My First Real Teacher This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 26, 2013
I was fifteen when I encountered my first real teacher. I didn't know it at the time, in fact, I thought I hated her.

The first assignment for English was too easy. She asked our class to write a piece about an influential, person, place or memory. I chose to write about my lake house, a topic I had already written about and received a lot of praise for. Simply put, it was the place that my parents met and fell in love. Our memories there are eternally frozen in happiness. This teacher knew about my original piece and she was not happy to see me beating my lake house to death, there's only so much imagery one can use.

Our entire school year together went this way, pushing and pulling, always dissatisfied with one another. In June, when the school came to a end, I knew that she had written some of her favored students' letters, thank ing them for participating in her class, wishing them luck and giving them praise. I did not receive a letter.

I ended my sophomore year on good terms with my other instructors, but never found common ground with Mrs. Geurin. Throughout the first semester of junior year, we would pass in the hall, barely looking up from our feet, never uttering a word to each other, distracted by more important things.

It was not until February that we spoke at the most unusual of places, my father's wake. At first, I was angry that she had the audacity to show up. Did she even care? She didn't even know him! I stood, surrounded by good company, watching her kneel by my father's casket, completely baffled. She wandered around the room, looking at pictures and flowers, as if visiting wakes were her pastime. It was not until she approached me that I realized she was crying even harder than I was. She took her time reaching me, in slow motion strides, probably feeling as uncomfortable as me. When she reached me, she looked me right in the eye and pulled me into a suffocating embrace,. “Kali” she said, “I am so, so sorry. My own father passed away just three weeks ago, and I, I just, I completely feel your pain.” I was dumbfounded. I had realized that she had lost her father, but I didn't see the connection between us just yet. She had rejected me in my most vulnerable form, my writing. That was not something that I was willing to so easily forgive.

A couple of weeks later, she slipped into my study hall as I was doing a mindless homework assignment, reality had not yet set in entirely. She walked toward me, hand outstretched with an envelope. She gave me a knowing nod, placed it onto my desk. I tore it open and read the first of many letters from a woman I have come to know as Diane. She told me that her father, also had cancer, also passed away in just six months and had been her best friend too.

It was not just this letter, but this act of ­kindness that taught me my greatest life lesson. People sometimes lose touch with what it means to be human. Egos and ideas may conflict with one another, but once the emotional barrier we so carefully craft is broken, we become more than just facade, pretense, impressions; we become human.

I wouldn't have said that Diane Geurin was a compassionate human being if you had asked me two years ago, but I wouldn't have been able to ­consider myself one either. Losing has taught us both how to appreciate life.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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