Teacher-to-Student Pessimism

Reputations and ambitions.

July 14, 2015

Here’s the thing about applying to college: everyone expects you to do so. Moms, dads, teachers, society.

And here’s the catch: if you’re anything short of a white male, the mere mention of a prestigious institution makes the other guy frown. It’s the type of frown that’s meant to be one of empathy as they imagine the disappointment that’ll come with the rejection letter you receive from Yale or Amherst. This type of frown I know all too well.

During the remnants of Junior year, the school’s advisors asked every student what college they’d be applying to in the fall. I only got the two letters of N.Y.U. out of my mouth before my advisor scowled and said “Are you sure? What’s your SAT score?” In my mind, I’d been wondering why she didn’t question Alex when he’d mentioned Oxford, but I held my ground.

I never did apply to N.Y.U., and I tell myself I didn’t because the word count requirement for their supplement essay was way too short. Attempting to fit myself into 100 words was torture! But I always have what my advisor had said in mind. I mean, my SAT score was only points away from being N.Y.U. worthy, but her discouragement managed to leak into my confidence and remove my chance to pursue the life of a New York student (not that I’m totally bitter about how everything turned out; I am going to college in Boston). But I wonder about the thousands of seniors out there who are being told they’re not good enough by teachers, the ones disadvantaged by teachers who are supposed to encourage youth to chase their dreams.

For me, teacher-to-student pessimism began as early as my sophomore year. My English teacher was an indie author, which interested me since my soul thrived on writing stories and poetry. I figured -- as a bright-eyed kid -- he’d be interested in becoming the aspiring-young-writer’s unlikely mentor who’d eventually fall into the category of friendship over time. Wrong. Whenever I’d ask for him to look over my creative work he’d say “okay” but never take a glance at it. I remember giving him three weeks since I know how busy English teachers could get. Then a month passed by, then two… and now I’m on my way to college and this dude still hasn’t even read the first sentence of my excerpt.

I believe that when a teacher comes across a rare breed of student, a student who advocates their passions and ambitions, the teacher should continue encouraging the student. That student could be the next Mandela, the next Zuckerberg, the next Twain! Teenagers are sensitive to positive energy, so it’s easy to nourish their dreams. But they’re also sensitive to negative energy, and it’s easy to destroy their dreams too.

Come senior year, the angst of applying to college is fresh. It’s the time of year when guidance counselors are pretending to be interested in which schools their students are applying to. I’m in the guidance office among a small group of classmates and everyone’s recalling the list of schools they’d selected on the CommonApp. Everything’s peachy until I say the words “Emerson College… Wesleyan University… Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts… University of Maine at Farmington”. All goes cold as one frown sucks the life out of the entire room.

“And your safety schools?” asked my guidance counselor, face practically made of worry.

I don’t remember her asking that when the names “Penn State” and “Georgetown” were said by Olivia and Josh.

Even post-graduation, things are tense. Distant family members will ask what I plan to do now that I’m out of high school. “I’m going to college in Boston,” I’d say.

“You’re going to college!?” They’d gape, startled.

I don’t know what else they’d expect. I’ve always been the weird, geeky oddball in the family who took Barnes & Noble over shopping malls any day.

When you’re someone like me -- a person who apparently looks like she doesn’t have goals, a person who others question -- it’s probably common you find yourself wondering how the drive to succeed hasn’t run out of gas. After all the bumps in the road, and the twists and turns, you’d think “it’s a wonder how I haven’t crashed yet”. But when your dreams live in your heart, instead of solely in your head, you’re able to get past the fog of discouragement and the hail of dubiousness, the path is clear and you can keep moving toward the horizon because success is boundless and we are all bound for greatness.


Dymin Ellis is a graduate of Career High School in New Haven, CT. She enjoys open mic nights, where she performs spoken word poetry, and spending time in local art galleries. Dymin aspires to become a YA Fantasy novelist and use her success to inspire other young authors to pursue their dreams as well.


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