Last week my sister shared an article from Newsweek entitled Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers. Rather than make me think about the bad teachers I’ve had, the article made me realize that I’ve been very lucky and I’ve had the privilege of being a student of many great teachers. It also made me realize that the teachers that have taught me the most about writing, don’t always lend themselves to the title of “writing teacher.” I thought I’d spend a moment writing about the ones from my childhood into high school, but please note, the following by no means encompasses all the great teachers that I’ve had.
In the Beginning – Age 6
To begin this section, I need a little help from my bio. Here’s an excerpt:
At the age of six, she knew that she wanted to be a writer when she had to make up a story to fulfill the prompt of “Draw a picture and write a few sentences about a dream you remember” (she didn’t remember her dreams).
This happened in Miss Robin’s first grade class where I also read my first sentence – “Violet wears a red dress”. I don’t remember too many details of first grade beyond this and the memory that Miss Robin was a nurturing, encouraging teacher. While I honestly believe that my love of reading and writing is almost instinctual, I also believe that it was important that I had such a positive educational environment so early on. I thank Miss Robin (and my o.g. teachers – my parents) for this.
Page Lengths and Drama – Age 10-11
During the 4th and (midway) through 5th grade, I had Ms. Shaff. I loved having her as my 4th grade teacher, where she always supported me writing all my stories – which went on for pages and pages of ruled notebook paper. Naturally, when I was selected to be in her mixed 4th/5th class the following year I was relatively happy. However, it would also become the year I would open my eyes to the politics, the difficult decisions of education, and how tough it was to be a teacher.
Ms. Shaff eventually left my 4th/5th grade classroom, not necessarily because she wanted to, but because she felt that the administration had provided her with many challenges on top of the already difficult combination classroom. I remember that it was a sad, tearful good-bye for everyone.
While in first grade writing was like love at first sight, it was under the tutelage of Ms. Shaff that I believed I could be a writer. Why? Because she said so.
The English Teachers – High School
I know the subject of high school English teachers has become almost hackneyed by Hollywood, but I don’t know where I would be without them – Ms. Sumrall, Mr. Besocke, Mr. Wilke. From the pages of Shakespeare to travels along the river with Huck Finn to baudy tales of Chaucer like the Wife of Bath, my high school English teachers guided me through literary adventures, introduced me to great minds, and taught me to read deeper. All of these things, in turn, have crafted how I am as a writer and how much more I see of the world as a place of stories across time.
The Non-English Teachers – High School
Equally as important during high school are the teachers that taught me to be a better writer without directly teaching me literature. Mrs. Wong taught me business and was my advisor in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). However, she did more than help me become a faster typist (though that helped plenty), she taught me to become a better communicator, to be more sure of myself when communicating, and be someone who leads more than follows. Mr. Clark was not only my biology/physiology teacher, but also supervised after school tutoring where I spent time studying/volunteering. We also spent time talking about geektastic subjects like Star Wars (this was right before it got cool again only to not be as cool as it originally was) and that brought perspective into my fold, the assurance that it was okay to like things different from my peers. There was Ms. Bjorsen who made me see there is a story for everything, especially her analogies about chemical molecules that made me think more about the story than the actually lesson I was supposed to learning. It was Mr. Healy who brought me into the wonderful world of theatre and the clear recognition that words and stories have audiences, even if you can’t always see them from a stage.
…and then Bobby Salcedo
My former high school teacher and dear friend Bobby Salcedo, who unfortunately passed away tragically at end of 2009, was the person that made me feel I finally came into my own as a writer. In high school, Bobby taught my Economics and Government classes. He was a young teacher who would eventually move on to administrative roles and a position on a local school board. No matter what role, Bobby was well loved and well respected. After high school, he recruited me to join a local service organization and so my teacher made the transition to friend. He’s the only teacher that I’ve comfortably made the transition to calling by first name.
But it always remained in my memory that he had been my teacher, so when he asked me to edit his thesis, it was like he was providing me with an honor and transitioning me from student to colleague. His doctorate thesis was about programs to encourage Latino males to attend college. But somehow through the notes and edits I provided, it was like he was encouraging me too, that he believed in my strengths and was asking me to believe in them too.
The beauty of writing is that it makes the writer draw from everything. It has been said that writing can’t be taught and I don’t think it matters whether or not that’s true. What should be true is that life is a continuous lesson and there are people in life that bring lessons to a writer, that naturally make the writer learn something new and see the world in new, inspiring ways.
Somewhere in above, the word “writer” should be subbed with “person”. Everyone should have a list of teachers to look back on, to feel that there were people who believed in them and guided them.
While this post mentions many people, it is in loving memory to Bobby Salcedo who educated so many in his brief lifetime and whose memory will educate so many more. You can learn more about Bobby through the Bobby Salcedo Memorial Foundation. LAist.com also published a poem I wrote for Bobby in January.