Just Watch Me

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By Judy Berman

How do you see yourself? From childhood on, that image changes.

We might be transformed by the role-playing and clothes we wear, from frilly, princess frocks and tiaras to the ones we take on as adults.

When our granddaughter was 4, I wrote a story, “Kaitlyn’s Enchanted Wardrobe,” about her using photos from her party. The one that most caught my eye was of Kaitlyn standing in front of a mirror and her mother directly behind her.

What was Kaitlyn thinking as she wore that dress? I’d love to go back to that place and time in my own childhood. But, for me, it was probably some version of cowboys and Indians – I adored the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

In the story, Kaitlyn made a wish as she blew out the candles on her cake: “Oh, to meet a real princess.”

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Her Mom, just smiled knowingly and said, “Any time you want to see a real princess, all you have to do is go to the looking glass.”

And, so Kaitlyn did.

In real life, it’s more of a challenge to see our potential when we do look in the mirror. Especially when other’s don’t share our view.

I tell my students to never let anyone tell them they can’t achieve their dream. Then, I tell them about a high school English teacher I had who nearly crushed mine.

When I asked if she’d give me a recommendation to college, she gave me an enthusiastic “yes.” But after I was turned down by three colleges, my Mom called the colleges and asked why.

It wasn’t my grades – which were not stellar. It was my high school English teacher’s “recommendation.” She’d written that I “didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness to make it through college.”

For some, that would have crushed their dreams. I told them, “My response is just watch me.”

One of my students asked: “What did you want to be?”

Well, I confessed, “in the long run, the teacher did me a favor.”

I had wanted to go to nursing school because Mom thought that was a good fit for me given how I’d cared for her and others when they were ill. Also, a few of my friends were already in or about to enter a nursing school.

Kaitlyn's Enchanted Wardrobe - Copy

I found, however, that I really loved to write and began taking classes in college that led to a career in radio and newspaper reporting. Later, I became an English teacher.

It took me 10 years – part time as I couldn’t afford to go to college full time – to get my associate’s degree at Onondaga Community College. Later, I got a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a master’s degree from University of Central Florida.

I’d loved to have bumped into that teacher and said: “How’s that for stick-to-itiveness?”

If you want an education, nothing can stop you. The same goes for pursuing your goals.

Never give up on your dreams.


Did you have a time when you were discouraged? How did you turn things around?


Photos from: Kaitlyn’s Enchanted Wardrobe – a story I wrote for our granddaughter when she was 4 years old. The photos are from her birthday party.

  1. Judy, this was such a great story about your granddaughter, to start with and then, your own motivation for getting into writing, journalism and teaching English. I always see you as a ‘writer,’ Judy. I have had my own children’s dream to defend and help for them to choose their own ways. As far as my own life, a really kind Biology teacher, Mr. Mead, told me I ‘was too sensitive to go into the Peace Corps.’ Instead of being challenged by this, I took it seriously. He had been a Peace Corps worker, a teacher overseas, so I believed he was being helpful and took his honesty as giving me part of his experience and wisdom. I have always been glad I was an elementary Language Arts teacher in the beginning, then a Special Needs preschool teacher at the end of my career. I feel my personal choices were not so wise, but my life’s path is about right, I think! Smiles, Robin

    1. Robin … Sometimes, people share their experiences as a way to shield us from disappointments. But, is there a part of you that wishes you had joined the Peace Corps? The road not taken … there’s a reason that Robert Frost’s poem resonates with so many of us. “Regrets,” as Frank Sinatra sang, “I have a few.”

      In the end, if we’re happy with the choices we’ve made, that’s the very best feeling. It sounds like you made some great decisions. 😉

  2. You always stuck with everything, Judy. Your image in the mirror is priceless. I love your princess tale for your granddaughter, my friend. Thank you for sharing.

    1. There was a time, Mark, when I started and did not finish many things – learning to play the piano, the guitar, etc. Thank you for your comments. I had great fun writing that story and figuring out which photos to use. 😉

  3. Adorable granddaughter, Judy in Florida. What a wretched thing for that teacher to write in your college “recommendation” and yet it might have been exactly the thing that led to your much more fulfilling life. And talk about stick-to-it-iveness. You are the very definition!

    1. Thanks, Barbara. We kind of think Kaitlyn is pretty adorable. 😉

      I admit I wasn’t happy with that teacher’s decision. But, Barbara, you’re right. I think it did give me the motivation to prove I could do it. Thanks for the affirmation. 😉

  4. I can’t imagine writing that in someone’s evaluation. How could she know enough about what you were capable of to risk hindering your future like that? If I didn’t think I can write a helpful evaluation, I’ll decline the offer. But how wonderful you used her negativity to fuel yourself further!

    1. Carrie … While I overcame that hurdle, I often wonder how many of her other students did not. Some kids would just give up.

