Dear Miss, my High School Teacher.
Thank you for seeing me.
Years too late, these words come together to help me express myself in a way I thought I would never feel strong enough to. You called yourself just a teacher, as if you were nothing more than another leaf falling from a tree in Autumn. You stood in front of the class as if it were your calling in life- treating each student as a precious and beautiful example of what a dedicated teacher can do to shape a young life. I stand here today as an example of your dedication to your profession and to each student, your touch on my life forever entwined into my personality, my spirit and the ever-changing person I am.
I was only thirteen when you stood at the front of my Maths class and introduced yourself. I still remember the feeling of shame rolling down my body like a drip of water down a glass as I realised that you were another teacher that would inevitably give up on me. I had experienced had teachers mock me in front of the students, I had been sent out of class for trying to ask a question one too many times. I had been left faithless in teachers, with no reason to believe that you would be any different. Lessons began and the weeks rolled by, I fell into my routine of pretending to have understood my work, long having given up asking questions. The quizzes each week I would never get more than two questions right, and letters were frequently sent home to my parents for a failing grade and exams looming that it was obvious I could not dream of passing.
The first day of the rest of my life began two weeks before mid-year exams. I was the last to leave class as I was the last to finish my quiz for the week. I dropped it off at your desk and you stopped me from leaving, you wanted to talk. See, unlike teachers from my other subjects you had noticed I had not smiled for quite some time. You noticed that I would wear my hair down over my face and avoid talking to absolutely anyone. For the first time, someone sat me down, asked me to look me in their eyes and asked me if I was safe.
See, for the first time, someone cared enough about an individual student to look closely enough to see that my hair was unwashed and often knotted. You saw the deep bruising on my face beneath my hair. You saw my skin, pale and dry, and my wrists that regrettably were now littered with self-harm marks, usually tucked away under my desk or folded in front of me, hiding my deep shame.
You saw me.
The bell rang to end school that day, but you saw me needing someone to talk to, so you sat in your classroom on the floor next to me so I could talk to you. You saw a girl who was injuring herself and refusing to take care of herself. That afternoon, you found out that numbers didn’t look right to me- they moved carelessly between one another like a bumblebee through flowers. I had stared at my textbooks over the years for hours on end and nothing could ever make sense, nothing was ever enough to help me understand why they were constantly changing for me. You listened as I told you the things people called me behind my back, and even straight to my face. You held my hand as I cried talking to you about how I wanted to be a teacher one day, but I still struggled with even the basic multiplication tables. I even saw tears in your eyes as I told you how I was not worth being alive. I’d had teachers tell me that if I didn’t ‘get my act together’ that I wouldn’t survive life after high school, and I couldn’t dream of getting into University. You asked who told me that, but I was scared I was going to get in trouble for telling you.
You saw me.
It was a process after this. Alerting the principal, my parents, and my other teachers. You were there every single step and helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. You worked with me over the next few weeks, volunteering to privately tutor me during lunch and after school, and you came to a realisation, which was later confirmed with a diagnosis you recommended my parents pursue.
You saw that I am severely dyslexic.
More specially, I have Dyscalculia- Dyslexia that results impairs ability to understand, read and learn number-based problems and concepts. You researched this and found out that using shapes is a positive way to counteract the inability to understand numbers, so you taught yourself a new way to teach algebra, and multiplication, and all the things I had been previously unable to handle. You didn’t just do that for that year, you did that until I left school and was able to apply shapes to things myself. You taught me how to teach myself. Isn’t it amazing how one person noticing can change someone’s whole world? For the first I was able to feel like I wasn’t everything the other students and teachers had told me I was. I was given a chance to find my potential and succeed, instead of failing without even knowing why, or how to stop it.
You are the most incredible woman I have encountered in my life. You are incredible because you could have stood at the front of the class and given me equal treatment to all the other students you had before you, however you don’t look at a group of faces. You look at individual students; individual humans that have their own problems and don’t all learn the same or have the same requirements or advantages as everyone else.
So, thank-you, Miss. Thank you for seeing me when I couldn’t even see myself through the cloud of self-doubt, self-hatred and failure that hovered around my eyes. You spurred me to keep trying when I was ready to give up on life. You are a force of life that has driven me throughout the years since last meeting you. Academically speaking, you gave me the strength and knowledge to allow me to pursue applying and attending University. Emotionally speaking, you did more for me than I could ever be able to thank you for. You gave me the courage to be able to seek help when I need it, and to keep pushing on to find someone that can help me instead of giving up. You are the reason that after a life of feeling alienated and different to my peers, I stood up, pursued and was diagnosed with mid spectrum autism as a twenty-three-year-old female. It’s terrifying, and confronting, but you taught me that things like Dyslexia and Autism aren’t things that hold us back- they are just a different way to approach succeeding. You are the embodiment of empathy, compassion and understanding as a human being, and I am so incredibly thankful that I had you in my life even for a brief period. One day, I may be able to send this to you and tell you truly how much you changed my life and continue to do so to this day.
Thank you for seeing me.