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Monday, 28 January 2008

I Never Got to Show Her

By David Wolfe of Ageless Marketing

I was not a very good scholar in high school. I tried hard to be because I loved learning, but for reasons I didn’t understand then, I had to agree with my parents and my teachers: I had a “character problem.” Out of a graduating class of 311, I was about 15th from the bottom. My problem now has a different name: Attention Deficit Disorder. My “character problem” went to college with me, and I finally dropped out after my second semester, never to return.

One day my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Mohler, assigned the task of writing an essay on the most important day of our life. I chose the day I was born. On the day the assignment was to be turned in, she angrily told the class that except for five boys, only the girls had completed the task. The she turned and looked at me and said, ”One of the five boys not only broke the rules about ink color and wrote his in red, he copied it. I know that because the paper is not only above his level of capability, it is college level work.”

After class I went to her and told her how she had embarrassed me, and protested that I had written the paper on my own. I also told her that to me, the most important day of my life has to be the day I was born.

To prove that I was capable of writing such a piece, I offered to come in after school and in her presence write on any subject of her choosing. She agreed.

When I showed up after school that day, Mrs. Mohler said something had come up and she couldn't see me. We agreed on a new date for a test of my honesty. Again, I reported to her after school, but once again she said she couldn't see me. After one more attempt to prove both my honesty and writing competence, which she aborted, I told her that I would was through trying to prove my integrity. I suggested she call my parents for verification.

That she did. That very night. Mother took the call on the phone in her bedroom, where I was with her. Dad took it in the dining room on the only other phone in the house. In no time, Mother sided with me and my father with Mrs. Mohler. His view in life was, right or wrong you don’t question authority.

For the first time in my life I saw my parents in a fight. They were of the old school: you never argue in front of your children. It weakens your authority. That night, there it was - happening before my very eyes and ears. Never before that evening or afterwards had I ever seen such a thing happen in the household of my childhood.

I suddenly grabbed the phone from mother and told Mrs. Mohler that I was never coming to her class ever again. She said I had no choice but to come. No student had such power as to change English teachers. For the school to do so would be to admit the teacher was a problem, she said. “Then I’m dropping out of school and joining the Navy,” I screamed. Why the Navy? To this day I don’t know. “Navy” just came into my head.

The next morning, I went to Mr. Pyles’ office to request a transfer out of Mrs. Mohler’s class. To my utter surprise, my father was there. In all my years in school he had never come to my school for any reason.

My insistence rewarded me. I was transferred to Mrs. Graney's English class. I vowed that some day that Mrs. Mohler would learn of my writing genius. But she never did.

While I’ve concluded that I'm not a writing genius, I’ve become pretty good at explicating abstract ideas. I’ve written or co-authored a handful of books including Firms of Endearment, which was released a year ago in February. It is headed for its fourth reprinting and is out or due out in seven foreign editions. The Korean translation was just released.

Firms of Endearment made a number of "Best Business Books of 2007" lists. But alas, Mrs. Mohler has long since departed to the Great English Class in the sky where I can’t send a signed copy.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Good for you! And good for your mom. Sometimes you just have to challenge "authority". Wherever that English teacher is today, I hope she knows she was wrong.

I've been sitting here, looking for the right words to say how touched I was by your story. Your words were so straight forward. She didn't believe me and I was never able to prove the truth to her. Teachers can carry such power. I was a high school teacher who bent over backwards to be the antithesis of Mrs. Mohler. Still, a student once stopped by my house and said with awe "I'm in a teacher's living room".

I applaud your efforts on your own behalf: offering to write in front of her, suggesting she call your mother, refusing to return to her class, and asking for a transfer. All were acts of integrity in the face of ignorance. Bravo.

If you still have that essay regarding your birth, I would love to read it. Maybe you could post to your blog or Elder Storytellers Place or just send me a copy.

I so enjoyed your story. I, too, had an English teacher question my writing when I was a junior in high school. Like you, I also loved learning, but after that experience I could hardly wait to get out of school and begin to live "my real life." The only thing that saved me was the "other kind" of teacher I had known in seventh and eighth grade, who did encourage me, even pulling me out of physical education (which I hated!) so that I could co-write an operetta with her for a school performance. I, like you, wish Mrs. Guthrie could know how much I appreciated her.

I am glad to know that you got your transfer. I had an English teacher in college whom I would have loved to see some of my blog posts, but alas, he is gone as well.


Don't beat yourself up over Mrs. Mohler. She wasn't a teacher because she was never willing or able to help you learn. And, I can only hope that in an ironic twist of fate, when she applies for her place to the 'Great English Teacher in the Sky,' she's having to wait over and over to prove herself entrance to go beyond the pearly gates :)

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