Each month in this space, I try to explain how we put the issue together, and the motivation behind our decisions. This month's column is no different, but I guess you could say I'm taking the back-door approach.
Fall's not yet here, but another school year has begun. For those with kids, that means hectic mornings and lunch packing. My "kids," however, are the new crop of editorial interns that arrive fresh-faced and eager to begin their writing careers. (Or, after seeing first-hand what this crazy publishing business is all about, make last-minute changes in career choice.)
As fate would have it, our intern last summer, Elizabeth Brandon, and one of our new summer/fall interns, Christina Leatherman, both attended my alma mater, Hutchison. And before anyone thinks favoritism is at work here, know that I am not the one who chooses the interns.
The fact that these two went to Hutch, while a funny coincidence, is not the reason for this article. What struck me about both was the first interaction I had with them. It went something like this:
"You went to Hutchison? Oh my gosh, did you have Ms. Newberry?"
A little backstory. Pat Newberry is an English teacher at Hutch, and has been for as long as I can remember. She teaches junior English, and if you choose to take AP English, Newberry's your instructor.
And she is tough.
But it would be unfair of me to start with Ms. Newberry. When I arrived at Hutch in eighth grade, fresh from a school in a little town in Arkansas, I was woefully unprepared for the English class taught by Judi Centko. Sure, I could crank out the three-paragraph essays and get good grades, but Mrs. Centko noticed that while I could reach the ends, the means were a bit lacking. She pulled me aside after class one day, and asked me a few simple grammar questions, then asked me to diagram a sentence, and I couldn't do it. So after school each day, in a spot where no one could see us, we worked together until I had the basics mastered. She never embarrassed me, never made me feel self-conscious about the extra help I needed. But in her quiet way, she got me caught up with the rest of the class. No one ever knew about our one-on-one sessions.
The next year, I had Gerrie MacQueen for English, who also pulled me aside, thankfully this time for a different reason. "Try harder," she told me. "You have it in you. Bring it out. Show me what you can really do." I have no doubt that had Mrs. Centko not given me the time she did the year before, this meeting with Mrs. MacQueen wouldn't have taken place.
Fast forward to junior year, when Ms. Newberry, at once respected and feared, got her hands on me. She pushed me harder than any teacher had before, and encouraged me to compete at Wordsmith, even though my other teachers insisted that I shouldn't be there, as I was not, um, doing so well in math. I didn't understand that logic, and apparently Ms. Newberry didn't either, because I went. I still have the hand-written congratulatory note she sent to me letting me know I'd won. I also have the book she presented to me my senior year, How to Get Happily Published .
Guess it worked, huh, Ms. Newberry?
She's been on my mind a lot these days, and never so much as when Christina came to me and asked if she could write this month's staff book pick. "Ms. Newberry made me read it," she explained. "Not just that, she made me love it." You can read Christina's review on page 138.
Sarah Galpern, our other editorial intern, comes to us from Texas, but judging from her writing, there was a Ms. Newberry somewhere in her past as well.
I have no doubt that without these three forces of nature pushing me, sometimes gently, sometimes not-so-gently, I wouldn't be writing today.
There are many more teachers like the ones who made such an indelible mark on my life. For all those teachers doing a hard job without much acknowledgment, thank you for making a difference, one student at a time.