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The lesson I needed most, I had not realized until very late in my learning journey. We go to school with a sense of trust in our teachers to prepare us well for our futures, whatever those may be. However, what you learn about this in your adult years, is that you were at the mercy of their skill level. No two teachers are alike. Especially, no two English teachers are alike, nor skilled in the topic.
The problem begins with the expectations of teachers in the beginning grades of US institutions. They’re supposed to have skill in all subjects. That’s all well and good, but is it to the benefit of our youth? The teacher has a working knowledge of the subjects and ability to use tools and references to help their students build the same working knowledge through the term of the year. Then, they move on to another teacher expected to have the next lesson and so on.
My grandfather used to jokingly ask: what do you call a doctor with a B average? A doctor. Do you want to go to a physician, when you’re sick and needing help, who may not have done so great but managed to graduate anyway? Compared to the A+ student, do you have the same level of confidence in their ability to treat you?
The same idea can be extrapolated to teachers. Don’t get me wrong. What they do is immensely difficult. They wear so many hats throughout the day: subject matter expert, lesson planning, counselor, computer tech, nurse, artist, maid, parent, caregiver, banker, peer, and even sometimes a chef–to name just a few. Imagine not being able to focus on one topic to teach your students and having to do all of that on top of it. Some things are going to fall through the cracks. Perhaps they are not as well-rested as needed. They could be ill. They’re dealing with personal issues. We definitely don’t pay them enough!
It’s not okay to treat teachers with a view of only their work. A holistic examination of what makes a teacher will remind you of their humanity and the reality of their struggle. All of that manages to transfer to what the student is learning. As stated above, some pieces are missed. Maybe the subject isn’t their strongest, but they’re functioning in it.
In my experience, the writing lessons of my school years fell far short of expectation. When I reached college, I remember professors complaining about the inability of students to write well. What did that mean? Not only did they lack the proper education on citation, but simple grammar had eluded them. I felt so afraid, because I had been hoping to become a writer. What would I do if my skills fell so short that a college felt embarrassed for me?
Thankfully, when graded, I found I wasn’t among those complained about. So what was different? In my first year of high school, the journey toward becoming an author began. My eye was on proper format, grammar, and creativity. Mostly, I focused on creativity! Research also ranked very high. Each lesson had built a sizable foundation.
Above all, the lessons taught me: pay attention to instructions and follow them. When I had questions, or some part of a lesson confused me, speaking up was imperative. That said, my aptitude was pretty high. For example, in tenth-grade English, I was alone in understanding the Elizabethan English of the Bard. Shakespeare’s word-play threw my classmates for a loop. At that moment, I guess, the realization of where I belonged took root. Nerd alert!
Influences of poverty converged against influences of greater prosperity, too. While I did not discern the significance at the time, my mother’s family suffered a lot lack–whether that was wealth or education. My father’s side was better off–my uncles and aunt all went to college. Yet, I’m the first to get a master’s on either side. How did that stagnate my learning? Well, it made things a little harder as I had to unlearn such things as patterns of speech that evolved from a lack of knowing and also find help outside of the family to learn necessary skills. At one point, during grade-school, resource teachers had believed I had a speech issue, but later dismissed this finding. It’s interesting how these influences can create hardship for students beyond their personal capability or that of the teacher.
While my skills were higher than a lot of my classmates in the areas of English study and writing in later school years, my ability was not quite what I needed for the professional realm. All of the various struggles faced hampered my efforts. Meaning? I was good enough to get by. Feedback received after college showed that I really needed to work on some aspects of grammar. There was no problem in the area of paragraphing and punctuation or creativity. Specifically what was it? My language utilized too much passive voice. A very common issue!
The passive voice is a two-fold issue for writers. Not only is the problem passed down from teachers, but also arranged in the expectations of society. Gender conformity has a lot to do with the way we talk. How we talk is largely how we write. Being AFAB, I learned to be demure, peaceful, and not upset anyone by my words. This was difficult as I never truly felt like a girl/woman. Conforming was an exercise in cosplaying. Still, expectations were pushed hard. My voice reflected this.
Wishy-washy writing is also likely a product of trauma. Adverse experiences in childhood double-down on the fear of upsetting the apple cart. One tends to speak more carefully–passively. Unlearning this is a trial for the trauma-experienced person. You’re battling everything you’ve learned, and are going against what made you safe.
In the end, I overcame a lot of this learning through my strong desire to write and the fortitude to follow through. Support systems would also help a similar writer, if they have them. Mine wasn’t that strong. I leaned into my research skills to aid in this portion of the journey.
When a would-be writer examines their skill set against the points of outside feedback, there is much to consider. One may need to be quite frank with themselves as to where they are in the journey–not just dismiss the information as unreliable. The take what you can and leave the rest practice is very helpful when your ego won’t let you utilize information set before you, however. Please keep in mind, if you can’t laydown that ego, you will take longer to get where you’re going. Take heart. Eventually, you’ll realize what you needed to know. So it is up to you how long you want this take. Don’t punish yourself if your ego is stronger that day. Sometimes, it is just going to win. (That’s a lesson for you!)
The greatest obstacle to reaching my writing goal was understanding how my bad skills had been perpetuated by a system that thought good enough was great. Up to the moment I started shopping my manuscripts, there were no problems with my writing. Of course my ego balked! I trusted my teachers and professors who were experts (or so I thought). I thought, these people must be out of their minds, or just trying to stop me! When I made my ego step down, I made greater strides. Humility has helped me achieve my goals in writing.
Looking back, fixing my weaknesses was quite easy. All I needed to do was find an actual expert with which to work (an editor), and correct the mistakes. The ability to retool my words was an invaluable lesson for my growth as a writer. There was no walking away because of ego. This exercise forces the writer to see themselves clearly and practice to the point of unlearning bad habits. Your first drafts may still be loaded with problems, but the more practice in fixing them, the less likely you are to create those mistakes in the first place.
That goes without mentioning how you’ll overcome traumas and conditioning, as well. Personal growth, not just professional, is just on the other side of this journey. It’s worth every step! Take each lesson with gratefulness.
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Richard Dee says
Teachers were the bane of my life. They consistently told me I was stupid and useless, then acted surprised when their continual negativity didn’t motivate me. I only really started learning when I was in a job that I wanted to do, where people actually helped me to become what I could be.
P.J. MacLayne says
You have to find an editor that you can trust, and one who doesn’t try to rewrite your work to match their style.
Captain Maiel says
Yes. They definitely need to know their role and us ours.
Samantha Bryant says
Education is important, and, as a former teacher, I appreciate the supportive comments. But, we all find that there are holes in our learning that we have to fill for ourselves. Luckily, there are tons of resources and it can be fun! @samanthabwriter from
Captain Maiel says
Teachers are so important. It is a really hard job!
Stevie Turner says
Once we have reached our writing goals and are the best we’ve ever been, we self-published authors still all struggle with the same problem – marketing. I wish there was a solution to selling books apart from gaining an agent and being snapped up by one of the big 5 publishers…
Captain Maiel says
It is so true!