Just before lunch, a very polite little girl from the 3rd grade stopped by my office and gave me a collection of personal narratives from her class. There was a note attached to the carefully bound booklet that said, “We worked hard on these personal narratives for three weeks. Love, the 3rd grade.”
Ok, “personal” was spelled with an i, but so what!! I have made worse spelling mistakes in my weekly updates, and if I didn’t have spell-check on this Macbook, I would be in serious trouble and potentially unemployed. I flipped open the cover page and spent the next 20 minutes reading every story, and as I finished the book I found these pieces to be amazing. It was so obvious to me that some of these students already loved to write, and I found their work precise, thoughtful, and descriptive. These were hard working writers, and I was incredibly proud of them.
I fell in love with writing in my junior year of high school because of my teacher Delores Kendricks. We were working on a project called the Reporter at Large, which required us to write a profile of someone in our life who we were not related to. My classmate's father was John Irving's dentist, and he was the student’s topic of the paper. Really. How do I compete with that? I thought I was being rebellious because I picked my sister's boyfriend who was the assistant manager of a dive bar in Chelsea, but in the end, Ms. Kendrick liked the paper. In fact, she called me at home during Spring Break to tell me she liked it. I only got a B, but she was tough, and there were definitely some issues with spelling. That conversation with Ms. Kendricks happened in 1986 but I can remember every second and every word.
These 3rd grade students edited multiple drafts, studied punctuation, worked on their penmanship, revised sentences, and thought about word choice. They wrote stories about sharks, snakes, friends, beaches, quesadillas, boats, and surfing. By the way, the 3rd grade clearly loves the ocean. Their stories were titled using powerful words like “epic,” “splendid,” and “fantastic.” So as I put down the collection of 3rd grade narratives, I could not help myself, I wanted to give them the conversation that Ms. Kendricks had given me 34 years ago. I wanted these young writers to know what amazing work they had completed and make them love writing even more. I clutched the stories and ran up stairs.
I snuck into the classroom and interrupted the lesson without thinking. I rambled on for about 15 minutes about the writing process and the power of strong verbs. I then finished with a ten minute lecture about avoiding the verb “to be” and how powerful circular construction could be. I was feeling like I was at my best, until I heard someone say, “Zhaney, can you turn the movie back on, please?”
I may not have had the impact that Ms. Kendrick had on me, but I did stop by the 3rd grade line at pick-up to let them know how proud I was of them for producing such a great collection of stories, and I received an overwhelming number of enthusiastic thank-yous from these special young writers. In fact, I will let a quote from one of those writers summarize how I feel about our New School writers and their impressive stories, “I knew they would leave a permanent mark in my heart, just like this whole day.”
And how do I compete with that?