Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Letter to my 6th Grade Teacher

Dear Mrs. Maki:

You may remember me. When I was in your 6th grade class, I was that girl who read novels during class. The one who didn't care so much about finishing well as finishing fast and would trounce up to your desk with my paper before the others were halfway done, just so I could get back to my story.

Mrs. Maki, I remember you telling us that you didn't care whether our math answer was right or wrong, but that you wanted us to understand the process. I need to confess that I despised that never-ending stack of pages marked "REDO" across the top. I even hid some of them under the class library books so I wouldn't have to keep correcting them until I had gotten every part of the problem right.

Mrs. Maki, wherever you are, THANK YOU. Not only did you give me admirable long-division skills, but you helped me cultivate persistence. I'm not a mathematician; I'm a writer. My road to publication is a meandering one that took me over quite a few "almost" and "just not right for us" speedbumps. When a potential editor was interested in an exclusive revision, I soon discovered that was code for a red-pencilled "REDO" over the top of the manuscript.

The first edit was based on a phone call asking for general changes. Next came a 13 page letter (single-spaced!). The third round was a shorter letter with line edits. Two smaller rounds of revisions later and...we were ready to present my book to the publisher. After they acquired it, it went through four or five more revisions before it was ready to go.

Mrs. Maki, I know other people also taught me persistence. Without your resurrecting math worksheets, I might still have learned that doing something thoroughly is (nearly) as good as doing it fast. Or I might not have learned it, and instead of welcoming the revision process, I might have hidden my manuscript away back when it got its first rejection. So here's a belated thank you to you and to all the 6th grade teachers out there. Maybe it will make up for all the whining you get about math worksheets. In the end, they (really, you) helped me become a better writer.

All the best,

P.S. I might as well include a very late apology for that incident with the glue and the watercolors. So very sorry about the wall.

Hey Mayhemers! Have anything you'd like to say to your 6th grade teacher? Or another teacher who influenced you on your writing journey? Comment below!


  1. I'm glad your long division has stuck with you, Marissa! I remember all my elementary teachers vividly, but strangely not so much the junior high and high school teachers.

    My sixth grade teacher, Miss Davis, had been teaching for a long time by the time I got there. I remember her reading aloud to us, which at the time amazed me, because I thought that was only for kids who couldn't read by themselves.

    Sadly, she may have destroyed what could have been the next Redwall. A friend and I were deep into co-writing an epic tale about a mouse, during boring parts of clase, which we would pass back and forth as we added to it. We got caught, the story got confiscated, and I never saw it again. *sigh*

  2. How awesome would it be if she somehow ended up here, and saw this? Totally awesome, that's how.

  3. Dee - YES! Reading aloud in class. When I taught 5th grade, we did that every day. I always thought the kids would think it was too baby-ish, but boy did I hear about it if I ever tried to skip it! I plan to read bedtime stories to my boys as long as they'll let me. And too bad you don't have a copy of that story! I have an old one I wrote during Chemistry in 11th - So. Funny. (Unintentionally so, of course).

    Matthew - That WOULD be great! I thought to tag her in the post, but know that feeling when you were a kid and ran into your teacher at the mall or something, and it was shocking to see them out of the classroom? That realization that teachers were normal humans - ha! Well, when I went to tag her I realized...I don't know her first name! She will forever by solely "Mrs. Maki" to me. ;)

  4. My seventh grade social studies/ history teacher once said something to me about writing that I'll never forget. For a project for his class, I chose from a list of options to write an additional chapter at the end of "Johnny Tremaine." When I got it back, he had written in red ink at the bottom, "If you can write, you can do anything."

    Those words made me feel that I had some kind of magical power, a power I could take with me into life as a secret passcode into anything I wanted to do. That kind of confidence meant a lot to me: a girl who could get straight A's, but couldn't do much about the bullies who teased me mercilessly. It told me that my own gifts could translate into something more than a report card. At least, eventually. Cheers to that 8th grade teacher!

  5. As a former sixth-grade teacher, this knocked my socks off. xoxo

  6. Joey - I LOVE this. Writing IS a super-power!

    Hooray for inspiring teachers - you, too, Caroline! :)

  7. What an awesome post, Marissa. I am right there with you when it comes to math frustrations in school. For me, it was my sophomore math teacher who taught me patience and persistence could pay off. Thanks, Mr. Luebeck! :-)

  8. Well, I for one loved those math worksheets, but I also loved the writing assignments, though I was slow as molasses at either. (I would be the boy thinking, "How can she POSSIBLY be done with the worksheet already, when I've only written my name and figured out the accurate date?!") Props to my 6th grade teacher as well, because she encouraged my writing significantly. She's the only teacher I've tried to find on facebook... to no avail. Are you sure teachers are real people who exist outside the classroom?

  9. Miss Kyla Parks1/4/12, 11:57 AM

    Oh, this is so sweet! As a teacher, there is nothing more special than getting letters like these!

  10. Mine was an eleventh-grade English teacher, and I wrote her a physical, paper letter a few months ago thanking her for the role she played in getting me from here to there. Cheers!

  11. Aaron, I'm still not so sure. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I spotted one of my high school English teachers in the library parking lot a few months ago. What did I do? Freak out and walk on by. Yes, after seven years of teaching, I'm still not sure teachers are real people!

  12. @Shannon & Aaron - The worksheets themselves I loved - there's something so satisfyingly concrete about math problems. I just hated having to revisit the same problems over again. And again. Ugh.

    @J - Great idea! I included two HS English teachers in my acknowledgments and I thought to look them up when SB comes out - love the idea of writing a note of thanks.

    @Caroline - haha! When I was in college I spotted my 7th grade teacher in a department store and had that same embarrassed feeling - haha! Weird.

  13. Marissa,

    Her first name is Jodi. Maybe some of you friends from that school still connect with her. I feel she'd love to get this. :-}

  14. Marissa, what a great post. As a teacher for 12 years myself, I know seeing something like this would be so rewarding to me. Given the fact that many teachers feel underpaid and under-appreciated, something like this warms the soul of a teacher and validates the many stressful moments that go into the life as an educator. If you can seek her out, send a link to the teacher and have her read this. Thanks.

  15. Well, I took everyone's great advice and - thanks to the magic of google - sent Mrs. Maki a link to this post. ;) Cheers!

  16. These letters to teachers mean a lot. I remember being in my son's school office one day when the rather stern third grade teacher opened a card from a former student graduating high school and burst into tears. It was a card telling her what an impression she had made in his life, and how he still remembered her as he headed to college.

    All at once, that teacher became a human being for me. My son was fortunate to have Ms. Gray the following year, and she was amazing. (Another story of not judging a book--or a teacher--by the cover.)

    By the way, my hair stands on end hearing about all the revisions you pubbed authors are called on to do. Kudos for all your hard work!

  17. I just love this. My favorite teacher was Mrs. George. She was wacky and wonderful. Made me smile and made me try harder. :) YAY FOR TEACHERS!!! \0/

  18. My sixth grade teachers were the best people you ever could have met. I loved every second of every day with them. Ms. Neves, Mrs. Barrett, Mrs. Erban, Mrs. Grant, and Mrs. Haughey, you were THE BEST! I learned so much in each class, and Mrs. Erban, I am going to miss your sweet personality the most! I loved you 5!!!!!


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