Back to School on a Note of Gratitude
Written by
She Writes Fridays
September 2010
Written by
She Writes Fridays
September 2010
Deborah Siegel invites She Writers to pay homage to favorite English teachers everywhere. Inspired by Erin Hosier's post on Monday ("What Makes a Great English Teacher?"), in which Erin interviewed Ms. Janes, a favorite high school English teacher who recently reconnected with her via Facebook, I found myself itching to do a Q&A with my own (hello Ms. Medwin!). But then, I realized, really I just felt like thanking her. So with school starting for many this week and next, today's She Writes on Fridays is dedicated to all those teachers who made us the readers and writers we've become. Shout out a teacher who influenced you, in comments or a post (and if the latter, be sure to post the link in comments so that we can find you!) Ok, I'll start: Cheers and gratitude to Sherry Medwin, the English teacher at New Trier High School in Winnetka IL, who, in 1986, introduced me to Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and Emily Dickinson, inspired me to learn about women's poetry at the same time that I learned to write a term paper (my "junior theme" title? "The Voice of the Women Poet"!), and propelled me on the course that ended up in a PhD in women's lit! I will never forget your appearance at my reading at the Book Stall a few years ago. Thank you, Ms. Medwin, for starting me on the course that has ultimately led me here, to She Writes. Photo source

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  • Wendy Lawless

    My teacher, Don Jesse, at the American School in London taught me seventh grade English in 1974. This wildly theatrical and mercurial man who wore jeans and turtlenecks(not suits like the other male teachers) and changed his facial hair every week demanded our attention. I was riveted. Mr. Jesse was always in motion, spouting poetry and Shakespeare while walking inside the circle our desks made. If you didn't know a word, he'd throw the dictionary at you and holler, "Look it up!" We read Edgar Allen Poe, the Scottish play (which he took us to see in the West End with a very young Helen Mirren as Lady M.), David Copperfield, Jane Eyre. We memorized 'Ozymandias" and soliloques. And we wrote. He was the first person to encourage me to write. His praise of and attention to my writing meant the world to me. I ended up becoming an actress first, before turning to writing but I still credit Mr. Jesse with giving me my love of words. He opened up a world for me and I will never forget him. He is retired now and lives on a farm in Cornwall.

  • Deborah Siegel Writing

    OMG I am movedtouchedinspired by these notes of appreciation and love!!!

  • Tania Pryputniewicz

    Elizabeth Smith, at one time Beth Reilly (English teacher at El Molino High School in the 80s) I wish you could read this tiny offering of my love for you and how you anchored and inspired me, mirroring back to me my absolute conviction that words mattered. I also wish that you could have received the letter I wrote to you from my loft at Black’s Gaslight Village in Iowa City, when I was living out my dream at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in pursuit of an MFA, thanking you for your part in encouraging me to write despite whatever chaos I found around me in my personal life.

    (I learned later that Beth had passed away after struggling with breast cancer, most likely before my letter reached her).

    Beth, blue-eyed, tall, confident, so so smart, and strict with her expectations, offered extra credit for poetry memorization. I still see her behind her desk, listening to my attempts: To an Althlete Dying Young, Ozymandius, Kubla Khan. She introduced me to the poetry of Dylan Thomas (Fern Hill, In My Craft or Sullen Art, A Child’s Christmas in Wales), and started me on the lifelong habit of keeping note-cards to track one’s reading history as well as one’s inspiration history (quotes by others), and favorite passages of one’s writing that really had no place in the story at hand, but could ever be preserved on a notecard awaiting future use. Thank you Beth—hope that wherever you are, you are still writing…

    Thanks Deborah.

  • Dawn Nickel

    What a wonderful idea, Deborah. I would also like to acknowledge the woman who introduced me to women's writing - Daphne Read, who taught (and hopefully still teaches) a full-year course on Women's Literature at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. When I am in self-doubt mode, I still go back and read Daphne's comments on a paper that I wrote for her class back in the early 90s. It was the first piece of my writing outside of poetry where I allowed myself to be vulnerable on the page. I wrote about my relationship with my mother and how difficult it was to write about that relationship, not because the relationship was difficult (although it was at the time) but because I was so afraid to be vulnerable on paper. I thought at that time that writing was about intellect, not emotion. Daphne kept pushing me to be honest. So I was. I got an A - but it was Daphne's comments peppered through the paper that inspired me to keep writing, and they still do. She scattered praise as well as advice in the margins of each page - writing things like "great image, great potential here, strong motif, powerful, eloquent..." At the end of the essay, she wrote "This is a wonderful piece - deeply moving, eloquent, poignant, and humorous, richly complex and textured. Yes, you can write emotion, Dawn." Thank you so much, Daphne, for giving me permission to be vulnerable in my writing.

  • Ginger B. Collins

    My thanks go to Sister Carmella, my Senior English teacher. I found out at the reunion that everyone hated her, probably because she had such a wicked aim and could hit any of her 30 targets with an eraser if she thought they weren't paying attention. Not me. I always paid attention, even when she plastered my essays with red ink comments like, "Cut the crap and tell me what you really mean." She refused to let me BS my way around a topic. I was so caught up in pleasing her that in the process I learned the basics of editing and the power of a single word used correctly.

    When I saw her at a school fundraiser I couldn't wait to tell her that I made my living as a writer.
    Ginger B.