We all have a unique story about how we identified our talents and realized our passions. This story may still be a work in progress for you — in many ways, it is for me too. But this week, I want to share a post about the simple but meaningful moment in which I first thought, “wow, maybe I’m a writer.”
The following is a short non-fiction narration that I wrote about that moment.
Mrs. Gruber didn’t have favorites. She praised us when we did assignments well and critiqued us when we did them poorly. Even in sixth grade, this was the kind of teacher that I needed—a brutally honest one.
Once a week, Mrs. Gruber would select a random topic and ask us to write a sentence about it. She wouldn’t grade them, but simply used them as a tool to develop our imaginations. One time, she asked us to write a sentence about a monkey on a trampoline. Another time, the subject was a clown in an amusement park. We were told to include as much detail as possible without making the sentence a run-on.
This exercise would rarely end with a single sentence for me. In no time at all, I would have an entire fictional scene surrounding this one image that the teacher had presented. I would write for as long as the exercise lasted, some times even writing more at home if my imagination prompted me.
One day, Mrs Gruber simply asked us to write a sentence about ourselves. This was a bit more difficult for me than our previous prompts, mainly because it was not fiction. It had to be about something real. After a while, she noticed me writing with what must have been particular enthusiasm. I suppose this made her curious.
“Lara, come here please. Bring your paper.”
I sat, bug-eyed and trembling. It wasn’t until the second “Lara...” that I finally arose and began walking toward her. She smiled at me as I approached.
“Looked like you were working pretty hard over there. Can I take a look at what you’ve written?” she asked.
I timidly handed my paper over to her and watched as she read over it. I can’t remember the exact sentence I had written, but I remember that it was about my height and I had alluded to needing a stool to reach the countertop. Before I could ask her not to, she was reading the sentence out loud to the class.
Then she turned to me and simply said, “You’re a very talented writer. Keep at it.” She handed my paper back to me and I went back to my seat, slightly embarrassed but mostly beaming.
As silly as this may seem, I identify this vivid moment of praise in my early childhood as the moment in which I acknowledged my interest in writing. Looking back on it now from my 20-something-college-grad perspective, I can identify the educational process that was at work that day.
The sentence itself was likely not very impressive by academic standards. I was no child prodigy and there is no doubt that my sixth grade teacher had read thousands upon thousands of sentences that were far more memorable than “I stepped on a stool to reach the countertop.” Even so, Mrs. Gruber’s reaction was so genuine that I, as a young student, was led to consider writing to be one of my true talents.
John Dewey, a 20th century American educational philosopher, wrote a book called How We Think, in which he considers the relationship between a teacher’s attitude and that of her student. He writes, “Everything the teacher does, as well as the manner in which he does it, incites the child to respond in some way or other, and each response tends to set the child’s attitude in some way or another.”
Mrs. Gruber’s authentic enthusiasm in this seemingly insignificant moment incited a response in me. It was only after this moment of affirmation that I began to acknowledge and appreciate writing as a skill of mine. I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to do with it, but I knew that I had it, and at that point, that was enough.