I was a somewhat ordinary 8th grader with his head in the clouds and his feet occasionally touching the ground. Miss Stocken was a tall, good-looking blond English teacher who enjoyed playing basketball with the boys whenever the chance arose. Most of us had a crush on this young, vibrant teacher and would do anything she asked of us. One particular day in her class stands out for me in a special way. Miss Stocken had a tape-recorder set up on her desk which captured our attention as we entered the room. The whispers moved around the room as we settled into class. After taking role she explained that we were going to do a writing exercise accompanied by music. The hands quickly rose because we had lots of questions about the assignment. The questions ranged from, ‘What do we write?’ to ‘How long should the assignment be?’ and other frivolous eighth-grade questions. Miss Stocken smiled as she informed us that we could write about whatever we wished to and it could be as long or short as we wanted it to be. She said, “Just write about whatever the music brings to your mind.” So we all diligently set out to write purposely. I am unable to remember what I wrote about but I do recall how excited I was to write freely, with no worry as to spelling, penmanship or grammar. As class came to an end, she collected our work and told us she would read them and return them the next day. The next day came quickly, and as promised, she returned our papers. On top of my paper was a comment asking me to see her after class. I was not sure whether to be excited or fearful. Part of me was convinced that she was so amazed with my writing, she wanted to tell me personally how good it was. At the end of class I went up to her desk with my paper.
As I approached her, she smiled that big beautiful smile and then asked me to read my paper aloud so I could hear what I had written. As I began reading, I quickly realized that my writing made no worldly sense to me or anyone else. I felt ashamed. She quickly assured me that this was normal, but that I should go home to try to make sense of my writing. I do not remember if I actually did follow-up, but it would have been difficult because what I wrote was an incomprehensible mess. Despite the fact that I had virtually no skills in writing, I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling that writing gave me. Never the less, I decided that writing was just not my gig. I managed to make my way through high school and college with extremely meager writing skills as I focused on the fields of math and science. To this day, I remember the satisfaction that I had experienced in Miss Stocken’s class so many years ago.
Somehow in that brief encounter, she had planted the joy of writing in me. Not that I could write well enough but I greatly desired to write proficiently. So as the years passed, I gradually began to understand the process of learning to write. In the beginning it was slow and difficult because I had little guidance. I was improving but had so awfully far to go. Somewhere along the way came the advent of computers, allowing me to write something which I was actually able to read and review. When I retired from teaching, the local newspaper (asked me, YES ME!) to write a blog for them. Well, in the beginning it took many hours to come up with something that was mostly grammatically correct and had less spelling errors. My wife, Sue, was pretty good proof reader, but a friend of mine who had taught writing for many years at a prominent Catholic high school in Washington, DC, offered to proof my work. This was difficult at first as we plowed through, what must have been hell for him; i.e. my flawed writing. He is still helping me and occasionally praises my work which is an immediate high for me.
As usual, if you have made it this far, you may be asking what the point of this article is. Put concisely, the point is: the power of a teacher to is plant seeds in young fertile minds! One never knows where that kind of special moment will lead them. I have listened to numerous stories from former students of mine who told me of comments I made or things I did that had a profound impact on their lives. Most of the time I do not even remember the specific moment, but to hear these stories is nothing but enjoyment for me. To know that I made a difference in the lives of many young people is the reward in itself for all those years of teaching.