To My English Teacher, Who I Will No Longer Be Able to Thank
How the genuine care of a teacher can transform a student’s life
Yesterday, I had woken up and decided that it was about time I got myself out of this rut I had been experiencing and got on with some writing.
As per usual with trying to overcome my creative droughts, I tend to write about something familiar and comfortable to ease myself back into it.
However, no matter how many years I have been writing for, it always feels like a draining experience to process my thoughts and ideas into words. They rarely flow from me as easily as I want them to.
In times of difficulty such as this, I remember the advice of my secondary school GCSE English teacher, saying “you have ambition, Gulistan, but you lack structure.” Her voice still echoes inside my head with a tone of sincerity and compassion.
“How do I improve on this, Miss?” I asked her, as my eyes dazzled with a deep passion to improve myself. “You need to read more,” was her reply.
Ever since I received this advice my view on books took a drastic change. What once seemed like a mundane task became a necessity for me to achieve better results.
Luckily, I found the right books to help me fall in love with the craft. It has been many years now, but I remember reading classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Reading some common examples of great literature made me understand the craft more and led me to fall in love with the way of words.
Words, when crafted right, take a particular hold on you. It’s like the words manifest as a metaphysical person, and it sits you down on a sofa, stares you right in the eyes, and speaks its purpose into your soul. That piece of literature, whether it be written in the 16th century or now, has the ability to make you feel seen in a world where it seems no one ever will.
I had never been one of the brightest students in my classes, but I would be damned if I didn’t hone my ambition into hard work to climb through to the top sets of my subjects.
At the time of my secondary school years, I was unaware that I wanted to pursue writing as a profession. It was a vague interest and I never took it seriously at the time. Inspired by the guidance of this particular teacher, I decided to study English Literature at A-levels when I left for college. However, being in an unfamiliar environment and being taught by teachers who saw you only as a grade, I dropped the subject because I felt that I was not good enough.
After experiencing burnout at college I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. For the following academic year, I decided to go back to my old school’s sixth form. Here is where I would reunite with my budding love for the subject, and most importantly, I would reunite with the English teacher who knew me best.
It has now been roughly 11 years since I heard this piece of advice and I always try my best to adhere to its importance. I am by no means nowhere near the writer I want to be, and even after hearing the advice I still continued to struggle quite a bit with the subject thereon.
The grades I received never reflected the ambition I had for the subject or the vocation, but my teacher’s voice always guided me toward my goal, one step at a time.
As recent as my writing session yesterday, I resorted to her voice when I found myself growing frustrated at not being able to express my idea within my article.
A few hours later that day, I received a text message that swept the earth from under my feet.
I am writing this entry with a heavy heart because yesterday is also the day I heard of her premature passing.
The loss of somebody is never easy to comprehend, especially of someone who has had a deep impact on your life.
As soon as I read the text message about the news from an old school friend, my heart sank. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and my brain refused to associate her name with the teacher I knew. This could not be.
My emotions rose to the surface. I wanted to talk about it with anyone who had at least known her, but I knew I was never going to be able to express my grief as well as I would be able to through writing.
I am utterly devastated that I never expressed my genuine gratitude to her for the effect her words and guidance had on me. And now, I never will be able to.
To be honest, I never truly understood its impact on me until I realised I had been reminding myself of it more consistently in recent years.
I used to fantasise, as I’m sure every aspiring writer does, of the day I can mention her name in an award acceptance speech, or mention her name in the ‘acknowledgements’ of one of my books. This is because I thought I could never face her until I really made something of myself, whatever that may be.
I would see her from time to time since I left school, as I live locally. We would say hello and she would greet me with enthusiasm, curious about what I was doing with my life now. At one point she even went as far as sharing a contact with me to help me in the journalism field. God bless her soul. She must have remembered me as the young passionate girl that showed potential. Dearest Miss, I genuinely hope I can make you proud.
Life is fleeting and so temporary that it makes you question what the point of it all is. After 25 years of experiencing life’s highs and lows, the current way I can summarise it simply is to help one another.
I send my deepest condolences to her family and friends, and to my fellow classmates and alumni who had the greatest honour of being taught by her. She was a woman who dedicated 30 years of her life teaching secondary school English to hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Most importantly, she was a woman who genuinely cared about literature and her students. I believe I am a testament to this.
Most importantly, it was her ability to see the ambition within my writing, at a time where even I couldn’t, that played a pivotal role in my confidence to pursue it.
I believe that those who die never truly leave us, as their essence continues to linger within our memories. I am immensely grateful to have been taught by a teacher who truly cared about me. And with every fibre of my being, if not more than ever, I hope to make her proud.
May you rest in peace, Miss.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” — Jamie Anderson