I’m not sure when I fell in love with writing. Maybe it started when I was in the second grade and got an honorable mention in a contest that my teacher entered me into for a haiku I’d written as a class assignment. This is the poem and yes that is pink paper and yes that is my second grade very careful cursive.
In the sixth grade I wrote a book review on Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery. I saved the book report because of what my teacher wrote on the bottom of it, “You really have a ‘gift’ of writing down your feelings about things you read. I truly feel that you should push yourself into a field of writing as an occupation. Think about it and develop it. Keep writing for the pure joy of it.” By the way, and I am not being modest here, when I now reread the book review, I cannot understand why that summary prompted his feedback. However, my writing isn't what I remember anyway--it's his feedback that left a mark.
In the seventh grade, I wrote and delivered a speech in my middle school’s annual public speaking contest. I won first place and went on to win second place in the county’s contest.
When I was in the fourth grade, I started writing in a diary. In the beginning, what I wrote about was mostly related to my love of Kirk Cameron (the actor who played the oldest son on the show Growing Pains) and how he’d never even know I was alive. I cried a lot about that back in the day. Keeping a diary was something I continued off and on for a few years (now turning to boys I actually knew who I thought I really, really liked). Then, when I was fourteen, I made a New Year’s Resolution to write every day. With incredible dedication, I kept that resolution for seven years. In truth, part of me was inspired by Anne Frank and the idea that the world knew about her because of her journals. Now when I go back and reread what I wrote, I can say with certainty that what I wrote about was ridiculously banal and dramatic—as is true for most teenagers, I think. The highs and lows revolved around school, friends, boys, and my family. Despite the lackluster content I included in my journals, the act of writing daily was a choice I made and that act created opportunities to write by choice and to practice the craft of writing.
These are all mile-markers on my journey to my love of writing. By the time I finished high school, I knew that I wanted to become an author and was excited to go to college to get a degree in English. Not only did I have an internal desire to write, but I had extrinsic praise for my writing. Perhaps the biggest acknowledgement of my writing came from my dad—a man who did not really believe in a college education—who paid for me to go to college to become a writer because he thought so highly of my ability to write.
I’m sharing all of this because you may think that my path was paved with rose petals and bubble wrap based on what you’ve read so far. The other side of this story, however, is not so encouraging. I graduated from my second choice college because after attending my first choice, I transferred after only one trimester. Socially, I often struggle in new situations because I am an introvert (though I am now an extrovert professionally). At my first college, I lived on campus and my roommate already had people she knew and wasn’t interested in including me in her friend circle. That left me to find my own friends, which I wasn’t skilled at since my high school was so small that you never had to meet new people.
At my first choice college I didn’t even go to the cafeteria for meals because I knew I’d sit by myself and that felt horrible. It was hard to eat when I had a constant lump in my throat because I was so sad. Rather than gaining the “Freshmen Fifteen,” I was quickly losing weight. After about two weeks, I moved out of the dorm and back home. I ended up driving to and from college daily because it was just about an hour away from my parent’s house. I was embarrassed and defeated and felt like a failure. I transferred to the only 4-year school that was close to my parents and living in their house.
When my classes started at my new college, I was in upper level English classes because I had taken college courses in high school. However, the courses I took in high school did not prepare me for the rigor that I experienced in these on-campus, upper level courses on poetry and comparative studies. When I was assigned to write an analytical essay about the Thomas Gray’s poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” I remember going to my dictionary and looking up “analytical” because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. (For the record, the definition did not help me understand what I was supposed to do.) I also did not have experience needing to ask for help. From kindergarten through twelfth grade, I learned how to “do school” and got really good at it. College—well, that was something else altogether!
I still wanted to be a professional writer, but I knew that I wasn’t going to become a well-paid, famous author overnight. For that reason, I decided to get certified as a teacher. That made me very nervous. I didn’t like kids or getting up early and (forgive me but) I really did think in high school that my teachers were capable of teaching, but not of getting paid to do what they were teaching us to do. For example, I thought my chorus teacher could sing, but she couldn’t sing well enough to get paid to sing as a full-time job. It was such an awful thought, but I can’t deny that this was my thought at the time. Luckily, my first cooperating teacher for student teaching, Dee Schwartz, was amazing! Her passion for her craft was encouraging and contagious and she showed me that my love for reading and especially writing was one that could be fueled through teaching.
As I neared graduation, I had a meeting with my advisor and she told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “I’m so glad that you’re going to be a secondary English teacher. I think you’ll be good at that because I don’t think your writing and understanding of what you read is on par with working at a college.” Again, I’m paraphrasing since this was a conversation and not something she put in writing. This conversation was obviously one that impacted me since I can remember it well enough to share her gist which was you’re okay, but not great. I want to share that although this conversation stands out, the general messages I received throughout my college experience were of a similar nature and, by the way, I was an honors student at my college and graduated cum laude.
I’m so thankful for all of the people who encouraged me along my journey because without them, I might have believed what my advisor told me. Luckily, that one person could not erase the foundation that others erected and my passion for writing when there were no grades involved.
I’m sharing this because you have a choice you can make. You can be one of the people in someone else’s journey who helps to lay the foundation of encouragement that will be there in the face of adversity or you can be one of the people who tries to dismantle that foundation. I hope you choose the former.
P.S. Kevin Leichtman is this week's Catcher of the Week. Kevin is an education consultant, co-founder of @TLCEducate, Director of @academicmindset, and author of The Perfect Ten: Ten Students, Ten Mindsets, One New Definition of Perfection. The book features student voices as ten brave students share their experiences with school and how they overcame adversity! Here's his Catch:
When Ed Tech and SEL meet, educators find powerful tools to encourage student success, health, and wellness. Educator Jodi Miller accomplished that task with a phenomenal new app, Wellcheq. Wellcheq allows students to express how they feel privately via the app, accessible by the teacher. This allows students to prioritize their SEL needs without the anxiety of publicly expressing their feelings. It also gives teachers an actionable data tracking tool that helps them improve the SEL of their classes. Follow her progress on Twitter @Cheqwell
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