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I do not remember when I learned how to write, but I do remember the teachers and the subject matter that made me think and made me want to write what I was thinking. Throughout my formal school education, it was my English teachers who truly amazed me for it was they who taught me the tools I needed to write.
In high school I had a magnificent teacher named Mr. Dawson. I was fortunate enough to have him as my English teacher in my first year of high school. He was a big burly Irish man with red hair and a very soft voice. We read The Lord of the Flies, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, The Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare, and scores of others great pieces of literature. Mr. Dawson was similar to Mr. Keating played by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society. He made characters come to life and helped us to see how the struggles characters go through in literature are the same ones that people struggle with from day to day. He was so passionate about the literature we read that it was contagious. We wanted to read more and write about what we were reading.
Mr. Dawson also loved film and public speaking. His classroom was covered with old movie posters. His favorite hobby was to go into New York City, to one of the big theaters, and watch movies. Hed talk about how the theater was set up, what the carpet looked like, how comfortable the seats were, and of course, how incredible the movie was. He also loved watching the Golden Globes and the Oscars and we would spend a lot of time critiquing how the actors and actresses spoke, and what they were wearing. Very often hed use the Golden Globes and the Oscars as writing pieces in class.
Aside from being an excellent teacher he was also a great confidence booster. I was the girl who always did her homework but did not really raise my hand to speak in class. My grades on my report card were always affected because I didnt participate in class. In Mr. Keatings class, writing was our participation along with peer groups and conferencing. This set up was very different than any other class I had been in in the past. The intimate atmosphere did not make me feel intimidated to speak with my peers and took away the anxiety I had often felt about answering questions wrong in front of the entire class. He was constantly checking in on our groups, but I felt like it was a collaborative effort rather than the typical teacher asks the questions, students answer set up. He made us feel like we were in charge of our creations, and that even at their worst, we should take pride in our writing. He also made us feel proud of our work by publishing it in some form or another.
Early in the school year we were working on forms of poetry. We had just started working on Shakespearean sonnets and over the course of three days we were given time to work on them in class in groups. At the end of the week we had to turn in two of our best sonnets. I remember working so hard on this assignment, making sure I had the right amount of syllables, lines, and rhymes. After we handed them in we had not heard anything about them for a while until one day after the morning announcements someone was reading my sonnet. I could not believe it! I was relatively embarrassed because I was a freshman and all my friends joked with me about it but inside I was so proud. Mr. Dawson had not told me he was going to read it and I felt like it was the first time someone noticed my writing and published it in a sense. That day alone, those five minutes that it took someone to read my work, made a world of difference in my life. That day built my confidence as a writer making me realize that although it is hard work, I could indeed write.
More than anything Mr. Dawson offered reassurance. I remember conferencing with him; he would sit back and do a lot of listening. If I felt lost he would offer suggestions, but more than anything he acted as a writing coach for me. He would push us saying, Keep writing, explore that idea further, what do you mean by that, what are you trying to say? Just as my athletic coaches in the past had reminded me practice makes perfect, Mr. Dawson reminded me that writing is practice. Off the field he encouraged me to spend time on my writing. The practice I put in was worth it and I would see the results.
Perhaps I liked the subject matter, and in turn wanted to write. However it was the tools: the reassurance, the reminders about practicing, the conferencing, the publishing, and most of all, the time he took that taught us how to write and to make us want to take it to the next level. Mr. Dawson not only took an interest in my writing, but in that five minutes when my sonnet was being read, helped me build the confidence to see that I should take an interest in my writing as well and that I should share it with others because I had something to offer.
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