My English Teacher, Mr. Theriault

Recently, I was asked to write about what certain thing or topic is the “best” for a final English assignment.  After pondering on this thought for a few seconds, I immediately knew the topic that I was going to base my work on.

Mr. David Theriault.  Advanced English teacher at Fountain Valley High School.

He’s been my teacher this year for Honors English, and boy do I have quite the story to tell.

Before I start, let me say that this post is brutally honest and from the heart.  I mean every single word of it.

When I walked into his classroom on warm summer day of late August, I was impressed and intimidated.  The walls were littered with educational contrivance, the desks were centered around the podium, and books were stacked on the linings of the wall.  I looked around, and the class was filled with a plethora of the intellectual students of my grade, all ready to learn and discuss the recent summer assignment.

Before the school year started, I had done some research on Mr. Theriault.  I knew he had a BA from UC Irvine and graduate degrees from Chapman and Walden Universities.  I’d learned that he had attended the prestigious Google Teacher Academy in Chicago and that he was the co-founder of California EDChat, an immensely successful teacher networking resource.  I’d heard that he had a reputation for being a tough but talented educator, integrating his teaching practices with technology to ensure that students learned liberally.

I’d also divulged that he loved food.

Hearing from a past student of Mr. Theriault’s, I expected a hard-nosed but well-meaning teacher.  After walking in and observing the classroom, I sat down in my seat.  The bell rang, and Mr. Theriault walked in.  All of the students, including me, gazed in awe at his tall and intimidating stature.

He walked up to the podium and begun speaking.  He told us about his life, how he struggled through high school with his family and grades.  He told us about his wife whom he’d met while in college.  It was a mix of friendliness and coldness, and I didn’t know what to expect of him.

When he asked us students to introduce ourselves, I put on my “swag” immaturity and showed off how much of a fool I was, essentially so the class could get a laugh out of it.  I had just made a terrible first impression of myself to a teacher I would have for the next year.

Following the first day’s presentation, I approached Mr. Theriault and recommended he read my right-winged bog.  I’d also decided to follow him on Instagram.

Keep in mind, this was August, 2013.  I still had the immature freshman mentality.  On my blog I’d written some certain offensive articles.  On my social media accounts, I had some inappropriate and unprofessional posts.  With all these faux pas up my sleeve, I’d just exposed my internet life to my teacher.

The next day, Mr. Theriault was angry.  Not at me, but at the whole class.

He gave us a lecture on the importance of your online identity, how it was what everybody saw of you.  While presenting this to us, he was passionate and extremely knowledgeable about everything he was saying.

“I was looking at some disturbing things, posted by someone I know recently, and I decided to take some screenshots just in case anything ever comes up.”

Boom.

I could tell right away that he was referring to me in his lecture.  The second I heard this, my body numbed up and I was afraid to say anything.  I was worried about what he could do with the “screenshots” he had taken, and I was also worried how this could affect my grade in the coming semester.

When the period ended and as everyone eagerly shuffled out of the classroom, I went up to Mr. Theriault, shaking.  I smiled at him and said, “I feel like what you said in that lecture today refers to me.”  Smiling back, he said, “I don’t know, does it?”

Following this discussion, I went on a firestorm against Mr. Theriault.  Although I still respected him, I absolutely despised him.  I conversed with other students of his about how much I disliked him and his teaching styles.  “He’s a fool, he teaches nothing!”

I wondered why all he did with us was talk about life.  I hated how his class did absolutely nothing related to English and focused so much on technology.  Following this hate, I came to class every day angry and filled with rage.  Whenever Mr. Theriault asked questions, I gave him a demeaning and stupid response.

Throughout the semester, I continued this mentality toward Mr. Theriault.  I disliked how we did “nothing” in his class.

He had us write student blogs, which I found incredibly stupid.  I thought this was his excuse for not wanting to teach anything.  He had us create an “Innovation Project,” which angered me even more.  To me, this project was unimportant and pointless work that didn’t even relate to the class.  I didn’t want to waste my time on something that benefited me in absolutely no way.

I came up with a project called “Google and Education,” which originally was a genius design in my favor.  I could literally do nothing but talk, and my project would seem better than everybody else’s!  Even so, it had enormous potential to be something great, and with my hate for Mr. Theriault, this realization was clouded.

One day, when we were presenting our ideas for the innovation projects, a team of school district officials were present in the classroom.  Naturally, I used this as an opportunity to show off my speaking skills and impress all of them.  In the end, even one of the district superintendents offered to help me with my project.

Mr. Theriault was impressed.  The next day, he pulled me outside and said these explicit words, “I believe in Ryan Carr.”

With these words in mind, I started to improve.  I mean, I had no choice!  With my “swag” facade I was trying to put on, my grades were slipping, I was getting no sleep trying to catch up on work I didn’t do at school, and all of my teachers hated me.

