Have you ever had that one person who never gave up on you? Not a family member or a close friend. Someone else. Learning Spanish was one of the hardest things I have ever done, I was never very good at it. I’d always be the last to understand grammar and vocabulary simply wouldn’t stick. But I wanted to learn so I wasn’t going to let my brain stop me from doing something I wanted to do, I was determined. This is where that one person comes in, my Spanish teacher. He was a man, not old but not young either, he intimidated me when I first met him. How could I ever have anything in common with this man, this man who tells fascinating tales of adventures in South America and beyond. But he did inspire me, I wanted that life and if learning Spanish was the way to do that then bring on the verbs.
I did Spanish at GCSE level, a level that was more about memorisation than understanding what you were saying. My memory is good so I got through somehow with a respectable B grade. But that wasn’t enough for me, blinded by my success and relief I chose to go on to A-level Spanish. The dwindling number of students should have given me a sign that this wasn’t the easiest path to take. My class of 20 became a class of 4. This was the time of big life decisions and my Spanish teacher became my mentor. He spoke the truth, he shared his opinions and he didn’t pretend that we were unable students with a temporary position in his life. He would teach us about politics, world affairs and provide us with motivational talks. I struggled this year at school. In fact ‘struggle’ is an understatement. I hated being there, surrounded by girls who were more interested in Thursday nights in town and turning up on a Friday still drunk. My best friend left school to have a baby (which I would not change for the world, I would go through all of this again just to see baby Emily at the end of it). But I was alone. I’d chosen A-levels that were simply too difficult for me to handle. I started to lose my grip on what was important, I’d find myself arguing with teachers and flying off the handle at every little thing. I didn’t want to do it anymore. Especially not Spanish, why would I throw learning another language on top of two of the most time-consuming subjects and an extended project. I’d taken on too much and I could no longer carry myself. I stopped eating properly and fell apart.
Your health is more important than your education.
I wish I could remember the quote properly. It was pinned on his desk and I saw it every single day. But it was along the same lines as the one above. Your education can be picked up and dropped all the way through your life, your health is something so much more important. I was a top student before I went to sixth form. But then I started rebelling against the conformity they forced upon the students and my Spanish teacher told me ‘that’s okay.’ When he saw how much my friends were having an impact on me he told me how much of a better person I was without them. He saw that I was struggling with Spanish so helped me by giving me private tutoring sessions. My biggest fear changed from not getting good A-level results to letting him down. I no longer cared what grades I got, but I feared being a disappointment to him.
The exam came and went and I knew I’d failed. I still couldn’t understand the grammar, I forgot how to speak properly and my writing was much too short. How was I ever going to face him again? Fortunately I didn’t have to. I wrote him a letter telling him all of this and thanking him for the massive impact he had on my school life, but once I had my result I was too much of a coward to face him. The letter is still in my bedroom one year later.
I hadn’t failed my exam but I hadn’t done anywhere near where I would ever have wanted to be. I knew that I couldn’t give up though, if I could honour my Spanish teacher in one way it would be to enforce his main life lesson. Not to give up. That’s what he helped me to do in a year that undoubtedly I would have failed had it not been for him. So I moved to Spain. That’s how I ended up here. That’s how I ended up here speaking Spanish. My confidence in my Spanish speaking is still low and my teachers here don’t understand why but I have always been scared of letting people down with my Spanish speaking ability. But I’m getting there. I can do it, I know I can. He told me that.
If there’s even a chance that you read this, then thank you. I’m sorry I couldn’t send that letter to you and you never found out how much of an important figure you have been in not only my school career but in my life. But if you’re reading this then you know now. Thank you.
All my gratitude again Sir,
Charlotte Oxborough, 13WEX
I want to end this by expressing how much of a mess the school system is at the minute. I got to the point of breakdown and my head teacher’s only concern was that I was wearing the incorrect school cardigan. I would get scolded on my way back from a lesson I hated because my skirt was a little bit too short. I would run out of school just to get away from the pressure and then they enforced a rule that we were not allowed to leave at all. I felt so trapped. I can’t imagine how anybody would get through if they didn’t have the support system I had. My parents understood me perfectly and were willing to help fight my corner of course but I needed someone within the school to remind me that I’m not crazy. That school rules at the age of 18 are absurd and unnecessary, that a strict school uniform policy at sixth form will never be endorsed by the students and to remind me that if you need help you only need to ask for it.
Your health is more important than your education. Let me be living proof. I relaxed on my education, I got a bad grade in Spanish. But a year later, I am living in Spain and speaking Spanish on a regular basis. Grades are not the end of the world.
To the rest of you,
Lots of love, Lottie xoxo