Re-posting this from September 28, 2010 in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week…
I walked to the front of the classroom and handed my homework, an essay about the horrors of babysitting, to Mr. Shirley. The writing assignment had been due the previous week, but I’d forgotten all about it in the midst of going to Pittsburgh for state orchestra. I had won fourth chair in the viola section, an honor of which I was quite proud, and assumed that being an orchestra geek and generally well-behaved student would earn me a free pass on missing the assignment deadline. I was wrong.
“Too late,” Mr. Shirley hissed, not even looking at me, busying himself with the important task of randomly shuffling papers on his desk.
“But I had state orchestra!” I cried indignantly, shoving the assignment under his nose. He shoved it back.
“That does not exempt you from deadlines in this classroom!”
“But you let Jill hand hers in late –”
“Jill asked for permission beforehand.”
The increasingly angry paper shoving continued.
“I don’t see what the big deal is.”
Mr. Shirley finally met my eyes, his face redder than a maraschino cherry. My assignment now a crumpled ball in his hands.
“The big deal? The big deal is that I want you take this class seriously because I think you could be a professional writer!”
Mr. Shirley did not merely state this. Mr. Shirley screamed this, in the way that you scream at a dog about to eat his own excrement. The entire classroom went silent, barring a few students’ muffled snickers. My jaw dropped and my head went fuzzy. It was the most embarrassing — and the most awesome — moment in my academic life.
You could be a professional writer. The words reverberated in my head.
“Oh. Okay. I’m sorry I was late.”
I turned around and walked back to my seat, biting back a smile the size of Texas.
“All right, I’ll grade your paper this time. But don’t let it happen again,” Mr. Shirley muttered to the pile of papers on his desk.
You could be a professional writer. I will never forget those words, words that have both inspired and haunted me throughout countless careers and life choices since. Six words that continue to have a profound effect on me to this very day.
Which is why I’m proud to post this sponsored video in support of “Thank A Teacher,” a campaign presented by Mudpies and Butterflies. Unfortunately, Mr. Shirley passed away five years ago at the much-too-young age of 55, so I will never have an opportunity to thank him for not only humiliating me into following my passion, but also giving me the confidence to do so. Don’t let the same opportunity pass you by — thank a teacher who has touched your life, or your child’s life, today.