It was a warm spring day near the end of my sophomore year. School was almost over, students were studying for exams, and classes were being chosen for the upcoming year. There were those who would fill their schedules with AP classes, hoping to gain college credit and wanting to be challenged. Then there were the students like me who picked the normal or easy classes and just hoped to get by. These regular classes were never hard for me, but I never sought to be challenged. I preferred to stick to what I was comfortable with. After lunch that day, I walked into my muggy English class with my schedule in hand. I sat down at my desk and watched everyone else file in and pull out their schedules. As the bell rang, Mrs. Alsip, a young teacher with shoulder length hair, stood at the front of the room and began giving instructions. She started around the room, approaching every student to approve his or her class schedule. When she finally arrived at my desk, she saw that I had chosen to take English 11.
“Jane, what do you think about trying AP Language and Composition?” she asked with a smile. I never liked English, even though I always did alright. I was never outstanding. I would read the shortest books I could find, and the papers I wrote were always short. I never used big words or complex sentences. English wasn’t very exciting to me, and I refused to put a lot of effort into my assignments. I thought about all my weaknesses as Mrs. Alsip awaited my reply. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t smart enough. It would be too hard and too much work.
“I don’t know about that,” I muttered.
“You can do it; the class will be really good for you. You have made decent grades all year long, and I think you should try the AP class,” she replied. I thought about it again, quickly weighing the pros and cons. If I did take the AP class and did okay, my grade point average would go up. However, it might be too difficult for me to handle. I would probably feel dumb in a class with people who actually enjoyed reading and writing. I looked back up to face her, and she gave me a comforting smile as if to say everything would be fine. I didn’t want to disappoint her, and if she thought I could handle an advanced class, why not try it.
“Okay, I’ll give it a try,” I said hesitantly.
“Great! You will do well,” she responded excitedly. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to enroll in this brainy class and get out of easy routine.
The next year in AP Language in Composition, we read several books. We were assigned to read two books per quarter on our own time and do reports on them. I really had to step up and force myself to read. I started reading in my spare time at school and even in the extra time I had at home. The first book I read was The Old Man and the Sea. The day of the report I went to the front of the classroom; everyone was looking at me. My nerves started to kick in. All of a sudden I didn’t know what was so remarkable about this story. Then I took a deep breath and started to talk. When I finished, my teacher asked me about some of the symbolism in the book. I thought about the question for a minute, and it finally struck me. I knew what the whole novel was about. I explained the symbolism of the illusion the old man had of a young lion playing on the beach. From then on I started to enjoy reading books with a different perspective. I actually started to enjoy reading.
My senior year I decided to continue with AP Literature and Composition. We read short stories, poems, and more novels. The poems were especially difficult. A lot of them were written in the eighteenth century, and the language was difficult. I would read the poems several times, and they still wouldn’t make much sense to me. Mrs. Flynt usually assigned some poems and then had us discuss them in class. Students would make comments about what they thought the poems might mean. The poems started to make sense to me after they would talk about the poems’ symbolism and deeper meanings. Mostly, I would just sit there and listen, allowing my mind to fill up with these new ideas. The class was then assigned to write explications on poems in which we had to make an argument about the poem and prove it. Writing an explication was hard for me at first, but as I attended class each day, I received new insight. Reading the poems became a little easier. I remember how I felt on the day I turned in my explication on “Death Be Not Proud.” I was proud of myself and my writing. Even though my paper was not an A, it was definitely my best work.
My work in this advanced class gave me confidence that I could handle difficult academic work. For the first time, I believed that I could go to college and be a success. I still didn’t love to write, but I had become much more skilled at it. I also learned how to go about seeking and interpreting deeper meanings in works of literature. I had a strong sense of satisfaction as I finished the year.