A Letter to My English Teacher
This is a letter I wrote to my high school English teacher. After I was accepted to Princeton, my English teacher called me an arrogant asshole in front of the whole class. I was upset about the whole thing, and I wrote her a long letter explaining my perspective on the situation. This letter was one of the many things that I found when I unpacked my entire youth.
I found this letter fascinating. It reveals insight into how I perceived my childhood struggle, my identity, and my relationship with others during that period.
You may think my thoughts and actions are arrogant and haughty, but you must understand where I’m coming from if you are going to judge me in that way. I come from a bad home life and have therefore worked very hard to be where I am today.
I did not have parental guidance: all my mom could give me was her love and care. For me, this was much more important than material goods or commands to do well in school. For whatever reason, I am naturally driven. I have always strived to do my best and this has been instrumental in forming the persona I have that you seem to disapprove of.
I am much more open-minded than you chose to believe and you base your judgments off of my non conformed nature. I’m assuming. I also understand that you have a slight bias. Most of the “smart kids” (by this I mean those ranked high in the class) you have had before were most likely not like me in personality. Many of them also came from privileged backgrounds I’m sure and were taught to make sure they secured an “A” in the class.
I, however, have essentially raised myself. I take a lot of pride in this and as a result, I have no problem sharing my opinion on any subject. When I share my opinions, I simply attempt to say what I mean with confidence because it is generally the essence of what I truly mean. Because of this, I don’t “sugarcoat” things or make them what they aren’t. And to you, the sounds coming out of my mouth may seem crass and arrogant.
I fully understand how you could perceive them this way because most of the other “smart” kids you have taught most likely censored what they meant when they talked or simply didn’t take a stand on an issue.
I would also like to say that “arrogance” is not necessarily a bad thing if you understand it as simply having confidence in your abilities and expressing yourself in the truest sense. It’s not as if I walk around thinking, “I’m the best. I’m the smartest. No one else compares.” I simply have confidence in myself to accomplish whatever I want to accomplish.
To you, this perception needs “tweaking.” To me, it’s just fine. Furthermore, I want you to understand that I know I didn’t get into good colleges because I’m that much smarter than everyone else. I got in because of many other things. I fully recognize that there are people of higher intellect than me, including people at Lake Mary. I expect to go to Princeton and find people that are better than me in some areas, but I look at this as a positive thing.
Something I can take advantage of and learn from. I also recognize that I have unique abilities that I can share with these “geniuses” as you all them. I have a background full of experience at the lower levels of the economic plane. If I did not have a slightly “strong” persona and confidence, I would get nowhere because as of now, I am a nobody without the financial resources to accomplish my dreams or have a large influence.
This simple fact, along with all the people that told me I wasn’t good enough to get into a good school, or I wasn’t smart enough, leads to my need for a strong personality to survive in a cruel world. I have made it through all of these people telling me that “I can do this or that” because I have believed in myself and my abilities. With that being said, I’m not on this Earth to please other people or acquiesce to their “accepted” personas of society.
If that were the case, no progress would ever be made. Before reading on, I want you to think of a common link between Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Gandhi….yes you’re right, they were all assassinated. But why were these men that we call respective and great figures murdered? The answer is simple: There were people who did not like them.
I understand this concept that not everyone is going to like me (by no means am I comparing myself to any of these men). So I’m not going to go around saying malicious things and rationalizing that, but I am also not going to fret too much if I am faced with people who don’t like me. Whether it be because of my personality, my opinions, or for some other reason, it is not my responsibility to please everyone.
I think that as liberal as you are, you should open your mind to the idea that not everyone will get along have perfect relations. If you wanted to change the way MLK thought, he would have laughed at you the way he laughed at all the whites telling him that he was way out of line. He simply didn’t follow “proper” societal customs and because of his resilience to the opposition, great progress toward equality ensued.
So when you start thinking that my persona is not favorable toward what you believe, remember that you are a different person than me and that we don’t have to agree if you think I’m the one at fault. But also remember that you trying to instill in me what you believe, thinking that it is more appropriate, is just as much “arrogance” as me stating my opinion because, in reality, neither one of us is right or wrong since these concepts are human conventions.
In all honesty, I felt what you did in class was both inappropriate and unprofessional. If you wanted to express your opinion to me, it should have been done in a one-on-one arena. But, being an open-minded person on some levels, I wanted to see where you were coming from and will not blame you for lashing out as you did.
You were simply expressing your opinion on the matter and I’m sure had nothing but good intentions. But as you said and many others have said, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” I want you to understand that I’m not trying to cause conflict with this letter or even trying to cause resolution. I am purely expressing my thoughts about the situation.
You clearly take great pride in helping your students, but always remember that your students can also help you. The great conclusion we can draw from this is that we are both right, both wrong, and both just humans trying to relay our thoughts to each other through human interactions. I appreciate you trying to help me, but I am me and that’s who I am.
I hope that through this letter you better understand where I’m coming from. I also hope you realize that I have confided personal thoughts in this and would like to keep it between you and me only. As you know, situations sometimes work out for the better and sometimes don’t work out at all. It’s hard to say how this will turn out, but I am here to try and listen to you if you feel compelled to share your opinions with me and want to reconcile our slightly strained relationship.
I found her response to this letter on a sticky note in a journal of poetry that I gave her:
“After reading your thoughts and your poetry, I know you will achieve all you hope for in life. Maybe someday you will see that. I wish you the very best.”
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