n the first day of what would be a depressing and alienating two-year trudge under the fluorescent lights of a rural high school, a soft-spoken bald man stood in front of my English class and looked at the ceiling as if trying to remember what he was going to say.
“So. In the past few years, you’ve all learned that an essay should be five paragraphs. The first paragraph states your argument and includes a topic sentence. You develop your argument over the next three paragraphs, and finish with a conclusion paragraph that starts with the words ‘in conclusion’ or something.”
Silent assent from thirty smallish heads.
Small gasps. Heresy!
“They probably taught you never to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but.’ Forget it. Don’t use adverbs? Forget it. Forget,” he pointed at us, “all of it.”
My class drove multiple teachers to tears, and substitutes swore blood oaths on our principal’s desk sealing their promise never to teach again until we were all dead and buried under crossroads, but this man never even had to raise his voice. He’s among the pivotal figures that made me want to write, and not give up for all the years I was terrible at it.1 He understood writing, and just as important, he understood his students.