I remember when I was in eighth grade and the student teacher in my English class handed me back my short story. “I have heard the story of La Llorona, too, Helena,” she beamed.
“Great job!” She patted me.
My eyes lit up as I spotted the red “A-plus” written on my paper. I almost never got As. I don’t remember the student teacher’s name. I don’t even remember my regular English teacher’s name that year. I just know that I never liked English class … until that day.
Overall, however, eighth grade was a trying school year for me. I got my first boyfriend and my first kiss that year. I also got my first F. I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I did have a healthy fear of teachers, parents and the sting of Mr. Hopper’s wooden paddle.
Only a few months before that, I was sitting in a desk after school in my math class, twiddling my thumbs and trying not to catch Mom’s disappointed look as Mrs. Hunt showed her my bad grades. “I just don’t understand,” Mrs. Hunt said. “She is making simple mistakes. A lot of them, and yet by these other problems she did, I can see that she knows how to do fractions.”
They both agreed that I was being careless and needed to spend more time double-checking my work.
I decided it just wasn’t worth it anymore to play dumb. I just wanted to be in the same remedial math class with one of my best friends. A lot of my friends were in that class.
Of course, I could also try and be in advanced math with my other friend, too. As I moved up in grades, math was starting to get a little lonely.
English had especially been lonely that year. That was the first time I was actually put in an upper-level academic class. I didn’t talk to anyone in my advanced English class. But with that nice student teacher, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel as lonely anymore, even when some of my friends were not present at the end of the school year awards program when I got a second place ribbon for my short story.
When I got to high school, I did some stupid things my freshman year, including smoking things that are only legal in Colorado and skipping school. I was trying to fit in with the out crowd.
But during my sophomore year, I remembered that “La Llorona” story I wrote and got a ribbon for. I remembered reading Rudolfo Anaya’s novel, “Bless Me, Ultima,” two summers before that and deciding I could write “Chicano literature” too.
Near the end of my sophomore year, I went to my high school counselor and told her I wanted to write for our school newspaper. I didn’t have the required 3.0 grade point average, but Mrs. Brown let me in on a probationary basis.
That semester, I made the B honor roll for the first time in my life and I decided to become a journalist. My DECA teacher, Mr. Abbott, helped me fill out my college application my senior year.
Now I am a teacher and I am writing this column on Oct. 5, which is World Teacher’s Day. I am also a veteran journalist; journalism being my first passion; teaching, my new one.
And I am trying to tap into some of that motivational magic these teachers inspired in me. There is enough to go around.
Helena Rodriguez is a Portales native. Contact her at: Helena-Rodriguez@hotmail.com