When The Globe and Mail published my essay last month, I had a memory flood back.
When my family and I moved to Montreal in the summer of 1993, I was going into grade ten. My average in Language Arts was 99%. I had wooed all my junior high teachers likely being a bit of a smooth talker and making sure to get in the right groups. Being fourteen, I bragged to my parents that of course, i knew everything.
But when i visited my new school, Villa Maria in Montreal, my language arts teacher looked concerned. My entrance essay was clearly lacking a cohesive thesis statement. I was wandering writer with no attention to detail. And I had never even read Shakespeare. What were they teaching the poor children on Prince Edward Island? I would need after school tutorials, three hours per week, special tutoring which I attended with two other students. I was given a pile of reading to do, presumably the grade nine curriculum in Quebec, including yes oh yes, Romeo and Juliet and A MidSummer Night’s Dream, apparently some pre-trial grooming as MacBeth was right around the corner.
I was quite deflated. My best subject was now – my worst. The English teacher passed me off to a student teacher, who was brilliant in English grammar and construction, teaching me structure and transition phrasing and how to focus on the topic at hand. But for all this knowledge, she lacked in professional attire and wandered the halls barefoot with her coffee. We called her, “Guatemalan Sherri,” although I don’t think any of us had ever been to Guatemala. Her long skirts and wooden beads made up the difference. Her head of curls fell long and loose compared to our regular teacher’s tight bun, tucked grey behind her pins.
First semester flew by and it was finally time to test my knowledge. I handed in my first essay, which was probably something to do with “Why MTV is Better Than Homework”, or likely some sort of cheeky thesis that I felt was easy to prove. My thesis still wandered, including a few various ways I’d considered to end homelessness in the final paragraph.
Guatemalan Sherri was not impressed. All her time spent teaching me proper paragraph structure and I had passed most of my essay time away, watching the boys go by in Westmount Park and drinking bubble tea. She handed it back, and refused to mark it.
When I stayed after school to argue with her, something happened that I didn’t see coming. “You’re a talented writer, Maureen Duffy!” she argued back at me. “You have something real. I’m just waiting to open The Globe and Mail and see your full page article there. So THAT’S WHY I’m not accepting this essay, and THAT’S WHY you’re re-doing it for a better mark. Because YOU CAN.”
So wherever you are, Guatemalan Sherri, this one’s for you. It only took me twenty-five years to get here.
If you’re interested in reading the article, please visit:
“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don't. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.” -Rumi
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