Monday, May 15, 2006

Appreciation Wednesday (on Monday): Thank you to my teachers

Sorry it's been a while since my last installment of this series. I had a draft for this post all set up, with serious background research and everything, and then discovered that I'd deleted all the text by mistake! Argh! But, of course, there are so many people and phenomena in the world to appreciate, so I'll write about something else this week while I reconstruct the other one . . .

I'm blessed to have had many amazing teachers in the course of my life. I'm grateful to my parents for having paid all the tuition money to send me to a K-12 school that I loved (most of the time) and in which I got a first-rate education. They also sent me on a year of religious studies in Israel, which I also loved, and to college (which I helped pay for, a little, and which I loved), and, with my grandmother, helped me significantly to attend graduate school, which I loved. (For that last, I also appreciate the folks at NYU who decided to give me a substantial scholarship, without which I would have had a much harder time finishing the program, and probably would not have enjoyed myself half as much.)

Today I'm taking some time to appreciate the English/writing teachers who helped me get to where I am today: a relatively successful freelance journalist, who is managing to pay my bills (usually) just by freelancing. There are not many people in the world who manage that -- the average freelance writer in America earns only $5,000 per year -- and there is no way I could have gotten here by myself.

Looking back, I realize that what made a difference for me was a combination of teachers who taught well, were personally encouraging to me, and/or helped me get my "foot in the door" of the business.

I appreciate my kindergarten teachers, whoever they were, for teaching me the letters of the alphabet.

I appreciate Mrs. Geracht, my first grade teacher, and Miss Simansky, my second grade teacher, for instructing me how to read and write, and creating an enjoyable and safe school atmosphere for me. I distinctly remember loving school very much right through second grade, and am grateful to have gotten off to a happy start.

I appreciate Mrs. Silver, my fourth grade teacher, for not only assigning fascinating projects, especially in reading, writing, and science, but also putting me in the highest spelling group, which was great for my self-esteem (and allowed me to learn to spell words like pneumonia when I was nine years old).

I appreciate Mrs. Onie, my sixth grade teacher, for teaching me how to write an outline (which I hated at the time) and giving me lots of writing opportunities. I also appreciate her for recommending that I be put in Honors English in junior high school. I had never seen myself as "honors" material, and it felt so amazing when she told me that my writing was excellent and that she thought I'd do well in the higher track.

I appreciate Miss Steiff, z"l, who taught me to analyze literature and, more importantly, to love, appreciate, and enjoy English grammar in grades seven and eight. She also taught a special extra-curricular course in tenth grade, to prepare us to take the Test of Standard Written English along with the SAT. The fact that an editor told me once "we like your work because it requires almost no copy editing" is due entirely to Miss Steiff, who taught me all about subject-verb agreement, and dangling participles. She was a special person and an excellent teacher, and I miss her very much.

I appreciate my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Charney, for reading one of my writing assignments out loud to the class as a model of good writing. I never forgot that.

I appreciate Mr. Youmans, my 11th-grade English teacher, for being fun and intellectually stimulating, and taking me seriously.

I appreciate the folks at Barnard College who chose my admissions essay, along with those of four others, to read out loud to all new students at orientation. I never forgot that. What a wonderful way to start college, with my fears about being able to do the work assuaged!

I appreciate Constance Brown, registrar at Barnard College and the instructor of my required Critical Writing class, who once told me during a one-on-one conference about a paper I'd written, "Sarah, you are a really good writer." To her, it may have been a throw-away comment, but to me . . . well, I never forgot it.

I appreciate Professor Patricia Denison (my wonderful academic advisor) and Professor Timea Szell (my independent research advisor) at Barnard for agreeing to write recommendations for me to Journalism school, rather than throwing up their hands and say "what? again?" . . . You see, they had already written recommendations for me to attend an M.A. program in English Education . . . and then had written different recommendations for me to get a degree in Guidance Education . . . and I kept changing my mind about what I want to do . . . So, I'm sorry I drove them crazy, but appreciate their diligence!

I appreciate Professor Richard Blood, formerly of the New York Daily News and Columbia Journalism School, and now of NYU, for teaching me to be a reporter and a deadline writer, for encouraging me and praising my work, and for getting me my first gig as a reporter, covering community board meetings for the New York Observer.

I appreciate Professor Brooke Kroeger of NYU for insisting on the highest standards of comprehensiveness in Feature Writing class, for getting me my gig as New York Correspondent for the Jewish Chronicle of London, and for hiring me to help with research on one of her books and to redesign the syllabus for her Journalistic Tradition course. I learned a lot by watching her, and thank her for her trust and support.

I appreciate Gary Belsky, deputy editor at ESPN Magazine and instructor of Magazine Article Writing in my graduate program, for teaching me the real skills necessary for freelancing: how to come up with story ideas, how to pitch them and to whom, how to write a freelancing contract and present the stories in a professional-looking way, how to repackage and resell stories to different publications, etc. I also appreciate that he got me my gig as a researcher at VH1.

I appreciate the folks at Writer's Digest for producing many inspiring books that help to keep me "fresh" and excited. I especially appreciate their production of Writer's Digest magazine and of the freelancer's bible, Writer's Market.

I appreciate my many clients. Almost without exception, they are a pleasure to work for, and they pay me on time. I especially appreciate the editors who call me to offer assignments, rather than wait for me to come to them with story ideas . . . you know who you are . . .

I appreciate the family members and friends who understand that "freelance writer" is what I want to be, not something I call myself in between "real" jobs, and who tell me that they think it's cool. That gets me through the rough patches when I'm bored or don't have enough work. Thanks, guys!

I appreciate the family members who have helped me out financially when things got a little rough . . . you know who you are . . . thank you.

I appreciate the employment advisors at Nefesh B'Nefesh, who often send out my resume on my behalf; I've gotten a few new clients and even job offers through them, and thank them for all they do to help North American immigrants.

And I thank Hashem for making it all come together.

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