Some of my friends sing. Some paint and create crafts. Others can roller skate like the wind. A few are excellent photographers. Me? I can write. That is my talent. If I was a contestant in the Miss America pageant (not holding my breath, believe me), there would have to be an essay contest. I love to write articles, blog posts, stories...you name it...I love it.
One of my favorite part-time jobs ever was teaching part-time at my alma mater Drake University. I enjoyed helping the students discover who they were going to become. Part of that process was helping them to be better writers. Today, I read an article that alarmed me and made me sad. Our current school system is not producing excellent writers, but instead expert bubble-filler-inners.
When I attended St. Anthony's Grade School, we had this hard-ass teacher named Bob Grosing. He was a military type. Close-cropped hair, very physically intimidating in appearance. Apparently, he had a Shrek-like way of scaring the bejeezus out of students. Why? Because he was a "hard teacher." Yes, Bob Grosing had very high expectations, didn't take crap from anyone, and by the way - would tear up your paper in front of your face and make you do it all over if you screwed up. REMEMBER, this was before word processors. Most of this stuff was hand-written.
Mr. Grosing was a stickler about outlines. He made you outline the chapters we read in social studies. To this day, I can outline anything I'm reading faster than a New York minute. His real trick in making us do those outlines was that we were actually forced to read the stuff, write the stuff and regurgitate the stuff in class. Mr. Grosing was an evil genius.
I remember the day when it was announced over the intercom that Mr. Grosing was leaving St. Anthony's. We hooted and hollered and jumped up and down - so long that we missed the fact that he was leaving St. Anthony's and going to DOWLING HIGH SCHOOL. That's where I was going! Damn. He was following me.
I remember the first day of school at Dowling. I prayed that I wouldn't have Mr. Grosing for a teacher. Sure enough, I rounded the corner into my new classroom, and there he was. Same buzz cut, same baby poop-colored pants, same toothpick hanging from the corner of his mouth. UGH. My.life.was.over!
But something happened half-way through the Western Civilization class that was unexpected. I learned how to use those silly outlines to write papers. Lots of papers. Papers on Napoleon and Roosevelt and World War II. Papers on how not to talk in class. Papers on why I forgot my uniform vest in P.E. class. Papers on where my grandparents came from.
There is no substitute for Mr. Grosing in a kid's life. There has to be someone who's willing to be the bad guy. The git 'er done guy. The "I don't really care if you hate me, but I'm still tearing up this paper guy." Mr. Grosing didn't just teach me to care about history and western civilization. He got me to care about the quality of my work, how it was presented, what thoughts it contained, and how to create magic with words.
Mr. Grosing gave me a gift. Thank you, Mr. Grosing.