To The Man Who Said I Could Write
I wish I still had it. I might, actually, or at least I hope I do. I really hope I have it. The essay. The one he wrote feedback on. The one he gave an A+. Was it on The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick? I don't recall. But his words stuck. They always stuck. "You're apologizing too much." He had written. I could practically hear him bellow the words in front of the class as I read them. They hit close to home-still do. I remember resolving to write with more conviction before continuing to scan the paper for more of his comments.
Nothing. Blank. Empty...Oh! He wrote something at the end.
"Carlos, you have a flair for diction and a firm grasp of the rhythm of the language. Continue to hone these skills and I have no doubt that you will go far."
Not a single other teacher had told me anything about my writing before.
Now, I don't know if he had left a note like that for anyone else, I don't see why he wouldn't have, there were plenty of excellent writers in my class, but it had meant so very much to me. After years of feeling inadequate, and overlooked, here was this legend of a language arts teacher telling me I was good at something we both cared about.
It felt good. There was nothing quite as satisfying as the moment someone asked me "How'd you do on your essay for Philips?" and I shrugged before nonchalantly saying "A+" before going back to pretending not to care about my classes again.
Truth be told, I phoned it in with most of my teachers. Nothing against any of them, but I simply was not interested in what they had to say. I knew most of the material they were teaching anyhow- the results of a prodigious memory and an excellent private education. So much of my high school experience had felt like a review that I likened education to simply being a matter of jumping through hoops to make teachers happy. (which wasn't that far off given the drill and kill mentality of the day). In either case, I refused to jump through those hoops. I passed or failed classes based solely on whether or not the teacher held homework in high regard. But while I was given a grade in those classes, I earned my grade from him. With one exception, there was no other teacher on the entirety of the campus that could get me to put in the work the way he could. He had my attention for the entirety of his class and after. I would read the books he assigned during other periods. I would memorize whole sheets of vocab to be ready when he called on me. I wanted to be seen as the best in his class, and I was always eager to be called on- eager to prove myself.
And I did. There was a moment when after I had finished explaining to the class what the proverbial floodgates were that he exclaimed: "Now that has to be one of the most excellent responses to that question I have ever heard." From then on I was the "number one bible scholar". Such a silly thing to be proud of, but I couldn't help it.
My respect for him only increased once he became my academic decathlon coach. I think I bragged about being on the team more than anything else. We all did. And if you had asked us why we were all there every day, taking on an additional ten subjects of study, we probably would have said because it was a good extra curricular. But the truth is that many of us did it for him. We all just wanted to be around the larger than life intellectual who pushed us, demanded more from us, and made us want to be better. . .
I wish I'd gotten somewhere with my writing. At least somewhere where I could have said "Hey, you were right! But, I never would have considered it if you hadn't have said anything."
I wish I could have told him, just how much his class, his jokes, his admonishments had all mattered.
I wish I'd had the wisdom and the foresight to reach out as an adult and thank him.
But, I didn't.
So this is for you Mr. Philips. Thanks for seeing something more in me than just an unmotivated millennial with a bad attitude. Thanks for teaching me what it means to be a hero. Thanks for applying the pressure we all needed to become diamonds. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You will be missed.