In the summer of 1984, I was a gangly, awkward, intensely introverted soon-to-be high school freshman, where my class of fellow ninth graders at Angleton High School actually outnumbered the entire population of my hometown. Still floundering, still trying to find my place, I suffered from intense anxiety about moving to high school. And as the summer dwindled away with each day spent transfixed to MTV, nothing would have made me happier than to dig my own hole to China and disappear.
"Your schedule came in," my dad announced one evening, holding the envelope that contained my list of classrooms and teachers.
"Hey, how come you aren't in that journalism class?" He asked, scouring through the schedule intently. "Didn't you sign up?"
Well, I had thought about it. Yes, I loved to write, and journalism would have been a perfect fit in many ways. Except for the fact that I would then have to talk to other people: the ultimate horror.
"I couldn't take the class," I explained. "I didn't take the prerequisite." All incoming freshman had to come from Mr. Beeson's 8th grade journalism class, which I had not taken. Again, the talking thing.
"Well, we'll just see about that," Dad said. And it was on.
He called the high school and spoke to the instructor, who gave her permission for me to join the journalism class. Of course, I was mortified. I had no idea how I would get through the year, and visions of a turtle being pulled from its shell with a pair of vise grips flashed before my eyes. I could not even imagine the misery that lay ahead.
But what actually lay ahead was the start of an amazing mentorship with the journalism teacher, Linda Winder.
My first writing assignment came back looking as though it has been stabbed by a serial killer: words were crossed out, underlined, corrected and sometimes even complimented in bright red ink, so much that it nearly overpowered my own words. Clearly, there was work to be done, but the overall impression was that she liked it.
I was hooked.
Over the years she did more than instruct. She encouraged, she prodded, she pushed, and she applauded. She chided me when my grades in other courses slipped and she lectured me on my fickle love life. At the end of four years, I could not only write, but I could take pictures (which was not an easy task in the days when one actually had to know what an aperture was in order to do so).
After high school, she hired me to work with her as a teaching assistant for five years, and I later went on to work as an editor at a small, weekly newspaper. The writing bug never left, and now I do my best to pass on that love for writing, which she nurtured and refined in me, as I teach college students to write.
I'm not really sure where I would be today if it had not been for Linda. I'm not sure where a lot of us would be, actually. Her class was a place where talent was either discovered and preened, or created and fed. And in the summer of 1984, I was desperate to have someone see something good in me.
Does it really only take one teacher to make a difference?
You bet it does.