Fueling the Fires

Helen Burns

My eighth grade creative writing teacher was one of my sponsors of literacy, and not in a good way. He tormented me everyday; when I was in a boot from spraining my ankle, when I was sick, when I was well. My handwriting wasn’t good enough, so I tried to type my work. And I received a zero for typing it, because he didn’t say I could do that. My parents met with him and the principal most days for several weeks. This man – I can’t and will never call him a teacher – would tell off even the principal. He was forced into retirement over this.

The worst part of it all, was that my friends admired him. He was supposed to be some great art teacher, so none of them believed me. None of them believed that I was receiving failing grades when I was rewriting things three or more times to make the handwriting as perfect as possible. I remember how angry I was, but I didn’t drop the class. I wanted to prove to him that I was better than him and I did. I still dream of sending him my first completed novel when it’s published.

That year shaped me as a writer. In the middle of all of this, my father lost his eyesight for a time due to diabetes. He was diagnosed with terminal kidney failure. So even though I hated every moment of that class, it gave me an outlet. It gave me a way to become better. I was recommended to write a paper for a national competition by my English teacher. My math teacher read everyone of my stories.

He may have hated me, but he only made me stronger.

As I read about the different sponsors of literacy, I felt connected with it deeply; and I could name mine with ease. It made sense that everyone and everything has an impact on who we are and what we become. We can have parents who read to us every night, and circumstances may just have it that we hate reading anyway.

There is no sure-fire way to make everyone love reading or writing. But for those of us who do, it is a fire that burns hot and bright.

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