Blame My Teachers
Teachers are an interesting sort. They are like guiding lights showing us the way along the path of life. For some. Some of us were difficult students (me). And some individuals have no business being in a formal education setting (I won’t name names). The fact remains: The people in my life who had perhaps the most profound effect on me were my teachers. Three come to mind. That’s not to diminish my appreciation for my other teachers. I went to a private school and was fortunate to have a whole cast of characters whose genuine concern was my education and well-being. They were all good. They all cared. And they all affected me.
But I digress, three stand out.
I was fortunate enough to have Mrs. Cowan for both first grade and third. She read aloud to us. I still tear up thinking about the intense, emotional experience of Where the Red Fern Grows. She did voices. Read with drama and flair. Story time was better than anything on TV. She let her students soar with their strengths upon discovering their talents. Take me for example. When it came time for math, or science, or even history, I got bored. Especially Math. Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine were popular at the time, and I had read them all. When I found myself waiting for another book to be released, I instead ventured into my earliest manuscripts. Most teachers upon catching a student ignoring his math lesson to write gruesome and juvenile horror would have disciplined me. Instead, she read it an encouraged me to continue writing. She didn’t panic at the blood and guts. No. Instead, she took it as the musings of a little boy with a wild and overactive imagination.
Mrs. Cowan, thank you for not stamping out my spark of creativity. You kindled the flame by showing me how to fall in love with make-believe, and I never grew out of it. That fire is still alive in me today, and you’re one of the reasons why.
In middle-school and high school, I had a truly brilliant woman for English, writing, reading, and drama. Ms. Huibregste was always prepared for every lesson. She’s the reason I like the subject of history now. It is, after all, the pursuit of knowing humanity’s true story inspired by actual events—perhaps the most relevant subject to know in order to refrain from repeating the mistakes of our past. She loved to laugh and have fun, but she took teaching very seriously, and expected her students to take learning the same way. Her classes exposed me to great literature and a lot of it. And my favorite thing about any class she taught was the promise of a whole stack of writing assignments. My peers and I produced hundreds of thousands of words for this woman. She made us do it until we knew how to do it right. Until we were good at it. Her standards and expectations were high, but always within reach.
Melissa, thank you so much for the pleasure of sitting in your classes for the most crucial years of my development. I could fill books with the knowledge I learned there (and I intend to). You taught me how vast literature is, and how to recognize great work when I read it.
In my last three years of high school, I met a man called Mr. Hanold. He made a first impression as an eccentric, and lived up to it until I graduated. He taught my expository writing class. Piggybacking on Ms. Huibregste’s foundation, he gave us pens, notebooks, and said, “Go.” Whatever musing happened to be crawling around in our beehive of teenage minds we recorded into a journal at his instruction. All to make space for creativity to flow like a stream from our imaginations. Once, I left a tidbit I’d written outside of class on his desk. He read it, and after class the next day, asked me to stay behind and explain myself. I confessed my deepest, darkest secret to him: writing is the only thing in the whole world that makes me feel truly alive. He took me under his wing, helped me get published for the first time, showed genuine enthusiasm in reading my work, and critiquing it. On more than one occasion he said about my writing, “You can do better than this; write it again. And again. And again.”
Scott, thank you for believing in my talent, and for believing in me. Thank you for telling me the truth about how hard it is to be a writer in this day and age. I’m so grateful for the courage you gave me to try it anyway. I haven’t quit. You can’t lose, if you refuse to quit, right?
Well, there you have it. The first teacher taught me to enjoy my imagination—to relish in it. The second taught me the discipline to produce excellence, to hone my craft, to make the sacrifice of time and study. The third taught me what it would take to pursue my dreams, and told me I possessed the moxie to make them come true. Every bit of success I owe in no small measure to these wonderful, weird people. These teachers. Words are my thing, but they fall short in adequately articulating my humblest and sincerest gratitude.
So, I hope “Thank you,” will suffice.