A Tale of Two Teachers by Sydney Salter

Mrs. Muth was long beyond retirement age when I first took her senior-level Great Novels class as a junior at Reno High. Other than Moby Dick, I can't remember what we read, but I remember the feeling of those lovely afternoons listening to Mrs. Muth speak about writing--and life. I took her classes again as a senior. Oh, how I loved her. Some of my friends found her old and forgetful, but a misplaced name here and there or a repeated anecdote never bothered me. Mrs. Muth pushed me to be a better writer, but mostly she believed that I could BE a writer. And she actually told me that! No one had ever voiced my deepest, most secret dream to me before.

Tardiness and spelling continued to be an issue for a few more years...

At the same time, I took junior-level Honor's English from another teacher. WOW! That woman did not like me. One day she slapped down my well-written paper and said in a snide, awful voice, "Wonder Woman strikes again!" BAM! That comment continues to sting and hurt--I can still hear the exact intonation of her voice today. A few years ago, I bought myself a necklace repurposed from an old Wonder Woman lunchbox in an attempt to claim that wrenching experience for myself--and hopefully, exorcise the pain of that moment from my mind.

I didn't understand why a teacher would root AGAINST me. I now have a better inclination about why… *saves plot for future novel* But what matters more than the actual truth is the story we tell ourselves. I told myself that this teacher resented the fact that I succeeded in a more advanced class--that she thought I was overstepping my bounds and wanted to punish me. I learned to fight for my dreams, no matter what other people do or say to discourage or hurt me. I don't need to believe in other people's limits for me.

I'm almost as grateful for that mean teacher as I am for Mrs. Muth. Both taught me lessons vital to my writing life today. Also, I never stress about my daughters' teachers. I know that they'll learn just as much about life from the bad ones as they do from the good ones.


  1. "I don't need to believe in other people's limits for me."--This just went off in me like a gong. Such a powerful statement. And so true.

  2. It's amazing how we can carry the memories of both compliments and cruelty around for years.I love how you tried to reframe the memory with the necklace.



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