      One year, when I taught 8th grade, a student asked for my recommendation to the high school IB program. I told him what happened to me as we talked about how little effort he’d put into his studies. But, I said I’d give him the best recommendation I could. He was admitted into the IB program. Years later, I saw him with his parents at a restaurant. He ran out to their car and returned to show me a book he was reading. I’m glad it turned out well for him.

      1. It was. He was a great kid. At that time, he was more into the books he loved to read than what was taught in class. I’m sure that changed as he got older. It did for me. 😉

  5. I am of the generation where women were teachers or nurses. I didn’t want to do either so I first became a secretary. I learned fast that admin was a dead end deal for women so I went to school at night. I would have loved to have the choices open to kids today. My story isn’t really bad but I have a very bright cousin, slightly older who also was a secretary. She went back to nursing school and had one of her teachers tell her she wasn’t cut out for it. I was so upset when I heard she quit. She would not have been an operating room nurse but the nursing choices are wide. She would have been wonderful in a nursing home or even in an insurance company. That nasty teacher with her narrow thinking stole her dreams.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that happened to your cousin, Kate. It sounds like that teacher was in the wrong career. The really good ones motivate their students to go for their dreams.

      I went to business school after I graduated from high school and spent several years working as a junior steno and typist. When I began taking classes, I did take biology. Big mistake. The night we were supposed to dissect a frog, my partner did it. I transferred out of that class the next day and found courses that I could apply toward a career I enjoyed.

  6. It’s sad to think of the number of students who believed that foolish teacher and never reached their full potential. This is such an inspiring post, Judy. Wasted potential is such a sad thing.

    1. So true, Jill. I can think of quite a few students who didn’t shine until after they got out of school, such as: Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and many others.

  7. Why would she enthusiastically say yes and then write that Judy? No matter, as you say, perhaps she did you a favour, but honestly, what a b_____ !

    Congrats on what you have achieved and for inspiring future generations Judy. ❤
    Diana xo

    1. What puzzled me, Diana, was I did work in her class and enjoyed her class. In the long run, she did do me a favor.

      Thanks. Last year, I told a former student not to let the results of the FCAT writing test discourage him or keep him from attending college. Students have to know if one door closes, another one can be opened.

  8. great post, judy. i love the message and your triumph over the naysayer. as for me, i did the college thing the same way, working my way through over time, and arriving at my goal, in the end.

    1. That’s a painful way to get an education, Beth, because the rewards – a better paying job, more fulfilling work – seems so far away. In the end, though, I’m sure you’ll agree that it all was worth it. 😉

  9. I like how you blend the fanciful with reality. And that HS English teacher. gasp! My theory about such “educators” is that they should wear a boot around their necks the rest of their lives. Seriously . . . So glad your mother was your advocate and got to the bottom of the story!

    1. Marian … I’m glad Mom looked into it. It was disappointing. I felt betrayed. I had enjoyed her class and thought I’d done well in it. I really have no explanation for why some one would do that.

  10. What a powerful, life-affirming response to learning of her betrayal, Judy. And it was a betrayal.

    I worked with a teacher who came to the profession late in life because she went to college late in life. She idolized her history teacher and wanted to be just like her, but when she asked the teacher what college she went to, the teacher laughed and said it was just a regular state school, but w-a-a-y over the student’s abilities and talents. She advised her to find a hard-working man, settle down and get a job at the local factory. She concluded by saying that the student’s dreams were well beyond her reach and she would only end up pathetically discouraged.
    This teacher told us all this at the awards dinner when she accepted the OUTSTANDING NEW TEACHER award. When her story came out in the local newspaper, she searched out the history teacher’s address (at a retirement center) and sent a copy without any comments.

    1. Wow! Congratulations to your friend for overcoming that hurdle. That teacher’s reaction was cruel and I’m glad it didn’t deter your friend from pursuing her dream. If my former English teacher was still alive, I would have sent her my GPA from grad school. I got a 3.96 out of 4.0.

      Marilyn, I had some great teachers in high school. If I had realized what she was going to do, there were other teachers there who I know would have given me the recommendation I needed to go to college. I went back years later and visited a few – one of them became a principal at that school. I appreciated their support and response.

  11. I had wanted to go to Art College but my Dad wouldn’t hear of it. He thought it would be a waste of time. So I concentrated on writing instead and had a career where I could use those skills and be creative at the same time. I loved it but have often wondered where I’d be now had I been an art student all those years ago.

    1. It’s never too late, Jenny. I love to draw and wish that I had pursued it in school and I know can still do so. My Mom was very practical. She knew I loved to write, but suggested I get some skills – typing, shorthand – to help pay the bills. I went to business school and did that, too. 😉

      1. Oh I still keep my drawing going, Judy, and enjoy it. I just wonder sometimes what the path would have looked like from an art school doorway….

