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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.