I will never forget my eighth grade teacher at South Seventeenth Street Elementary School embarrassing me in the front of my entire class when I raised my hand to request an application to apply for entrance to University High School. “Yooouuu, Niobia?” she asked in shock with a facial expression filled with disbelief. She made me feel like I was shit on her shoe. Like I should’ve known that my dumb ass would never get in.
I started to lower my hand.
I started to say never mind.
I started to say, “Yes, me” with plenty of attitude–but I didn’t.
I took my application and carefully placed it in my folder to take home even as the snickers of my classmates echoed in my memory.
That year I was the only eighth grader from our entire school to make it into University High with just one other girl being put on the alternate list.
I never told that heifer teacher of mine I made it in but I remember the day–THE MOMENT–one of my classmates gave her a clue. We were lined up on the stairs waiting for her permission to continue on to the cafeteria for lunch. She was talking to some of the kids at the back of the line about the high schools they were attending that fall.
“Niobia’s going to University,” someone said. I can’t remember who.
My heart pounded. It was the moment I was waiting for even as I swore I would never mention it to her.
“Niobia,” she said, her heels clicking against the steps as she came down near the front of the line where I stood.
I looked up at her, hiding the animosity she fed into my chest. I said nothing. Since that day she embarrassed me, I didn’t have much to say to her at all–whether she noticed it or not.
“You were accepted into University High School?” she asked, her face filled with surprise.
“Yes, Me,” I said with sarcastic emphasis–way more than any child should have for their teacher.
“Congratulations,” she said.
I said nothing else to her as I turned to face forward even as victory surged in my chest like rockets. Even as I screamed “Take that” in my head. Even as I felt like whopping it out (I think we were doing the Whop back in ’89).
To this day I can’t remember her name–which is weird because I have a pretty good memory–but I will never forget that day. And I want so badly to remember so that I can look her up and send a big ole box of all twenty of my books.
Yes, I graduated from University High, eventually received two degrees and a minor from Seton Hall University and went on to live my childhood dream of being a writer–but one moment in my life that is more that twenty years old still haunts me. Affects me. Drives me. Motivates me.
That teacher made the mistake of underestimating me and to this day I hate to be underestimated. Hate it.
As I read over some emails offering me more good news about my books and some upcoming projects, my mind went back to that teacher and a few other detractors over the years. I finally took a moment to really reflect on why that teacher, in that moment, has affected me so deeply that I hold on to the resentment like a hungry done to a meaty bone.
Hell, I don’t know–even with my Behavioral Science degree and Psych minor.
But there is one thing I know for sure. Motivation to do better and to be better comes in a lot of forms–and they are not always positive. The more someone underestimates you, doubts you, or tries to hold you down get MOTIVATED to do even better so that you can have that moment in your life to say “Yes, ME.”