“The best books...are those that tell you what you know already.”
― George Orwell, 1984
When I reflect on the people who’ve inspired, influenced and helped shaped me to be the person I am today, it’s almost like a collection of invisible tattoos.
Each person leaving their mark. Each mark a reminder of a time and a place that can sometimes feel like a lifetime ago. Yet, each mark is just as important as the last.
Although, just like tattoos, some people really stand-out.
Mrs. French was one such person. She was a high school English teacher who inspired and encouraged her students to be their best. But her life was cut-short when she tragically died in an accident and so, her mark burns even brighter.
During my time in high school I wasn’t much of an academic. I wasn’t much of anything - to be honest! I wasn’t sporty...I wasn’t a science geek...I wasn’t proficient at learning languages...and generally, I really couldn’t be bothered.
I was the kind of young person whose lack of interest was symptomatic of misdirection and misunderstanding. Quite simply, if I wasn’t interested I wouldn’t flourish and so I’d often be somewhere on the scale of ‘class clown’ to ‘fully asleep’.
The few subjects which I did throw myself into were within the arts: art and design, drama and creative writing. Through these creative pursuits, I managed to distract myself from the boredom of an adolescence growing-up in the Scottish countryside.
When it came to my studies, I really didn’t pride myself in the process. Because of this most teachers wrote me off as an arty-weirdo-emo kid - which was rather apt TBH. 🤷♂️
The thing with being written-off by teachers is that you end up not even trying. It becomes a vicious cycle where you get moved down a skill class and are then surrounded by more students who also don’t apply themselves and before you know it, you’re in stuck.
As I was passionate about writing, I decided that I wanted to do Higher English. No! I was determined that I was going to do it.
At the time, I hadn’t been diagnosed with dyslexia yet - it wouldn’t be until my 2nd year of University that all would become clear on that front! Somehow I’d managed to struggle my way through standard grade English to achieve a grade 3. That’s like the equivalent of a grade C. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I scraped by with that mark based on the strength of my creative writing and critical analysis alone! Either way, it looked unlikely that I’d be allowed to do Higher English as most likely, I’d fail.
This is something that was outlined to me by the head of the English department at the time. She was quite right as well! At the end of the day, I needed to be realistic about my skill level and she had a duty to ensure her department met targets.
“I'd like to see you move up to the goat class, where I think you belong.”
― Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
However, I knew that if I was going to go on and study what I loved at university I really needed it. I needed Higher English! At the time, I had a few English classes with Mrs. French who had been complimentary and encouraging about my creative writing. I knew she had seen some of my better work and so I decided to have a chat with her about the situation.
To cut a long story short, I gave her some impassioned monologue about creative writing and how English was one of my favourite subjects and how I was frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to do Higher English. She agreed that my creative writing alone was strong enough and decided she’d speak to the department head on my behalf.
Due to Mrs. French fighting my corner I not only went on to study Higher English, I also completed it and obtained an A grade!
I really have Mrs. French to thank for that achievement! If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t even had the opportunity to study Higher English in the first place! Also, her wisdom and guidance meant that I didn’t just scrape by. It meant that I flourished!
She even encouraged me to follow my science fiction passions by writing a textural analysis on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984. In high school!?! Studying writers, perspectives and subject matters that fascinated me and still do today!
In December 2002, Mrs. French and her husband went hill walking in the Scottish Highlands when tragedy struck. A grassy ledge collapsed beneath her feet and Mrs. French fell 50ft to her death.
When the news broke of her tragic death, it hit our school hard. Mrs. French had enabled so many young people within our school community and had granted them so many educational opportunities.
Our school held a memorial service with the French family and it was truly heart-breaking - especially as her teenage son was also a student at the high school. He joined with the hundreds of other teenagers who mourned the passing of a truly remarkable woman.
Mrs. French left a mark that I’ll always be thankful for! She was a positive role-model who inspired young people to be their best. She encouraged them to be analytical of the world around them and keep their eyes focused on their passions.
I can only hope to be one-tenth the positive influence she was! In fact, now that I think about it, I wonder if her positive influence is one of the factors that lead to me getting involved with youth work. 🤔 😅 Huh!
Rest in peace Mrs. French!
You truly were a remarkable woman; truly.
“I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
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