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.