Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thanks, Ms. Ruddle




I'm a writer today because of one extraordinary teacher: Ms. Marilee Ruddle. Yes, that's her real name and I hope she googles herself and reads this.

Ms. Ruddle had a reputation for being ridiculously tough. She famously didn't give A's. Overachievers like me with a 4.0 GPA got their parents to get them a different teacher for English 11. I was not so lucky. I got Ms. Ruddle. Ha! Turns out I was the lucky one after all.

Prior to my junior year, I'd always been praised for my writing, getting good grades, winning contests, feeling confident and pleased with myself. That was soon to change. I got my first essay back with a C+/C-. Top grade for mechanics, bottom grade for content. I was stunned to say the least. Angry. Treated unfairly. And for the first time, my work had turned all red. What was happening?

This paper is all fluff and no content. You've made careless grammatical errors. I expect so much more from you.” Talk about developing insecurities. Who was wrong here? All my other teachers? Ms. Ruddle? Or was it me? I labored over the re-write of that essay. Got it to a B-/C+. Damn. This was going to be a long year.

As it turned out though, it was a fun year. We memorized poetry and recited it for a grade, during private appointments with her. THAT I got an A on. “You put such emotion into your recitation, and not only did you know them all, you seemed to enjoy yourself.” Now we're talking!

We sat in a circle and listened to an old, scratchy piece of vinyl that spun in circles before us.  It was Dylan Thomas himself, reading “Fern Hill”. 

We learned of art, it's various styles, and memorized the name of the painting, the name of the artist, and the years the artist lived. Again, we had private appointments and she held up a print, and we would say, “American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1891-1942.” (I only had to look up the years. Show me those 25 paintings today and I'd probably get a respectable B, if I don't have to recite the years. Everything else stuck. I can still recite the poems, too. Would you like to hear The Road Less Traveled or Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening?)

Fourth quarter we spent on a research paper, learning the entire process step by step. I worked my butt off on this. I remember lying in my bikini, all oiled up (we all had to be tan back then...) in my yard, books spread about me, and making index cards. I lamented the amount of work, but I persevered. I was jealous of those not in her class who had free afternoons.

I hardly dared look as she passed them back to us. I almost fainted when I saw the grade: A-/A. Unbelievable. As I paged through the ten, painstakingly typed pages, I came across one with only one line of red. It read, “This page flows quite nicely.”

I was a writer. I may not have gotten an A on my report card, but I got an A on a paper. The most important paper of the year. Ms. Ruddle liked it! I had my confidence, and I WAS a better writer thanks to her relentless pushing.

What inspired you to start writing? Maybe thinking back, and putting it on paper will give you a confidence boost. It worked for me. Thanks, Jeremy, for prompting me.

*****


The Insecure Writer's Support Group, brainchild of Alex J. Cavanaugh, posts first Wednesday of the month. You can join us. There's a tab at his blog.

24 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And now there's a IWSG website as well!
She may have been tough, but she pushed you to do more and do it better.
I wasn't inspired by a teacher. I just wanted to read stories I couldn't find anywhere else, so I began to write them.

Brian Miller said...

nice....darlene callahan was mine...freshman and senior english...she was hard but loved us and i learned so much...

Kate @ Another Clean Slate said...

I want to find Mrs. Ruddle and send it to her. I bet it would make her day!

DAVID WALSTON said...

It is always great to hear how teachers shape the lives of all of us.

Michelle Wallace said...

God bless the Ms. Ruddles of this world!
I've always had a romance with words... just love them! And I also love learning new words... and foreign words...

You mentioned vinyl... ah, those were the days...
I remember we had a Pilot hi-fi system and turntable, with the diamond-tipped needle...

And there are certain poems that are etched on my mind, like Wordsworth's The Daffodils... and a few others...
Writer In Transit

Crystal Collier said...

Yikes! There's a thorough teacher. I never had any teachers that nit-picky, other than my Advanced Creative Writing teacher, but that was to be expected. She loved me anyway. Actually my learning most came from the other members of that class--because the teacher required us to do in class critiques for each other, at least three per assignment. Oh we got awesome at ripping one another to shreds, and it's a powerful way to learn. I miss that class.

Jeremy [Retro] said...

