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Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life
Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life
Do you ever wonder whatever happened to your students after the year you spend together? I imagine how my students are finding life...are they happy? Successful? Do they still read? Write? What is going on with them?
I taught fifth grade for eight years. Fifth grade was such a fun year to teach because the students were still young enough that school was something they loved and old enough that they could show some real signs of independence. Fifth grade is the oldest grade in our elementary schools, so the students enjoyed their final year before moving onto middle school and the challenges that came with that new adventure.
2007 was a tough year for me personally. My dad collapsed in September of that year and then died in March of that same school year. He lived thousands of miles away, so my mind was definitely unfocused that year...but that year, Catie was in my class.
Catie was a quiet student. She worked hard and got along well with everyone and seemed to like going unnoticed. I noticed her. Early in the year, the students wrote their first piece of writing for me. I used it as a diagnostic tool, so I always encouraged them to do everything they knew good writers should do. On the other hand, I also assured them that this wasn't for a grade. Writing for a grade paralyzed some students. I clearly remember Catie needing encouragement. She confided in me that she wasn't a good writer. I smiled and said, "Do your best! It will be ok!" She wasn't convinced, but she continued. Students finished their drafts and handed them in and the day continued.
After school, I read through the drafts. When I got to Catie's draft, I stopped. STOPPED. The writing that she produced...I was speechless. It was filled with beautiful images and complex sentences. Even though I didn't know her well, I could hear her voice in her writing. It was all of those things you want your students to do. The only thing she needed support with was her spelling. That's it!
The next day I conferenced with her. I asked her why she said that she's not a good writer. She responded, "Because I can't spell." I spent the next minutes explaining to her that spelling isn't writing and extolling her writing gift. We focused on improving her spelling and finding tools to help her spell correctly. She grew during that conversation. I mean, I literally saw her sit up taller and listen to me. As our year progressed, Catie wrote creative, funny, warm pieces of writing. I submitted a piece of her writing to a juried contest and she won. With each piece of writing, Catie grew more confident and took more risks. She was a joy to teach!
Fast forward to this year...I've changed schools, she's a senior in high school. I teach in a different town. I bumped into Catie at the movie theater a year or two ago, but other than that, we've lost touch. Until September when I received this message:
I don't know if you remember me, but I used to be in your fifth grade class in 2007. I know this message seems out of the blue, but I thought I should tell you that I'm currently writing a speech about you.
This year, my senior year at high school, I signed up for a public speaking class (my worst nightmare). Our very first speech is about an influential person in our lives and I picked you!
I wrote about how I was always the quiet kid in school, not easily remembered by most of her teachers, but it was different when I was in your class. You always remembered my name and, to me, gave me a sense of identity.
I had always thought I didn't have a special talent or unique quality, but you opened me up to myself and helped me discover my love for writing. I talked about a special moment when you pulled me out of the classroom and told me you had entered one of my short stories in to a contest and I had won, thus qualifying me to attend a writing camp.
You told me that I was a good writer and that I had a real talent. I have never forgotten those words and they continue to encourage me and have left a mark on my heart. I still have the short story you submitted and I read it for laughs occasionally. I'm no longer the quiet girl who hides behind her writing, now I am the Editor-in-Chief of my school newspaper and have gotten quite good at bossing people around!
I had found a quote that I used in my speech that I thought fit the situation rather perfectly. It's by William Lyon Phelps and states, "A student never forgets an encouraging private word, when it is given with sincere respect and admiration."
So I just wanted to take the time to thank you for encouraging me as a kid and for being such a wonderful teacher. Your kind words and confidence in me have continued to aid me through life. You have and will always be my favorite teacher!