Mrs. Newsome was my tenth-grade English teacher at Briarwood High School, home of the Mighty Buccaneers. For years I’ve written about her and how she was a stickler for the Queen’s English. Her red correction pen, now infamous, was used often when it came to me. My book reports and term papers were returned with so many corrections they looked as though they were bleeding.
Of course, to be fair, they would’ve been better if I’d spent more than just the time during homeroom writing them. Looking back, that year’s experience probably is the reason why I didn’t start writing a newspaper column until I was well into my forties.
Either that or I met another kind of English teacher.
For almost 10 years now, I’ve written this newspaper column, and The English Teacher has been there for every word. She has guided me through the labyrinth that is the English language and helped to make my ramblings coherent. She not only corrected my stories, but she did something else. She made me a better writer by editing for content.
She took the time to sit down with me and show me how each word plays on another, how you can change how each sentence combines with the one previous and the one that follows for emphasis, and how all of these things come together into paragraphs and finally – and most importantly – a story.
Thanks to her, after the first year, I was able to hear what was being written. I had finally found my voice.
After the second year, she did not laugh when I told her I would like to try my hand at writing a book. She always gave thoughtful suggestions. When I asked her how long the book should be, her answer was simply, “As long as it takes to tell the story.”
A story I wrote last month I actually had to write twice. The first time I turned it in, The English Teacher sent it back as an email attachment and then phoned. Something she never does. She warned me her comments were harsh but that I could do better.
That night at 8 o’clock, I sat down and started to write from scratch. An hour later the story was submitted to the paper and received many compliments – compliments I probably wouldn’t have gotten had I submitted the first version. I kept the email as a reminder of what she said. And to this date, I’ve still not opened it nor read those harsh comments.
Sometimes it just takes someone being honest to get you back on the right track. I think that’s what I’ll miss most. She says she is only going to California. To a new job and the person she will spend the rest of her life with. It’s not the end of the world – it’s just a quick phone call or e-mail away.
To be honest – I tried to tell her it wasn’t going to be the same — that I wished her the best but wished she could stay. Somehow though, all the words got jumbled up in my mind and were still jumbled when they got down to the paper. See, it’s already started.
My first book was finally published last Saturday. Funny, I never had a chance to hand The English Teacher her copy and thank her for all the help. She moved away the day before.
They say you never do realize what you have until you lose it. I did. I always knew. The English Teacher is one special lady. Thanks for the all the years of encouragement and guidance.
Thanks for making me look so good on paper.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is email@example.com.]