I wish all my teachers had an impacted on all my classes and years in school... sadly I only remember the 5 or 6 that really hold a place in my heart!

cleemckenziebooks said...

Teachers like Ms. Ruddle set high standards and that pays off for kids every time. My praise to Ms. Ruddle and to you for taking what she offered to heart.

P V Ariel said...

Great reminiscence of a wonderful teacher for the IWSG. You are a blessed person to have such a teacher to push you forward, and I am sure if she read this from somewhere she will surely be the happiest person.
Thanks Tina for sharing this great experience with your readers,
Best Regards
Phil

Silvia Villalobos said...

Had a very strict language teacher as well. And while I didn't know it at the time, she did help me immensely.
Here's to strict/tough teachers!

Andrew Leon said...

I had some of those teachers, the ones everyone else hates. I always did pretty well in those classes.

JoJo said...

That was a great story. Are you still in touch with her at all? All of my fave teachers were also extremely creative with their teaching style. I remember when I was getting out of 5th grade, going to the principal and gathering up all my courage to ask if I could please be placed in Mrs. Winnings' class in 6th grade. So incredibly unlike me to do that. Apparently the office staff found that endearing but remained noncommittal. Guess where I ended up in 6th grade? :D

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm not sure what prompted me. It wasn't something I considered when I was younger like so many people did.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I had two such teachers, Mr. McDonald in high school and Mrs. Wynter in high school. Mrs. Blanco in college. All were tough and wouldn't accept anything but your best. If there were any laurels I was resting on, because like you, I was praised for my writing and winning contests, Mr. McDonald pulled those laurels right out from under me. He wasn't at all gentle either. Mrs. Wynter was the same with literature.

Mrs. Blanco was a pubbed author (although I didn't know it at the time) and very very tough on lazy writing. She's the one that taught me that raw talent is innate--you're born with it. To give it life and breath takes work, work, work and rework. I hated those words, lol!

I think I can handle bleeding crit edits much easier because of her.

I enjoyed your article!

Sia McKye Over Coffee

Morgan said...

Loved this! Very inspiring, Tina. You ARE a writer. And it's stories like yours that we need to remember and hold onto... so great. :)

criticalcrass said...

hey there. this was a wonderful tribute to your teacher and the craft.

ilima said...

I just enjoyed reading so much I decided I wanted to write too. I like that your teacher pushed you like that. Great post.

--Ilima Todd (IWSG co-host)

Shannon Lawrence said...

I can thank a few teachers for their encouragement of my writing. Everyone always knew I'd be a writer. Now to prove them right (write). :)

It's the teachers that are hardest on us that give us the tools we actually need.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Jo said...

Being mostly educated during WW II, I had so many different schools and teachers because we moved around a lot, that I don't really remember any of them. Nice that you can feel that way about your teacher. I am sure Mrs. Ruddle would be pleased if she could read this blog.

Lucy said...

What a great story and I was blessed too with some really great teachers and lucky to have more than one, it does make a difference :)

Chris said...

Good teachers and easy teachers are rarely the same thing (try telling that to a teenager!) My soph. yr. English teacher hated me, but everyone else liked her. My junior yr. English teacher was known for being strict and ornery. I loved her class and we got on great. Did much better with the 'hard' teacher because she understood me and motivated me to work harder, dig deeper.

I think you should share this with Mrs. Ruddle if at all possible. Teachers live for appreciation like this, and knowing that she made such an impact on your writing would make her day. Thank you for sharing this with us!

M.L. Swift said...

I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Pawloski who inspired me to write (11th grade as well), but I always liked to write poetry (which I don't delve into much anymore).

In the 8th grade, we had to recite "Abou Ben Adhem," by Leigh Hunt, doing our best to hold back the giggles during the recitation. It always sounded like, "A Boob in Autumn."

M.L. Swift, Writer

Annalisa Crawford said...

What an awesome story! I'm not sure I had a teacher that motivational for my writing, although I did have a couple of memorable teachers in other subjects.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tina .. I wasn't academic but stuck with it - I'd have done better later in life or with some guidance ... still I'm here today and writing, even if only blog posts ... I seem to have found my voice.

Good for Mrs Ruddle - and so pleased the pressure pushed you forward .. she sounded a great mentor ...

Fascinating read - cheers Hilary