Thursday, April 01, 2004

What is the story?

A conversation with a friend got me thinking about my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. K. I decided there was a blog-worthy story in there somewhere and tried to decide what exactly the story could be.

Is the fact that one of my friends is still in touch with Mr. K and that he was able to tell me that Mr. K is doing well despite the fact that my former teacher had seemingly dropped off the face of the planet the story? No. Not really.

Is the fact that Mr. K seems to have been able to make a good life for himself and, thus, triumphed over the nasty situation where one little girl's claims of inappropriateness cost him his job as an English teacher the story? I suppose that makes for a good story, but it's not the one that keeps coming to mind.

For me, the story is about writing and the reason why I still write for enjoyment today.

The majority of the time I spent in English classes 7th through 12th grade was out of necessity and not free-will. There are a number of times I received midterm progress notes from my English teachers stating concerns about my grades due to turning in papers late. My obvious disdain for analytical writing reached its height my senior year in AP English where I refused to read novels all the way through; instead skimming what seemed to be the important bits.

The silver quill in all of this was 8th grade. Eighth grade, by itself, was a very difficult year for me. In adult-speak, my "peer relationships" were at an interesting, new low. Due to many reasons I won't discuss, my English class could have been a horror if not for the new teacher, Mr. K.

Mr. K, fresh out of college, decided to do things differently. We were not going to just read works of literature and then spit out analytical comment in the on-going effort to improve our writing and comprehension skills. Instead, the young teacher suggested that great literature extended beyond books. We dissected "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, discussed the new album "Out of Time" by R.E.M., and were encouraged to go see the latest film adaptation of "Hamlet", starring Mel Gibson. We did read some grade-appropriate novels, but my memory of that is overshadowed by other classwork including the six-week creative writing segment.

The creative writing segment was new. I have no knowledge of whether it was continued years after the test run with our class, but I seem to remember Mr. K telling us that it was probably the last time we would get to do any class-related creative writing until we left high school. We explored writing different types of poetry ranging from free-style to haiku. Some of my classmates developed short stories. The class itself went free-style with each student having the luxury to work on whatever moved them. I tried my hand at poetry. Admittedly, most of it now seems immature but it was an effort to spread my wings into an area where I didn't have a lot of experience. I even found enough courage to submit two poems to the Junior High's literary magazine. One was published. We were all encouraged by our teacher who offered praise and constructive criticism along the way.

Recently, while trying to slim down the pile of jumbled stuff into meaningful memories, I could not bring myself to throw out anything I wrote in 8th grade that had a comment sheet from Mr. K attached. The advice he gave then pushed me more than any other English teacher I've had since then. Today, I work in a public relations job that requires me to write often. The job before that required me to write news stories nearly every hour of my shift. Still, I find time just about every day to write something for myself and others. I truly doubt I would find this much pleasure if not for one class and one teacher.

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