Throughout the rest of the semester, my relationship with Mr. Theriault improved immensely.  I no longer walked into class flashing an imitation gang sign at him, I stopped saying immature and irrelevant things in his class, and I also took his blog writing seriously. Occasionally, when he was impressed with my improvement or class participation, the day would end with a modest handshake.

The end of the semester came and I was worried about what grade I was going to receive from Mr. Theriault.  I went to see him after school, and he told me that he was satisfied with my improvement and happy that I was working hard in his class.

You can imagine my chagrin when my report card came home and the grade was a B.

This was unacceptable to me.  I was angry.  Angry because I had worked so hard to change myself that semester, that I’d written so much wholeheartedly on my blog, and I’d also done much to contribute to an “A” grade in the class.  I went to Mr. Theriault with my game face on, pissed off and ready to breathe fire.

Speaking with him solved nothing.  It made me even angrier to be his student.  I sternly said to him, “I could go to another English class and get an A there!”

Why did I feel this way?  I mean, at least he didn’t give me a C, right?  I was angry because I could’ve literally continued my swag facade, goofed off, and messed around in his class and STILL RECEIVE THE SAME GRADE.

For the next several weeks, I was at an impasse with my former beloved English teacher.  I tried not to look at or smile at him during lectures, did not say hello to him during encounters, and did not participate in any of the activities he assigned to us.

Eventually, Mr. Theriault gave me the chance to rectify the loathed grade with a little hard work.

Fast forward to late April.  Mr. Theriault was holding a huge event to showcase all of the innovation projects.  “Google and Education” had accomplished nothing in the past school year, but I still wanted the opportunity to present the project and gain some awareness.  Unfortunately, there were no spaces left for me to present in front of the audience, but I still was able to set up a booth to showcase what the project was about.

Hastily, I changed the project’s name from “Google and Education” to “The Chrome Initiative” to attract more people to the booth. This later became a problem, because many people don’t know how to spell “initiative.”

Screenshot 2014-06-08 at 4.34.55 PM

Carrying a computer in my right hand and a briefcase in my left, I walked into the school on the eve of the innovation project event, dressed like a professional ready to make a million bucks.  Even Mr. Theriault said, “Wow you know to dress,” upon seeing me.

I was still upset about not being able to present.  I set up my booth in the room where the event was being held, and started to introduce myself and my project to the many people who showed up.  I was invited to an event at my high school district that was centered around technology, most notably Google technology.

Throughout the night, I was watching the presentations done by other students and all I could think was, “I want to be up there!”   I went to Mr. Theriault and pleaded, “I will literally do anything to showcase my presentation.”  His friendly response was, “Would you even vote for Obama?” (I’m extremely conservative so you draw the conclusion here).

Me presenting at Mr. Theriault’s Innovation Symposium.

A few minutes later, he was standing at the sidelines of the stage and calling my name.  “Yes!” I thought, happy I was able to present.  Mr. Theriault took me by the shoulder and led me up in front of the crowd, introduced me, and then let me tell the audience what the project was about.

I was extremely happy that I could jump at this chance.  For the rest of the night, as I helped clean up the room and wrap up the presentations, I felt an immense connection to Mr. Theriault.  I was extremely happy to have such an inspirational teacher who taught more than just English, but the skills necessary for success–things we would actually use in life.  I loved having Mr. Theriault as a motivator to me, someone who helped me change from the immature fool that I was into a professional, hardworking student in just a few short months.  I appreciated the fact that Mr. Theriault was somewhat of a father figure to me, helping with many of the obstacles I was facing in my life.

Then it hit me, “I believe in Ryan Carr” was something he meant completely.

Other teachers I’ve had this year have just completely disregarded me because of my behavior.  They saw me as a lost cause, one who would continue to cause trouble with no end in sight.  Mr. Theriault believed in me, and this made the biggest difference in the world.

Thanks to the inspiration I’ve received in his class, I’m now pushing a 4.4 GPA, respecting and being courteous to my teachers, and not acting like a fool with every word I say.

“The Chrome Initiative” has grown immensely, and in a few short months the project will go national with a plan of action I’ve created.  My student blog, “The Fore Horsemen,” is something I enjoy writing and I will continue it even after the class ends.

“He’s a fool, he teaches nothing!”  I said that less than 6 months ago.  Now, I look at what I’ve accomplished under the wing of Mr. Theriault, and the results are incredible.

As this school year dwindles to an end, I think back at all of the wonderful things I learned in Mr. Theriault’s english class.  Without his guidance, I wouldn’t be the same person.

It’s amazing how far the simple words, “I believe in Ryan Carr” went.

With this I can confidently say, Mr. Theriault, you are the best teacher I’ve ever had.

 

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2 thoughts on “My English Teacher, Mr. Theriault

  1. Ryan…. there are tons of adults (including me) that make mistakes every day. We should know better. You were young and just didn’t know any better. You were always smart and passionate. The greatest humans in history made those around them better. They never asked what’s in it for me, they asked how can I elevate and help others.

    I expect a ton from you Mr. Carr. I will NEVER stop expecting more from you.

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