Wednesday, July 10, 2013

To the (Non) Stereotypical Teachers

I was reading Linchpin, a book by Seth Godin, blogger extraordinaire, and came across this paragraph: “Hand in a paper with perfect grammar but no heart and soul, and you’re sure to get an A from the stereotypical teacher. That’s because this teacher was trained to grade you on your ability to fit in….And that’s how school stamps out (as opposed to bakes in) creativity.”

Right then, I stopped reading, because I realized something very important: that was not my story.

I am a creative person. Always have been. Eight-year-old bowl-cut Amy, an enthusiastic little dweeb who wore brightly patterned shirts and a perpetual smile, decided one day that she wanted to be a writer. And people told her she could be.
Also, I was fascinated by everything. This is totally not posed.
One example in particular comes in mind, one that goes against Godin’s entire chapter about how our education system is designed to repress creativity. I got an A on a high school history essay once. But it wasn’t an essay. It was a one-act play about the life of Louis XIV. My teacher, Mr. Gilmer, had me read parts of it out loud to the class.

At the time, I didn’t even know how to read the Roman numeral in Louis’s name out loud without looking at a clock (it’s the fourteenth, just for the record). But I did know that having people fight over roles in your academic paper was pretty cool.

So I wrote the next essay as a short story set in the French Revolution. And the next as a series of Help Wanted ads from the Industrial Revolution. And the next as two speeches—for and against communism.

It was fun. All of the required facts from the textbook were in those essays, but the content was unique. They weren’t just encyclopedia copy-and-pastes. They had life in them, and people liked reading them.

Up to that point, I had been the student who sat in the back and rarely spoke (yes, I know that’s hard for some of you to believe). I suddenly became the student who debated the merits of postmodernism, asked difficult questions, and had an opinion on almost everything. Most of the time, in high school, I tried to blend in. In Mr. Gilmer’s class, I learned that it was okay to stand out. And I never stopped.

Let’s fast-forward to July 2013. There are some days when I don’t want to write or edit or create. I want to do mindless work or watch TV or take a nap. Today was one of those days.

But I write and edit and create anyway, and it’s not money or fame and fortune that’s motivating me.

I’m doing it for the librarian who let me check out way more chapter books per week than the limit allowed. I’m doing it for the mom who let me write a novel in eighth grade instead of working through the usual jr. high homeschooling curriculum. I’m doing it for the college professor who gave me enthusiastic feedback when I wrote a research paper about bacon in different world religions.

They defied Godin’s idea of what the stereotypical education system looks like, and in doing so, they gave me a chance. They baked in my creativity instead of stamping it out. Because of that I have an incredible head start over a lot of other people who didn’t have that kind of encouragement.

So, to the non-stereotypical teachers out there: remember that it’s up to you whether to stifle creativity in your students or encourage it. We need you. A future generation of writers and artists especially need you. Thanks for all you did—and do—for us.

I don’t need hundreds of pages from Godin to motivate me to find my creativity again, because I never lost it. I’m doing what my teachers and family and friends always told me I could do, and I’m very thankful for their support.

And that’s reason enough to sit down and write.


  1. I love this essay. Hooray for Gilmer!

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  3. Loving this. Also, this will be of interest to you:

  4. That's such a valuable thing to remember. Thanks, Amy!

    Also, you and I looked quite similar at the age of you in that picture.