I had Mr. Olpin for 9th grade English in junior high, and I was one of his best students. It was in his class that I had the Lady or the Tiger writing assignment, and after reading a few of my other stories and essays, he saw me after class one day and asked me why I was in his class and not in one of the more advanced English classes. It was because of him I took advanced English in the years after.
But the reason he was one of my favorite teachers is that on the one day a certain girl needed a kind word, he unhesitatingly provided it.
That certain girl was me.
I was friends with a cool crowd at the time, but I was the smart goody-two-shoes of the bunch with a low self-esteem to match, low because I had a loner’s heart and teenage acne, and low because all of my cool friends had boyfriends while I had none, which meant I was often left out.
And I was feeling particularly low one day that I ended up crying in class. I don’t remember what brought it on except that I was feeling ugly and alone.
In front of the entire class, he asked why I was crying, and when I told him how I felt about myself, he got righteously angry on my behalf and demanded the name of whoever it was that must have made fun of me and hurt me as a result. No one had, not then—it was just my low self-esteem talking—and I tried to tell him that through my tears.
But he was genuinely upset that I felt so low, and he told the entire class—particularly the boys and particularly me—that while the boys in my class might not appreciate me now, I would be quite a catch as an adult because not only was I beautiful (and here he looked pointedely at me to make sure I knew that), but I was smart as well, and that I would end up with someone really great, really intelligent, someone who would appreciate those same things in me.
He said these words with such sincerity and conviction, his very blue (almost turquoise) eyes so bright and deep with emotion, that I knew he believed every word.
I had never really had that, someone who believed in nothing but the very best about me and would tell the world so, defending my ego and uplifting my heart. At the time, I wasn’t entirely convinced he was right, but it felt good all the same. It took H.E. telling me all the same things years and years later, over and over again before I could actually start to believe it myself.
I never really had a chance to thank him for that day, but I do. And that’s why he’s the first of many teachers I’d like to honor with one of these, little memoirs about some of my favorite teachers.
Mr. Olpin, 9th grade English teacher.Share this post: