Saturday, August 20, 2016

Teachers Who Helped: Challenge Your Students

Hi, folks, my senior year in college was a fun one for me. I switched my minor to English and took a full load of English courses.  I picked classes that I thought would be a snap.  My favorite was Children's Literature.  My professor was Dorothy Van Riper. This class changed the course of my life.

I took this class specifically because I believed it would be an easy A. I mean, I had read every book required for it more than once, and some I almost had memorized.  I loved the childhood classics. How hard could this be?  I've mentioned before that I was a poor student. In college, I was always the struggling one.  I had a hard time with the pace of the classes.  They were always too fast. I could keep up the pace for a month but then I would stumble fall behind and then choke on the dust.  I was a sub-par chemistry major trying to find my way.

My experience in Dr. Van Riper's class was trans-formative. For once, I was the racehorse. It turned out , the only thing I was really well prepared for was children's literature.  I didn't know this when I took this class. I was surprised when Dr. Van Riper would ask me questions (even when I didn't raise my hand.)  Her class was my first and perhaps only experience in college that wasn't like school. We would argue about the meaning layered in books, we'd marvel at the marriage between text and art, and we'd discuss the future of children's books. It felt like a conversation between professionals. I couldn't wait to go to the next class. I felt like parched land that finally had received a renewing rain.

About halfway through the class Dr. Van Riper invited me to her office hours.  When I got there, she handed me a stack of books on children's writing: Lee Wyndham's book Writing for Children and Teenagers and several others. I had no idea why she was giving these books to me but I read them dutifully. It was like someone raised the curtain on the Wizard, and I was getting a look at the secret workings.

I continued with class. I'd write notes before I got there. Dr. Van Riper would argue with me. I would argue back. We picked apart  Katherine Paterson's OF NIGHTINGALE'S WHO WEEP and THE BRIDGE OVER TERABITHIA. We reveled in A WRINKLE IN TIME.  She introduced me to the wonder of picture books again. I got a big crush on Peter Spier's work.  We reveled in the magical realism of THE SECRET GARDEN. These are stand-outs of  probably over a hundred books.

I'm afraid all the education majors were lost in the dust of our arguments.  Dr. Van Riper would read my papers to the class. I think she read them all.  She gave me stacks of extra books. It was awesome, beyond awesome. I excelled on every test.  You know, excelling does things to you. GOOD THINGS.

When the semester came to a close, I was freaked out when Dr. Van Riper gave me an F in her class.  I stormed the gates of her office and she laughed at me.  She'd given me an F because she wanted to encourage me to become a children's writer. Wow. Her insistence changed the direction of my life.

It took me a few years to get my head around the idea, but I did. And here I am at 30+ books and counting.

So, teachers, you may have to give an F to get your message across.  You are awesome! Teachers can see things that no test can.  I celebrate their magic! I will be back next week with the last in this series.

Here is a doodle for you.

A quote for your pocket.
You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself. Galileo Galilei


Trudi Trueit said...

Great post, Molly! I always love hearing how writers came to find their calling. For me, it was Mrs. Zielinski, my fourth grade teacher, who opened that door when she let my friends and me perform the plays I had written for the class, and sometimes, the whole school. Discovering your passion is a remarkable, and often rare, thing. And it takes even more courage to follow it. Well done!

Sumel said...

Mine was Mrs. Winokur, who didn't tell me I would be a writer, she said I was a writer. 4th grade magic She also tasked me with setting up the classroom library. And when my 4th grade classmates found me "Harriet the Spy"esque note book, she defended me and said if then wanted to be famous, they would stay close to me.

Molly/Cece said...

Hi, Trudi, Yay for Mrs. Zielinski! Love her for supporting you in the fourth grade. Thanks for sharing.

Molly/Cece said...

Mrs. Winokur, she sounds so wonderful. I think she offered good advice. I will continue to stay close. I am a little jealous of knowing in the fourth grade that you were going to be a writer.