It has been eight long years since I said goodbye to secondary school and left for university. High school is an era of my life that I rarely give much thought to, mainly because it was plagued by so much difficulty. Like many teenagers, I found navigating school life harder than I could admit at the time. It was a place of insincerity. Internally I would be miserable, anxious and depressed, brimming with self loathing and resentment. Externally I would be attempting to maintain a façade of normality amongst my peers whom I felt couldn’t possibly understand my internal distress, and feeling increasingly isolated from all those who appeared emotionally “normal” as a result.
My only refuge was in a ground floor classroom of the Humanities department. Unlike most other classrooms, which seemed to emit an aura of indifference to the educational attainment and emotional wellbeing of its pupils, these four walls were plastered with achievement awards, examples of high attaining work, fun acronyms that made complex theories memorable, historical figures and social prompts. It was time for Sociology with a teacher with whom to this day, I maintain a cherished friendship with.
In her classroom, we were given a platform to debate society’s wrongs, understand the structures which have shaped our realities, and have our voices heard and respected.
This teacher was the first person to introduce me to the subject. In Sociology I instantly found belonging. It’s a subject which gave me the tools and frameworks to contextualise the issues I felt only I was interested in; issues I felt as a young, mixed-race, working class girl with mental health issues, whom by the time I was taking my GCSEs was deeply, soul-crushingly weighed down by an awareness of the injustices in the world.
My innocence had been stolen from me too soon. In her classroom – a haven inside an academised school within a disadvantaged catchment area – we were given a platform to debate society’s wrongs, understand the structures which have shaped our realities, have our voices heard and respected, and feel empowered in our abilities to positively instate the changes we wanted to see in the world.
The four years I spent in this classroom laid the foundations for my further education (a BSc in Sociology, and a MSc in International Development and GBV), my career (as a Domestic Abuse Specialist and Freelance Journalist) and my passion for anti-racism, gender equality and animal rights activism, which are now inseparable to my identity.
I first mastered the art of critical thinking in these lessons. It is the personal trait I value most in myself, and in others: the ability to see beyond the scope of your own reality and consider the needs of others.
As an intersectional feminist, I first mastered the art of critical thinking in these lessons. Even on days when I can’t see past my myriad of imagined and overestimated flaws, critical thinking sits amongst the few features which I am endlessly proud of. It is the personal trait I value most in myself, and in others: the ability to see beyond the scope of your own reality and consider the needs of others, to analyse, argue and counter argue a point, see all perspectives and come to resolutions that are inclusive and representative.
For these reasons, unbeknownst to this teacher, I equate her contribution to my sense of self and identity as impactful to that of my mum, the person who single handedly raised me, and loves me unconditionally. Whilst my mum is responsible for my compassion, empathy and drive to do help others, this teacher gave me the confidence, skills and opportunities to facilitate this.
Very few people impact your sense of self in such a meaningful and transformative way, and this meant that maintaining a relationship with this teacher after I left school was essential.
The lens in which I view the world and my role in it has been carefully crafted using a blueprint provided by this teacher. This has not only equipped me with a vital skill professionally, but has also been a life saving tool personally. As an adolescent, having the ability to understand my own experiences, thoughts and feelings against wider social influences was a gift.
Very few people impact your sense of self in such a meaningful and transformative way, and this meant that maintaining a relationship with this teacher after I left school was essential; doing so was so effortlessly authentic. More than an ex-teacher, she is now a friend. During my time at Uni, we would reconnect when I returned home over the Christmas break.
Over a latte and a green tea we check in with each other, catch up on the comings and goings of our lives, and ruminate over the problems of the world.
As upgraded from student to questionable adult status, and moved closer to my hometown, our meetings became more frequent, almost quarterly. The café of our local garden centre is our regular jaunt. Over a latte and a green tea we check in with each other, catch up on the comings and goings of our lives, and ruminate over the problems of the world, always using the sociological language I am comfortable amongst. It’s an activity I anticipate; I am more in touch with this teacher than most family members, and during lockdown, this reunion was one I looked forward to the most.
Whilst I can appreciate the rarity and beauty of this friendship, in order to adequately reflect her greatness I must note that I’m certainly not the only pupil who held this teacher to such high esteem. Whilst many of the teachers at our school were had unmemorable and unimpactful qualities, this teacher was respected and adored by all those she taught – so much so that all her students across year groups put aside their hierarchical differences to nominate her for a National Teacher of The Year award, and if I do remember correctly she won!
She had a refined quality for making students, including those who may not have held much respect for the institution of education, feel valued, seen and heard. The mutual respect within her classroom was one that made us flourish. To this day, she is the only teacher we reminisce about without any condemnation. Her contribution to the students in that school is its greatest legacy, and her contribution to my life is something I’m eternally grateful for.
Evie is a staff writer at Aurelia, as well as a sociologist, domestic abuse specialist and intersectional feminist. @xeviemuir