Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thursday spotlight

It's Thursday and time for Blog Me MAYbe's "May I tell you something about someone else?" day. Today I'm turning the spotlight on a woman who was a very early proponent of my writing career, my seventh grade writing teacher, Mrs. J.

Image courtesy of Steve Woods,
rgbstock.com
Mrs. J taught a required creative writing course in a tiny, triangle-shaped classroom wedged into a corner of the school's second floor. I remember walking into that classroom on the first day and noticing how cramped it was, how all the desks were pushed so tightly together, how warm it seemed... Even so, I couldn't wait for the class to begin! Most of the kids didn't want to be there, but I knew from the moment Mrs. J explained what the class was about that I would look forward to it every day. And I did.

As the semester went on, my friends would complain (loudly!) about the assignments--to write stories based on the prompts Mrs. J gave us--but I thought they were fun and not that difficult. After all, all we had to do was tell tales, something I loved and had been doing since I was too young to write. The bonus was that more people would be reading them--not only my parents and Mrs. J but my classmates as well. I was excited to have a bigger audience, even though I knew many of the kids in the class couldn't have been less interested.

Mrs. J was great about writing encouraging comments on my stories, but she also noted areas where I could improve. I appreciated those critiques. I wanted to get better at telling stories, and her advice helped me to do so. During parent-teacher conferences that year, Mrs. J told my mom that she thought I had raw talent, and she urged my parents to support my writing, which they did and still do now, nearly thirty years later.

Near the end of the school year, Mrs. J, who was also the high school art teacher, chose to feature a portfolio of my stories in the school's art show. To my knowledge, that was the first time that writing had been included in the exhibit, and I can't describe how proud I was as people looking at the art would stop at my table and read my stories. Seeing people react to what I had written was a high like no other. That was the day I truly understood the power of words.

Even though I had been telling stories since I was a child, without Mrs. J, I don't know if I would have had the courage to continue. Oh, maybe I would have written a story here or there, perhaps a poem, probably this blog--but I don't know if I would still have the passion for it if it hadn't been for her encouragement and support. She was a magnificent teacher and mentor, and someday when (fingers crossed) I do make it in this business and find myself holding a book contract in my hands, I will make sure to dedicate my story to her.


So tell me, who was your first cheerleader, the person who really made you believe that you could do whatever you wanted to do in life?

28 comments:

  1. Aww, love this post, Dana! What a great tribute!

    My parents have always been incredibly supportive in anything I've pursued. My husband is also an amazing cheerleader. Not only does he support my writing dreams by encouraging me to write from home while raising our daughter, but he's constantly listening to my musings and complaints and adding a positive slant to everything!

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    1. Thanks, Katy!

      You're lucky to have such a supportive family. :)

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  2. Advising your PARENTS to support your writing efforts was a tremendous gift in itself. My family always thought whatever I did was wonderful, but I guess I thought everyone was like that. The first time I felt REALLY encouraged was in college when my absolute all-time forever favorite professor wrote on one of my papers that I should polish it and submit it for publication in an English journal. I didn't though.

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    1. I was lucky that my parents supported my writing long before Mrs. J advised them to. My grandfather (mother's father) also enjoyed writing, and my mom was excited when she found out I did as well. She always encouraged me. I agree, though, that Mrs. J's advisement was indeed a gift.

      I used to teach at a college. I know that compliments like that are sincere--they're not given frequently. Congrats to you!

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  3. Hi Dana! I like this! Love the idea of the stories featured in the art show- really forward thinking of Mrs.J!!!

    I was pretty much the girl in Janis Ian's song "At Seventeen"... Not bright enough to stand out, but not lacking enough to get some tech support...

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl.

      I know what you mean. I might have stood out in writing, but believe me, I was never the homecoming queen...

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  4. i did have a 6th grade teacher that gave great support to a singing group i formed--even allowing for practice time, during the school day--now as far as my writing now goes--my only real fan has been my daughter robyn--i don't have enough money to pay my other family to read my stuff haha and or course recently the blog community has been so kind---your story is so wonderful---i was just saying yesterday, how our church is fostering the arts, through a revival of our coffee house---that was awesome, how your teacher included your work in the art show--it reminds me - my grand-kids were in a talent show recently--one of their friends was going to read an original story she had written--but at the last minute the school decided it didn't fit in---what a shame--wonderful post!

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    1. How horrible for the school to change things at the last minute! That poor kid...

      There are so many wonderful teachers out there. Your sixth grade teacher definitely sounds like one of them. :)

      Thanks, Lynn!

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  5. I greatly admire teachers like that. The world needs more of them. The first people that encouraged me were my neighborhood friends. I'd write stories for us and they'd love them.

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    1. It's wonderful that members of your own peer group encouraged your writing! In some ways, they're a tougher sell than a teacher is. How great!

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  6. I wish I would've had a class like that with a teacher like that. That is an awesome story. Thank you for sharing!

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  7. This is so sweet. :) My dad was definitely my first cheerleader. We used to write each other letters every day when I was in elementary school (my parents were divorced), and I'd send him pictures and short stories about all these little aliens that I made up. He kept every one of them.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. :)

      Your dad sounds like a pretty special man!

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  8. Such a sweet post, and Mrs. J sounds like a fabulous teacher!
    My first cheerleader was my mom who was also an English teacher. She still reads everything I write and offers encouragement and constructive criticism.

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    1. She really was. :)

      That's great that your mom is so encouraging and helpful!

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  9. After my injury, I went back to pursue my course. This time is was done from home. The head of the academic department encouraged me to take MA and knew that my disability would never be a hindrance from achieving some more. She had so much positive vibes in her being. I adored her so much! Take care, Farida :)

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    1. Teachers like that are amazing!

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  10. This is an awesome post. Does Mrs. J know how you might feel about her? I know from personal experience that it is wonderful to hear from students how things turned out later. Believe it or not, I still wonder about the kids who were in my 8th grade classes when I first started teaching in 1978....I still remember their names and many of their stories.

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    1. Thanks. I haven't spoken to her in years, but you're right--I do need to tell her about the influence she had on me.

      Like you, I occasionally hear from students I taught years ago, and I'm always happy to know how they're doing.

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  11. ...seventh grade Creative Writing teacher, who not only touted my work throughout the teaching staff, but once took me aside and whispered into my ear that she was looking forward to one day reading my work on published pages, between a fancy cover. From that moment, the jet was fueled and ready for takeoff ;)

    Fun post!

    El

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    1. Thanks!

      There must be something about those seventh grade creative writing teachers! It sounds like she really lit a fire. Very inspiring.

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  12. Yay for encouraging teachers! I would say my parents are my biggest cheerleaders.

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    1. That's great! It's always beneficial to have family support. :)

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  13. What a wonderful teacher!! So neat too to have an impact on your life after so many years to still speak volumes of her encouragement and support in your writing!!

    betty

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    1. I agree! She was wonderful, and I'll never forget the things she taught me. :)

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  14. How lucky you were to have her as a teacher! A few words of encouragement to a young person can make the difference between tenaciously pursuing a dream and not believing in yourself. I had a similar teacher in junior high. I still have my papers with her wonderful comments and I remember the day she pulled me aside and said I should write for the school newspaper.

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    1. Yes, when I was teaching, I always tried to be encouraging as I talked to my students. I wanted them to pursue their dreams--just like Mrs. J had encouraged me to pursue mine.

      It sounds like we were both very lucky to have had these kinds of people in our lives!

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