About the Author: Amy Estes is a high school English teacher, blogger and social media fanatic living in Sacramento, CA. You can find her on Twitter here and her website is here.
The best part about teaching high school is witnessing young students come into their own power. They decide to make their handwriting look like this, to spend their time doing that, to get good grades or join the football team or dye their hair pink. While some teachers favor the quiet, “good” students, I personally prefer the ones that get a little fiery, who push boundaries and laugh too loudly and scribble angst-filled poetry in notebooks. I like them because they make me think. They keep me on my toes and make me laugh and piss me off, all while reminding me of discovering my own power and angst and joy while I re-live it through them.
One of my favorite students is bright, smart, talented and passionate about life. This student has the best laugh I’ve ever heard, and she asks the right questions and I’m forever telling her to put away her books and focus on what we’re doing. She looks like a grown woman, despite being 14. And she knows it. So do the boys. And this year, I’ve watched from a distance as she’s spent time with a boy I know is trouble. I can tell because of the other girls I see him with, and the tears I see her wipe away when he drops her off in front of my classroom on too many afternoons.
Recently, I came around the corner and I saw him standing over her. I couldn’t hear his words but his posture was aggressive and his gestures were threatening and as I approached, I heard what he was saying about her, about her body and her choices and her life. My eyes filled with angry tears and I clenched my fists and instincts took over.
I stepped between them and I told him to leave, and to leave her alone. He took one step towards me, and I stared him down. I looked into his eyes and I recognized the expression, because it was one that I had seen in the eyes of my own high school boyfriend. It was hateful and angry and told me what I needed to know: that he didn’t value her, that he wanted her to hurt.
He broke our stare and walked away, muttering under his breath, while my beautiful young student stood in front of my room, shaking like a leaf and crying so hard that no noise came out. I sent her into another room while I calmed myself down, and then I walked in to talk to her. Heavy black eye makeup streamed down her face and she looked so broken and sad as she explained what had happened and why he was mad. It was the sort of thing all women have been through, where they’re expected to do, say or be one thing that they’re not.
And while normally I sit back and hold my tongue, this time, I couldn’t. Because I know that at 14, I desperately needed to hear what I wanted to say.
I told her she was more than just her body and what this young man thought of her. I told her she deserved the best, that she was smart and capable, and that she should know her own power. I told her no one should take that from her, and that watching someone take that from her made me want to kick and scream because she shouldn’t have to feel that way ever. I told her that she was valuable: not because of her grades, or because of having a boyfriend, or because of her body, but because she is a person. A brilliant and special person. End of story.
I cried the whole way home that day. Not just because of my own wounds and feelings that this brought up, but because I realize how desperately I want it to be different for these girls: these precious young women who should be worrying about their friends and finding their passions instead of pleasing boys or looking pretty or becoming “perfect.”
This isn’t a story where I pat myself on the back for a job well done. In fact, this moment made me feel more defeated. Because this is a conversation that had to happen. Because there are thousands of other girls, every day, walking the halls of high schools and colleges and places of employment, and they don’t know this. Because I look in the mirror and I don’t know it many days. Because every time I open a magazine or turn on TV, I question my worth because it seems to be so low based on what I see.
Interactions like this one remind me that I need to value myself first. That I can make choices about how I spend my time, money and effort. And that while I can’t fix everything, I can expose my students to strong female writers and articles about women achieving extraordinary things. I can choose not to tolerate disrespectful behavior from either gender, towards any gender, race, sexual orientation or level of ability. I can encourage voting, education and self-esteem by what I teach and the way I behave.
Because my dream isn’t to go around doing this all the time: it’s to never have to do it again.
About the series: Powerful Woman Monologues are compiled in response to the media’s representation of women as inspired by the film Miss Representation. If you would like to participate, email me. Any kind of creative contribution is welcome from anyone.
Special thanks to Ashley of Little Leaf Photography & Design for graciously creating the badge for our series!