I recall, with a combination of dread, fondness, and thankfulness, my 9th Grade English teacher. He had noted to me on a few occasions that I had a certain way with writing – that he liked the way I constructed my words on paper: they had a certain rhythm.
I became a bit self conscious and in turn afraid – I felt I had to turn in a Pulitzer Prize winning book report every three weeks. What I did not realize, during that school year, was the conversant nature of that monthly exercise.
I had no idea that I was becoming something of a conversant on multiple levels. First, I was reading. By engaging in reading the written word of others, I was becoming familiar with the art of writing. The exposure to varying styles held vast wealth for me. (When I informed my English teacher I was going to do next months’ report on Gone With The Wind, I thought he was going to throw me a parade……..). Also, the wealth of an enhanced vocabulary became quickly clear to me: spelling and meaning were 2nd nature to me (even if I could not quote the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a term.) Reading was and is quite the vehicle for being conversant in word usage, grammar, and structure.
Lastly, by having to write book reports, which many of my classmates abhorred, we were receiving a sort of a practice. It was a tutorial in what to convey and how to convey it – in my own written word. Years later, I would come to quietly thank this English teacher for his scrutiny: when I went to college, I studied History, and quickly found that discussion exams were easiest for me; while I would walk out of a final exam with a writer’s cramp of an epic level, I walked out knowing that I wrote, and wrote well, what I knew of the questions at hand. A’s usually followed; I had shown them all that I knew, and was able to put it down in concise and coherent sentence structure……with a purpose that I would arrive at (sooner or later.)
The notations I received from my English teacher always left me much more fulfilled than I ever expected with each passing book report that I turned in. His was sometimes an outwardly brash persona, as he paced back and forth in front of the class, lecturing at us…shaking his chubby fingers at us……..and getting mad at us for acting like “bumps on pickles”. However, his private notations to me on my book reports and papers were a whole different set of thoughts: he was actually speaking to ME directly – in a manner that was neither brash nor condescending. It was of a nature that let me know he was paying close attention……in a very positive way. He was investing in me to be a conversant in the written word.
I have felt sometimes that I have let him down. Many, many years later, long after my teacher had passed away, I had a friend tell me that I was ‘…..a great and REAL writer’. I do not know if he remembers telling me this, but I do……..because it let me know that my teacher’s efforts with me were not completely dead……they were, and hopefully now, very much alive and well. Thank you to my 9th grade English teacher…………and to my friend……..for having the drive to say to my face the things that needed to be said ,and the things that I needed to recognize. One day, I will tell the friend that called me REAL, “Thank you,” directly. He does not know that he may have helped me salvage something that I thought was impossible….or dead……