A Teacher Who Changed My Life

TIMEJuly 25, 2019

I struggled for years to make it as a writer. My father told me it was a hobby and pushed me to get a licensed profession. I defied him and got my degree in philosophy. After graduation, I searched for a job in writing. At the same time, I wrote short stories like crazy and sent them off to dozens of magazines. Years passed and I failed to find a job in writing, so I supported myself by waiting tables and bartending. In the meantime, I received tons of rejection letters from the magazines to whom I sent my articles and stories. I was beginning to get discouraged.

Five years zoomed past, and other than a few freelance jobs writing advertising copy, I was no closer to my goal. I was beginning re-think my life, when I recalled the encouraging words from Mrs. Lynn Andersen, my 9th-grade English teacher.

She had assigned my class with several essays to write. I remembered the glowing paragraphs of praise she wrote in bright red ink at the top of all my papers. There must have been a dozen of those compositions and just recalling them gave me hope. I thought, “At least one person in the world believes in my writing.”

It was just the encouragement I needed, and I doubled my efforts to find work. Soon I was getting a great deal more freelance work. Enough that I was able to quit working in restaurants. Enough to make a down payment on a house. Then whenever I needed a boost in confidence, I would think again of those dozen glowing paragraphs of praise written in bright red ink at the top of my essay papers.

Rob Wilson
Rob Wilson. (Courtesy of Rob Wilson)

Suddenly everything seemed to gel. I sold my first book; I won several very important advertising awards; and three colleges were asking me to teach a class in copywriting. I was feeling very grateful and once again thought of my 9th-grade English teacher and those glowing paragraphs of praise written in bright red ink. I decided to look her up and give her a call.

When I got Mrs. Andersen on the phone, my first shock was that she did not remember me. I was certain I had been one of her favorites. My second was when she told me that she never wrote paragraphs of praise. “There were simply too many papers to grade to write more than a word or two,” she said, “I would write ‘Nice Work’ or ‘Good Job,’ but never anything more.”

Unconvinced, when I got off the phone, I went up to the attic and dug out the box that held my old school work (yes, it’s true—I’m a total packrat—especially when it comes to things I’ve written!). It took a while, but I finally found those old papers. She was right; there were no paragraphs. And, there was far less than a dozen—only two. About the only thing I remembered correctly was the bright red ink. I did, however, rate more than one or two words. On the first one, she wrote, “Nicely written—well thought out.” On the other, “Good Sense of Humor!”

Nine words. Nine powerful words. Nine little words that were so heartening that over the next 15 years, they grew into hundreds in my mind. Nine words that motivated me to stick to my dreams. Mrs. Lynn Andersen will always be the teacher who changed my life for the better.

Rob Wilson is a keynote speaker and humorist in Atlanta, Ga.

Rob Wilson