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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Teachers (07/12/04)

TITLE: A+, the carrot on the stick
By Annette Agnello


I always had the need to write just like I always had straight hair, while my brothers had naturally curly hair. But all my teachers gave my writing low marks. I couldn’t see that the problem was spelling not what I was saying or how.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that any teacher had anything positive to say about my writing. Miss O’Brien was the Latin teacher. But Miss Waldron had too many students in her
English classes, so a month into the school year some were split off and given to Miss O’Brien to make a new class. I was upset I was one of the ones who was cast aside and stuck with that strange little woman. Miss O’Brien looked like a little doll from a set of nursery rhymes, she should have ridden into the classroom on a large goose. She was old fashioned and fragile looking. How could she be as good as someone fresh out of college?

Monday morning we went where they put us reluctantly. To my delight I found out how wonderful the forced change was. Miss O’Brien was tough but she was always fair. She was a teacher that made sense even though she did some weird things like diagraming sentences. Didn’t she know no one did that sort of thing any more?

She had us write a lot of things, essays, poems and limericks, short stories, anything and everything. Unlike most teachers if you would work she would give you a chance to improve. Miss O’Brien would let you turn in a paper a second time after you made the corrections she told you about and the paper would go up a grade. Her feedback was wonderful and encouraging. Unlike all the other teachers she said my writing was good. It did all have to be graded twice the first time to point out what was wrong with it, the second time to get a grade. Unlike with other teachers it was a good grade.

The most memorable of the papers was one I actually had everything right on even spelling where she offered to change an A to an A+ if I combined two sentences using a semicolon. It seemed like a huge waste of time to copy two pages by hand. She was hanging out a carrot on a stick; I went for the A+ in spite of how useless it felt. I did end up learning how to use a semicolon so well that when I got to college I was one of only three students in freshman English who knew how to use one correctly.

Back then there were no computers, certainly no spell checkers if you couldn’t spell it was your problem and your shame. I was put down and laughed at whenever I tried to write something Miss O’Brien made the writing itself matter more than the things which are so easy for some people. She looked at spelling as just something that needed to be fixed and she looked past it and said the writing itself was good. If she had not encouraged me the way she did no one would have ever seen my writing. Oh, I would probably still have written it is as necessary as breathing. I have kept a journal for over twenty years and spelling never mattered there. But to let anyone see my writing... no way, no how. Miss O’Brien was a real treasure she helped me pursue my real dream. She ended up teaching me far more than semicolons. She was the first one give me a glimmer of hope that I could write anything of any value.

Member Comments
Member Date
darlene hight07/19/04
Nice entry! And I didn't find any mistakes.
Jean Boulmay07/20/04
Enjoyed reading.
L.M. Lee07/22/04
What I wouldn't have given for a teacher like this...she really taught. Giving you a chance to correct yourself.

but I know spelling, I battle it all the time. I hate when I've read a word, won't to use it, but can't even type it out enough for spell check to recognize where I'm trying to go!

Fortunately, my kids learned to spell! I use to ask them! ;-)
Annette Agnello07/22/04
She was a treasure. You get your kids help. I get my husband's. I can help him in return with punctuation when he does his papers for class. He is studying for the ministry. Miss O’Brien got through to me on that, my spelling was a lost cause.
Lisa Beaman07/23/04
Spelling has always been an issue with me too. How can someone who loves words as much as I do, spell them so badly?

Your story reminded me of when I was in 2nd grade. I won a "creative writing" award. My mother (who was not an encourager) asked, "how could YOU win a writing award? Your writing is awful?" She meant my penmanship.

Thank God for spell-check & typing!
Marcell Billinghurst07/23/04
What a lovely tribute to a teacher who helped to encourage you to develop your gift of writing. Well done. Keep writing.
Phyllis Inniss07/24/04
There's nothing like a teacher who encourages you. You make that extra effort and become better. Good article.
Karen Treharne07/25/04
How lucky for you, Annette, that Miss O'Brien cared for charges personally. A blessing from God, no doubt. It's too bad you can't thank her in person for her encouragement. Your writing reflects the thought and enthusiasm you must have always had and may have lost were it not for her. It's a pleasure to read about such a teacher.