Monday, July 26, 2010

What Happened in 5th Grade

Over at Novel Matters there's a discussion going about encouragement, and the question was posed who is that person, or persons, who stand out in our memories as those who encouraged us as writers. I was immediately reminded of the first time someone (unsolicited and not a family member), made me believe that I was a good writer.

Mrs. Baird was my fifth grade teacher at Tanglewood Elementary. I loved her class. It was one of my favorite years in grade school. Something strange happened to me that year. I'm a shy person, an introvert, and not at all comfortable being in the spotlight. I can get flustered if more than one or two of my closest friends are listening to me tell a tale that takes more than 30 seconds to relate. I was like this, and probably worse, as a child. But somehow Mrs. Baird made that fifth grade classroom such a comfortable place, I actually opted several times to stand in front of the class and give my book reports orally rather than written, when given the choice. I wish I'd been able to build on that, but it seems it was a special dispensation of grace for me.

But something else Mrs. Baird did for me has lasted lifelong. It was to do with another book report (we must have read a lot in her class, since my abiding memories are of doing book reports, and making a paper mache easter bunny, (but that's another story....)). So, this particular book report we did in class, and the only option was written. Groans all around me, but I always got a little leap of eagerness when faced with a written assignment, so I got down to business quick. I'd already returned the book, Silver Wolf, to the school library on that day we sat at our gum-sticky desks and wrote our reports in class, to be handed in after a certain amount of time. I'm not sure why we did them in class, instead of as homework. Maybe it was a sort of pop quiz, only in essay form. That I didn't have the book with me was no bother. I'd read it several times and knew it inside out (I had a fascination with wolves then and devoured anything on the subject, usually coming back for seconds.).

Anyway, I wrote the report in the allotted time and handed it in with the rest of my classmates'. When they were handed back, graded, I saw I had an A, but Mrs. Baird paused beside my desk and studied me a moment longer than seemed necessary, then she asked, "Did you write this yourself?"

Shy blond mini-me nods, thinking, "Of course I did. I sat here in class and wrote it. Didn't you see me? And I didn't even have the book with me." But I couldn't get a single word of this to make it from my brain to my lips, so I have no idea what she might have said had I spoken my thoughts. Content with my nod, she moved on with her stack of graded book reports.

Her statement might have been taken one of two ways. Either she was subtly accusing me of cheating, which didn't make a bit of sense because she gave me an A, she was smiling, and I'd written the paper practically under her nose. Or else she was subtly telling me she thought my writing was good enough to be remarked upon in such a fashion.

It's never taken a lot to encourage me when it comes to writing. I took her meaning in the most positive light and soared on its wings for many years. In fact I think there's a quiet little blond-haired girl inside me that's still sitting at that desk feeling her teacher's approval, and turning over and over in her heart this shiny new notion of herself as A Good Writer, amazed that it's just been handed to her--and it not even her birthday.

Thank you, Mrs. Baird.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Lori. Now I'm back to blog-reading and have missed yours immensely:) Isn't it amazing how teachers from way back had such an influence. I love your story here. Mine was similar. I still have a little scrap of paper from a teacher in elementary school that says she thought I'd succeed in becoming a writer one day:) It means a lot to me and is on my writing desk. That was 40 plus years ago!
    Have a blessed writing day:)

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  2. It's great to see you back in my neck of the cyber-woods. Missed you! But I know it was for a good cause. Can't wait for The Colonel's Lady in published, polished form. AND to see the cover. I'm getting excited for you.

    That's so cool you kept that little scrap of paper all these years. I know those good teachers are going to receive great reward in heaven for all the lives they touched and encouraged, some without ever knowing they did so. What a fruitful life path to choose. God bless them!

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