As a grade school student I took great pleasure in writing letters to my grandmother–and found I enjoyed the act of putting words on paper. I recall one piece I wrote in junior high regarding how to set up an aquarium. The basis was all of the mistakes one would make in the process. The teacher loved it. I remember her love of it more than I remember the actual piece.
I was fortunate to have a number of teachers who encouraged my craft–and some who didn’t. Also during junior high I remember one teacher’s comment on an essay I wrote. She was horribly upset that I’d misspelled the word “truly” several times. Her concern was the repetition of the mistake. I wanted to note that if I thought I’d spelled it right the first time, why would I question it the next time? And why didn’t she criticize me for overusing the word? I confess, however, that I learned how simple errors can detract from the message. I also never spelled truly wrong again.
During high school, Mr. Russo put an edge on my writing. I recall many of his scribbles in the margin… often accusing me of dysentery of the pen and advising me to put my head “squarely on the chopping block” when I took a controversial position. (A chapter in Small People -- Big Brains is devoted to his tutelage.)
I do owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Bailey a college professor who gave an assignment that was profoundly simple. He made us keep a journal. We had to write a paragraph every day. The big disappointment was that he never collected it. A number of years passed before I fully appreciated the magic of the assignment. I think it was in part, “Better to write for oneself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”
In 1985 I began working as an independent consultant in individual and organizational development. It was perhaps providential that I learned at least one powerful lesson about problem solving from a first grader. We could learn management concepts by watching kids play. Kids tend to make things simple and direct. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a team of kids that I could take on the road with me.
When I semi-retired in 2002, I moved to Maine to find some of that simplicity kids understand. I somewhat accidentally (or perhaps “fatefully”) found myself working on a volunteer basis with kids.
Now, a decade later, I’ve effectively started a new career as an elementary school substitute (K-6). The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains.