When I was in high school one time, I had an English teacher who meant well, really. But, unfortunately, he told me that I could not use one-sentence paragraphs. This, of course, was confusing to me, so I argued with him in class to the point of getting up and walking out. My mom was the high school secretary, so I just picked up my things and walked calmly down to her office. It was probably where he was going to send me anyway, so I just saved him the grief and trouble. This was in the 1980s, so it wasn’t like today, where I probably would have been suspended.
Don’t get me wrong. I was a good student. All As and Bs throughout high school and college. I never got in trouble. Heck my mom worked at school. I wasn’t like I could hide getting in trouble, so I just didn’t. I also had a lot of respect for my teachers and parents, and I didn’t hang out with people who were troublemakers. So, just to make it clear – I didn’t do this on a regular basis. I wasn’t the teacher’s pet, by any means of the imagination. I just wasn’t the teacher’s pain in the butt, either. Except this time.
So, the assignment in question was a research paper. We had never written a research paper before, in class, and I’d never even read another person’s research paper, either. We had no real examples to use, so I thought I was doing pretty well. Apparently, I was wrong. I did the most awful, horrible, nasty thing I could have ever done in English class. I WROTE A ONE-SENTENCE PARAGRAPH. Apparently this was a tragedy against man.
Now, I would not have been so upset, had the teacher simply written this criticism on my paper. Instead, he announced in class for the whole world to hear, that our papers were not good. That someone had even done the most horrible, awful, nasty thing ever. Someone had written a one-sentence paragraph. Then, in a class of my peers, my friends, and my judge/jury, he looked squarely at me. He called me out in class.
I frankly didn’t appreciate it. I thought there were lots of better ways to let me know this in a more subtle manner. But, he, he chose the road less traveled by, and it made all the difference (to quote his favorite poet, Frost). He called me out and made me want to cry.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking that I should have been stronger, more open to criticism, had more of a backbone. Well, 15-year old girls have none of that, most of the time. Every pimple is cause for great alarm, every bad hair day (of which I as a curly have had millions) a complete meltdown experience. Being called out in front of all of my friends was too much to bear. So, I looked him right in the eyes and said, “So sorry. Since I’ve never written a research paper before, I am not sure how I would have known that.” Yes, it came out smarny. Yes, I should probably have just let it go. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had to stand up for all of the other people in class who were also victims. Well, maybe I was the only one, but I do have to say that on that day I felt like a hero as he said something smarny back and then said I should probably just go to the hall. I said I would just go to the office instead.
I know. You’re thinking that my Mom probably cooked my lunch when got to the office (and I don’t mean a meal, I mean cooked my lunch). Well, she didn’t. She just sat there, shook her head, and we waited for him to show up. He never did! I went back to his class, ended up loving English with a wonderful teacher the next year (see previous blog), and eventually minored in English in college.
In law school, of course, we are required to write motions, pleadings, and papers. Now, as an English minor, I had some level of confidence going into law school, but I was thwarted with the first paper I wrote. My professor wrote, and I quote, “You completely missed the boat.” I was devastated. It took me right back to 9th grade and that English teacher. I felt as though none of the “great work!” papers I’d received in college ever occurred, much less ever counted for anything. I drove home that evening, crying to my husband on the phone, ready to drop out.
I ended that semester with the top paper (top grade!) in that law school writing class. I also ended the most recent semester with top paper in my upper-level writing class. Both papers had at least one, one-sentence paragraph, used by lawyers and others to make a point.
So, in honor of you, Mr. 9th Grade English Teacher: I hereby give you this one sentence paragraph, ending this blog with the special thought of my 10th Grade English Teacher, who told me I could write anything I wanted, as long as I wrote it well enough so that even my Grandmother would understand it.