Friday, May 13, 2005

This week's homework: Teachers

For this week's homework, Scalzi asks:

Weekend Assignment #59: We've all had teachers who have made a difference in our lives. Tell us about one of yours. It can be a teacher from any level of education, from kindergarten to graduate school.

Extra Credit: Tell us your second favorite subject in schoool.

"Schoool" ??  Well, John, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "spelling" wasn't your favorite.

OK, teachers who have made a difference.  Actually, I've been very lucky in that I've had many wonderful teachers.  In part, this wasn't luck.  Fairly early on, I learned that the teacher is more important than the subject -- so I selected a lot of college and law school classes based on the professor, not the subject matter.  I ended up with a love of several different subjects I'd had no idea I was interested in.  Go figure.

But for this assignment, I'm going to go all the way back to a Junior High School English Teacher -- Miss Cunningham. 

We wrote lots of papers for Miss Cunningham, and I usually received good grades on them.  Most of my papers, though, were written with a certain level of informality.  I never really saw a difference between hoity-toity "legitimate" reference sources and sources from popular culture.  When analyzing Shakespeare, I'd have no trouble at all making references to contemporary movies or TV shows.  And I'd have lots of footnotes (yes, even in Junior High) -- I'd run off on tangents, or go the extra mile for a pun, or write something else which I'd thought was worthy of inclusion, but didn't quite make the cut for the main text.

One day, Miss Cunningham pulled me aside after class.  I had just turned in a paper which was overflowing with popular references and footnotes; it was really some of my best work.  And Miss Cunningham asked me to rewrite it.  She said that she knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and this style of writing would never do.  She wanted me to rewrite the paper in a more "proper" style, because that's the way lawyers write.

I was dejected.  It wasn't like I had any problems with spelling or grammar -- it was purely a question of style.  She wanted me to take out everything that made the paper mine, everything that made it fun.  I rewrote the paper.  All of the analysis was still there, but none of my particular style.  I gave it back.

The next day, Miss Cunningham had me stay after class again.  And she said, "Forget everything I said the other day.  The first paper was much more persuasive."  And I said something about, "But I want to write like a lawyer."  And she said, "This is the way lawyers like you write."  And from then on, she encouraged the writer I was, rather than trying to force me to write some other way.

Brave of her to admit she was wrong (to some kid) -- but going through the whole process was extremely valuable to me.  Before I settled in my current job (where I've been for eleven years, thanks very much), I was with some law firms that tried to make me write in their styles, saying, "This is how a lawyer writes."  No, this is how a lawyer at your firm writes.  I am a lawyer, and this is how I write.  Miss Cunningham taught me that.

Second favorite subject:  Probably "History of the Common Law."  Yes, I know.  Geek.

4 comments:

pixiedustnme said...

Wow, how great that she recognized what worked best for you - and not just what sometimes appears to be right. http://journals.aol.com/pixiedustnme/Inmyopinion/entries/1016

mkolasa101 said...

A very wise teacher was Mrs. Cunningham..and what a wonderful awareness she brought to the for front for you then.  Almost as if she was there in you life at that very moment for a very specific purpose.  Can you imagine what kind of a lawyer you would be had you allowed others to shape and shift your style to suit them.  This could have gone on your entire life.  God bless Mrs. Cunningham, an angel disquised as a teacher.  

Marlene-PurelyPoetry

http://journals.aol.com/mkolasa101/PurelyPoetry

madmanadhd said...

Truly one of the most difficult things for a teacher to do is to admit to a misjudgment. Yet, what a valuable lesson she shared, to admit her errors and model how to learn from them. Miss Cuningham had/has that ability to nurture the spirit within each student and inspire that individual, lifelong journey to excellence. She let you keep your style but allowed no compromise on your effort. Sounds like it has paid off.

And yes indeed you were quite fortunate to have been touched by so many wonderful teachers. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

Care to read mine? Come on no grading necessary... but a comment would be welcome. Happy Saturday!
http://journals.aol.com/madmanadhd/ConfessionsofaMadmanInsightsinto/entries/1171

madmanadhd said...

Truly one of the most difficult things for a teacher to do is to admit to a misjudgment. Yet, what a valuable lesson she shared, to admit her errors and model how to learn from them. Miss Cuningham had/has that ability to nurture the spirit within each student and inspire that individual, lifelong journey to excellence. She let you keep your style but allowed no compromise on your effort. Sounds like it has paid off.

And yes indeed you were quite fortunate to have been touched by so many wonderful teachers. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

Care to read mine? Come on no grading necessary... but a comment would be welcome. Happy Saturday!
http://journals.aol.com/madmanadhd/ConfessionsofaMadmanInsightsinto/entries/1171