  12. I loved this post. It was lovely and inspiring. I can’t imagine you ever being someone who wouldn’t stick with things. How awful of that teacher to agree to write a letter for you and then write such a thing! Perhaps she did do you a favor in the long run–but only after your mother discovered the reason–but it was still a horrid thing for her to do. If she felt she couldn’t write a letter recommending you then she shouldn’t have agreed to write it.

    The opposite side of things–my younger daughter who is now an English teacher recently wrote a letter to her high school teacher (now retired) telling him how he inspired her. When she entered college she wasn’t certain that teaching English was what she really wanted to do. She doubled or tripled majored in secondary English education and theater. She loves theater, but it’s a difficult life, and she’s a brilliant teacher.

    I love that you wrote stories for your granddaughter with the photographs and still have them!

    1. Merril … Your daughter was sweet to write to her English teacher and let him know how he inspired her. In high school, an English teacher I admired – but he wasn’t my teacher – was very supportive and predicted that I’d go places with my writing. Years after I graduated, I heard he died. I wrote his widow and told her how much it meant to me that her husband believed in me. She wrote back, was pleased by what I wrote. But what I wish is that I had written that letter to him while he was still alive.

      I have also written stories for my grandson and a collection of stories for my daughters. I had them printed up at Kinko’s in a pamphlet form. They were fun.

      1. She debated doing it, but I told her it would be a lot to him. She got his address from another teacher. He was happy to get the letter, and he sent her a very nice reply.

  13. I wouldn’t say ,discouraged exactly ,but told to get a grip ,when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up and my answer was always the same ….I want to be an actress . When everyone wanted to be nurses , work in offices , shop assistants etc. and I wanted to be an actress …I still do and I’m 54 😀 . When I got my first job in a hairdressing salon , I told them it wouldn’t be for long because I was going to be an actress , and a famous one . My boss said ‘Cherry you’d make a good blooming actress ‘ I think there was a hint of sarcasm in their voice at the time .
    I have done amature acting locally and have really enjoyed it and I write stories daily .
    You can’t always be what you want to be but you can always dream .

    1. Cherry … Our youngest daughter, age 41, does a lot of community theater and loves it. There’s always a need for great character actors and other roles. I’m glad you are pursuing your dreams.

      Do you have a blog? If so, would you send me a link to it? I’ve looked for it in the past, but couldn’t find one.

      1. Judy it’s so kind of you ask but no I don’t . I would love one but I am useless with technology. I did say that this year I would consider stepping into the world of bloggs because I love writing …maybe I will ☺️

      2. I’ve recommended this book before because I found it very helpful when I first started my blog: “Teach Yourself Visually WordPress” by Janet Majure. I got mine at Barnes and Noble. I’ll bet you can get it thru Amazon or online. 😉

  14. Love it Judy, nothing better than the non belief of others to set you on a mad course of I-can-show-you! I tell my children to dream big and then work hard to make it real. Loved this post. I am struggling to believe in my writing abilities. So much to learn and yet if I keep at it I will learn so much.

    1. Kath … Believe. You are very talented as a writer and as an artist. I hope your children listen to your advice. I was filled with insecurity about my abilities for a long time. Still trying to make it real. 😉 Thank you for your support.

  15. An inspiring story Judy. What I love about your narratives is the way you connect two seemingly unconnected threads to make a beautiful whole. Wish that old teacher of yours could read this 🙂
    The opening shot of your granddaughter at the mirror is priceless 🙂

    1. Thank you for that compliment. They say every situation is a learning experience. You either learn to follow the example or to decide to be nothing like that example. There were many things I enjoyed about that teacher’s class, but that experience is one I vowed I’d never repeat.

  16. I have so many moments of being discouraged and so frustrated. I’m too tough on myself, so says many that follow my blog. Like the Dierks Bentley song states, I Hold On.

  17. What an inspiring post Judy!! 😀 They way we see ourselves is very much the key to how we progress in life. I used to be to some extent insecure when I was young, but probably no more than the average 20 year old. It takes time to develop an understanding of ourselves that is not based on what others think or even worse, what we think they think! I’m not sure how I see myself today, but I know it’s not full with criticism – and that is very important. Some people never loose their inner teenage critical voice and that can be life lasting and seriously damaging.

    That was really mean of your teacher to do that behind your back! I would imagine the reality of what was behind that was actually jealousy. I’ve definitely met some people (and teachers) who were insanely jealous of me when I was young – but it’s a mystery as to why – I didn’t appear to have anything they could be jealous about. I guess only they knew what the reason was. But it’s horrific when you think it can hold someone back for possibly their whole life. You were lucky to have a strong mind – well done for shaking off the dragon!! 😉

    1. Thank you, Suzy. I’ve also grown more accustomed to myself as I’ve grown older. There’s still some residual doubts that rear their heads on occasion, but I can usually shake them off. 😉

      I have no idea why that teacher did what she did. It would take a dozen shrinks to analyze that. I try not to dwell on it. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten it. It’s just healthier to look forward. 😉

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