I was in fourth grade when a young woman named Tricia Wiliams started showing up in the classroom. I suppose she was either a para-professional or there as a volunteer. She was pretty, cheerful, and in her late twenties. She had actual knee-high, white go-go boots! One day, Mrs. Clyne sent me and a few other kids out into the hall with her. I was sure I wasn't in trouble, so I didn't ask questions; I just went.
Tricia sat us down and told us that we were going to write a story together, which we did. I don't recall the process much. I don't remember who the other kids were who were tapped to co-write the story. But every morning for three days we got to leave the classroom and "be writers", which made at least one of us feel pretty special. I remember feeling that my teacher seemed to understand me, and someone had come to encourage what was, at the time, the seed that would be my future. My writing mattered. More, I mattered.
Our story was about a skunk who didn't fit in with the other skunks. Sammy the skunk was different; he smelled like roses! I could relate to the skunk who didn't fit in. I was smart in some subjects, pretty good at jump rope but was not one of the popular kids. What I loved was reading and writing, and got in trouble for doing it when it "wasn't time". I daydreamed a lot. I didn't apply myself. Thank God for great teachers like Mrs. Clyne! She saw what was really going on, and instead of trying to make me conform, made room for me to grow.
Being in the writers group felt like winning the lottery, and when the book was finished with the original art that was probably the work of Lisa (who had the 64 pack of Crayolas with a built-in sharpener!) we got to take the story to the little kids' classrooms and share it, along with a bottle of Avon cologne that I pilfered from my mom's dressing table, called Roses! Roses! I got to spritz the room while Tricia read the story aloud. It was a hit! The younger kids loved the story. We had taken the challenge and felt the glow of success.
I still enjoy being challenged by attending writing retreats and workshops and have never forgotten the power of a bit of encouragement. Everyone has a story to tell. Every person is far more interesting than they know. I love to help people, young or old, discover their voices and tell their stories in vivid colors using only white paper and black ink.
For an hour, a day, or a residency, I'm passing what I learned from Mrs. Clyne and Tricia along. It would be a pleasure to encourage your class or writing group.