Tales from the Before Time: Classroom Issues
For a long time, I was — to put it mildly — skeptical about the value of classroom writing instruction, if by “skeptical” we mean “unconvinced of its utility and halfway convinced that its influence is largely malign.”
I blame early-writing-life trauma.
Picture me, in the eighth grade, bookish and awkward and laboring under the further social burden of being a new kid in the sort of town where everybody has gone to school together since first grade. I wanted desperately to be — well, not popular, because popularity looked like it came with more strings and preconditions than I felt like dealing with, but ordinary.
At the same time, I was already a beginning writer, turning out lachrymose poetry and lumpy prose and working hard at my efforts to improve both (harder, in fact, than I ever worked at any of the “draw one line under the subject of this sentence and two lines under the verb” exercises in our English textbook .) And I was as hungry for outside validation as any writer, beginner or established pro.
Unsurprisingly, there came a day when I had a finished story in hand and wanted somebody else’s opinion on it. (Needless to say, the story sucked. I was, after all, only in the eighth grade.) So I screwed up my courage to the sticking-point and showed the story to my eighth-grade English teacher, hoping to at least get some useful commentary out of the deal.
This was a big mistake, because she liked it.
She liked it so damned much she read it out loud to all her English classes. Which put paid to any hopes I might have had of appearing ordinary, and got me out of the habit of trusting English teachers about anything.