An extension of The Sensitive Writer
I want to share a story with you, and it explains a little why I doubt myself as a writer and struggle with confidence sometimes.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember because it’s cathartic, not because I wanted to make a career out of it. Yet, it’s what I do for a living.
Growing up, I did well in maths, science, history, and other subjects, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as I loved English. I was an avid reader who used writing to scream out my emotions, while I remained the shy introvert who listened rather than talked.
I moved around due to my parents’ expatriate career and lifestyle and became accustomed to different styles of writing and British and American spellings. My English teachers at the international schools were great, motivating me to meet my potential via advanced English programs.
When I hit my teens, my parents split, and my mother moved to Australia to raise three kids while going to night school and working a day job. We dealt with many struggles, yet I adapted to the new life and did well academically.
Now, here’s the thing. I am not purely white. My mother is 100% ethnically Chinese, making me a 50-50 split between Asian and European (Dad’s heritage is English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish).
A teacher who used her prejudice as power
During my mid-teens, I had a new English teacher. When I first met her, I thought the world of her. She appeared to be gentle, angelic, and youthful. However, she was anything except angelic to me after meeting my mother at a parent-teacher social event.
What shocked me was when I received my English results. I went from being a straight-A English student to getting nothing better than a C.
I confronted the teacher, asking her why I was getting average marks.
Her response? I was not Australian.
I remember feeling gobsmacked as my brain processed what she had just said. Of course, I was (and still am) an Australian citizen! So I asked her why she did not believe I was Australian. She said it was because of my mother.
My mother is Chinese (but an Australian citizen!); therefore, my teacher saw me as an English as a second language student. I explained to her that I was raised in an English-only environment, and I did not speak any other language at home. Instead of listening to me, she said that I would not receive anything higher than a pass (C) because of my ethnic heritage.
She alluded to me that I did not have the talent to write in English and suggested I write in my native language instead. I thought that English was my native language. I studied German and Japanese as second languages at school.
Snobbery and racism
Now, here’s another thing I had to consider when it came to the prejudices I had dealt with and why being an academic was my survival card. I went to an all-girls Christian private school where most families were affluent and influential.
There were only two girls in my grade whose parents were divorced – I was one of them. Of the two of us, I was the only one whose mother was an Asian woman.
This particular English teacher frowned upon people like my mother, an Asian single mother, far beneath her ideal. I was a teenager who stood no chance of excelling in that teacher’s class.
My confidence was shattered in one fell swoop.
Being called a “half-breed”
I hated being a mixed-race student of a single parent in that school. I was berated, belittled, and bullied that semester. I was called a half-breed and half-caste, among other things, by both students and that particular teacher. She broke my self-esteem, and I stopped writing. I lost my joy, and I lost my passion.
My mother took action and raised the issues with the school, who apologized. I had a new English teacher the following semester, and it took months to rebuild my confidence.
The confidence gamechanger
There is a happy ending in this story. In my last two years of high school, I had the most amazing English teacher who believed in my work.
At the start, I was petrified when my mother and I first met Mrs. Morrison at a parent-teacher social event. Mrs. Morrison came across as the classic strict teacher from an English boarding school. She dressed perfectly, had flawless hair, and spoke in a refined way. She had a reputation for being one of the school’s toughest teachers, unafraid of failing her students.
She approached my mother, and at that point, I wanted the earth to swallow me. I wished my mother had not attended the event because I dreaded the stigma of my ethnicity rising again.
Instead, Mrs. Morrison smiled at my mother, gently placed her hand on my elbow, and spoke kindly about me.
Mrs. Morrison saw through my physical appearance. She saw my soul.
A teacher who made an author
I enjoyed my final two years of high school, excelling in English and topping the class in literature such as Hamlet, Wuthering Heights, and A Doll’s House. When we studied Gallipoli, I wept when I handed my assessment to Mrs. Morrison. In turn, her lips twitched when she returned my marked assignment – another top result. I then confided in her that my great-grandfather was an original ANZAC soldier, something I hadn’t said to any other teacher.
It’s incredible how beautiful things can happen when people look beyond ethnicity. Mrs. Morrison helped me fill out my university application form, encouraging me to study journalism, one of the toughest courses to get into. At the time, a few students laughed at me, saying I wouldn’t get in. And yes, I studied journalism at the University of Queensland.
My last conversation with Mrs. Morrison happened when she called me to her office on my last day of school. I thought I had bombed in my last exam, and she rarely called anyone into her office unless it was a serious matter.
I was surprised and relieved by what she said. Mrs. Morrison told me how proud she was of my achievements and advised me to pursue a writing career. She told me she believed in me and that I had a talent.
The author today
I still get my bad days from the damage done by the other teacher, and that memory is imprinted, a part of me.
However, my memories of Mrs. Morrison remind me of who I am. I have a talent. I can write. I can read. She never saw me as a lesser student because of my ethnicity. She never held me back; she pushed me forward. She created an author.
Maybe one day, I will have the opportunity to tell Mrs. Morrison how much her words still mean to me. I think I will write her a letter. 🙂
You can find me and my books here.