Teachers make a difference

Last week, I was asked to speak during the Wood Whispers awards luncheon in Parkersburg. The young writers and artists were being honored for their work in poetry, short stories, essays, drawing and photography; so my first thought, upon being asked, was, “Me?”

But then the memories started to flood back, and I went digging through my bookshelves for a thin volume called “The Eagle’s Eye,” published … let’s say, a few years ago. It was Ohio County’s version of Wood Whispers, and there was a story in there with my byline on it.

Well, you all know what happened to me. I get to write every day. But in flipping through the booklet, I saw names of folks I know have gone on to do a variety of important things. There are doctors, engineers, off-Broadway set designers, big-city advertising executives, lawyers, actors and, yes, one lowly newspaper editor.

For many of us, one of the first hints that we had much talent or skill came when a teacher told us our work was worth publishing in that little book. But I want you to notice something: those doctors and engineers, the ones working in what we might now label S.T.E.M. fields.

One of those engineers is now a high-level executive in a company in Colorado. He has a brain for numbers unlike just about anyone I’ve met. He is the reason I and some of my friends came remotely close to understanding our physics homework in high school and I would trust him to figure out any math or science problem thrown at him.

So I looked at the essay he wrote, which was published in a volume celebrating creativity and writing ability. It is better than mine.

But that’s the way brains work, isn’t it? The skills we develop, the things we learn, feed off one another. They do not stay in their own little compartments. Taking away the classes that might help one student discover and nurture his ability to draw today could shut down the pathway that might lead to his interest in drafting and design, later.

Of course, it would serve my point better if I told you my friend took lots of music or theater classes while he was in public school. He didn’t. He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But we were lucky, back then, to have English teachers who encouraged all of us to look for that extra something in ourselves. For him, that meant discovering an ability to use language and express himself that has served him well the rest of his life.

On the other hand, I was lucky to have math teachers who did not give up on me – who did not let me get away with being just a band/choir kid who liked to read much more than I liked tackling algebra.

What a challenge teachers face, as class options shrink and mandates increase. How much harder it must be, to keep up the energy to encourage variety, creativity and discovery in ALL kids; and to avoid compartmentalizing students.

I do not envy them, but looking through the list of names of kids who were told many years ago, “Hey, you are a writer; you are creative and good at this!” or “You, my friend, are an artist!” I can only hope they keep trying.

Believe me, it makes a difference.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com