked and respected by the teacher. But this was something more, I don't know, I not only worried about being liked, per se. This was the first time in my school career, my entire 13 years, that I actually started to debate. It was completely in characteristic of me to retort or chime in when in the midst of a discussion on existentialism or the state of our generation in today's world. Speaking up and being confident enough in yourself to stand up for what you believe in is, I feel, is one of the most critical skills you can learn and life and is crucial if you want to be successful, calm, and content. The craziest thing happened when I spoke up. Instead of my lifelong fear of people scoffing or smirking at my remarks, I saw the nodding of heads. I saw hands go up and classmates put in their two cents. And even if a classmate disagreed, nothing bad happened. I wasn't banished into silence or embarrassment. I don't mean to drone on, which I know I am, but it's just something that I never fathomed could happen to me, and I thank Mr. Baird for it.

Mr. Baird really made me want to become a teacher. But I don't want to be just any teacher. I want to be like Mr. Baird. I want to be able to make my students feel comfortable enough in their skin so that they feel (and know) that their thoughts, ideas, and aspirations are all completely valid and eligible to be shared and discussed. Someone on Mr. Baird's memorial page mentioned how Baird always went for the underdog. I do too, and as a teacher I want to root for the underdogs in my classroom, because that's who I was, and I was rooted for. It's crazy how much one person can influence you.
Comment by Counterfeit Kids on February 3, 2013 at 7:18pm

To hats!

Comment by Michael Grossman on January 17, 2013 at 10:31pm

Jan, 
Great first post by the way, good to see some more of us getting our thoughts up on here. 
I think your sentiments ring true for a lot of us who struggled with pursuing our passions while in the system. I love how warped the term "guidance counselor" has become. They neither guide nor counselor. They are much more like hat salesman who are under quotas. "That's too big for you! Now, why don't you try on this brown one much you reasonable for someone like you."

By the end of high school most students are so exhausted that they just want the damn hat already. 
To Hats! 


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