I hated Mrs. Sloditskie.
By the time I was in ninth grade, I was already a strong writer — mostly because I also read a lot. The grammar work and comprehension questions that were assigned for homework did not seem like a worthwhile use of my time. So I didn’t do them. I was perfectly content with my grade in the class, which was held afloat by my test and project average.
We were firmly entrenched in a full-on battle of wills the entire year. I remember that at one point, because I had not completed my homework, she assigned me to write “I will turn in my homework on time” fifty times. I promptly forgot about it until the next day. So I talked some of my friends into writing sentences with me. We took turns, five or six sentences as quickly as possible, while the others worked the kinks out of their fingers from the last set.
She actually counted the sentences — alas, there were only forty-nine! So I was assigned the same damn sentence for the next day. One hundred times. (And the previous forty-nine didn’t count toward that.) I drafted more friends, numbered the lines, and turned in the completed assignment as ordered. But I still rebelled in my heart.
We had writing portfolios that year, and for each major assignment, there were three “focus areas” that were each worth a third of the overall grade. Even a single error in one of those categories would drop the grade from a 100 to a 67.
When she handed back our descriptive essays, I did not receive mine. She read it to the class, making note of the specific sensory details and vivid diction used to craft the scene for the reader. I still have the portfolio and that essay.
I got a 67 on the stupid thing.
Spelling had been one of the focus areas, and I had used “to” instead of “too.” After class, I went up and explained that it was not misspelled, that I had used the wrong word, and that homophones were not one of the focus areas. She just grinned at me and said that she didn’t believe me. She was confident that I knew the difference between those words and had been careless in my proofreading. The grade would stand.
She was probably right.
That essay serves as a reminder of where I’ve come from as a writer, and also a reminder that writing is judged differently in different contexts as well as by different readers.