Meet our 8th Grade Essay Contest Winner: “I owe it all to Mrs. Sutton”

Nearly 3,000 essays later, the Tennessee Department of Education is proud to announce the winners of our third annual essay contest: “My teacher inspired me to…” We are thrilled to introduce Rawan Haj-Hussein, an eighth-grader at Siegel Middle School in Rutherford County and the winner of the 6-8 category. We hope you enjoy Rawan’s kind words honoring Tammy Sutton from Northfield Elementary in Murfreesboro City Schools. Stay tuned to Classroom Chronicles as we announce the rest of the winners throughout the month.

By Rawan Haj-Hussein

I give up. That’s what I told myself in fifth grade. I was going from A’s to B’s to C’s fast. The annoying part, it was all in the same subject. Math was just too challenging. I didn’t know what a variable was or how to do percentages. I asked questions, really I did, but my teacher’s answers just made me feel stupid. I never once caught on to what she was saying. I would watch as my peer’s eyes would light up with understanding and listen as the pencils began moving back and forth on the page while my paper always remained empty.

I gave up. That was my solution. Not a bright one, but it saved the heart ache. I carried on like that through the whole year. Dreading when summer ended. Never filling myself with false hope that I would actually be able to understand the rubbish that comes out of teachers’ mouths. 6th grade did finally come, and my perspective changed. It was an average day, and I remember halfheartedly listening to my new math teacher, Mrs. Sutton, drone on and on about how to answer equations. I, of course, understood nothing.

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Mrs. Sutton embraces her former student, Rawan Haj-Hussein.

“What’s the point of this? I won’t even need it in life. There’s a calculator for a reason,” I mumbled grouchily.

“I thought that too,” my head snapped up at my teacher’s voice, “I can try to help you understand it if you pay attention.”

There was a pause.

“Don’t bother, I can’t understand it,” I told her.

“Can’t or won’t?” She questioned while tilting her head to the side.

Everything changed that day. Instead of mumbling and grouching through class, I actually glanced up at the teacher for a second to see if I could understand something. Mrs. Sutton smiled at me when she noticed.

Now, don’t start thinking this was the part of the story where I magically understood everything and the problem is solved, because it’s not that easy. I still didn’t understand. Even after I started paying attention. I kept remembering what she told me and, for the first time, I actually asked her for help. Instead of doing what I thought she was going to do, which was explain everything in a way I still wouldn’t understand, she taught me a different way of solving the equation.

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Mrs. Sutton and Rawan pose with their prizes. Rawan’s award-winning essay earned her $400 toward her college education, and Mrs. Sutton received a $400 cash prize.

“This was the way my father taught me when I was younger,” She would tell me, “I never understood the stupid textbook either.”

Saying she surprised me would be an understatement. Yet, I finally understood math.

I will never give up. That is what my teacher inspired me to do. To live with this motto. Now, I know how to do variables, percentages, charts, equations, PEMDAS, and much more! I know that things don’t come easy in life, yet I know now to keep trying. I owe it all to my 6th grade math teacher, Mrs. Sutton.

Thank you, Mrs. Sutton, for inspiring me to work as hard as I do today.