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Week Five: The Power of Letters

June 29, 2015

dsc_0154I suspect I’m going to need to spend some time in the attic this week. I don’t need to respond to this particular altar call; no one has to convince me of the power of letters.However, I had not thoughtfully considered how letters could inform my other writing. This should be fun.

I challenge you to write (and mail) at least one letter every day this week. You may already have letters or notes you need to write; there may be friends with whom you’ve fallen out of touch. Send someone a mailbox surprise.

Part I: Your epistolary history

Begin by thinking about the role letters play (or have played) in your life. When something happens to you—good or bad—do you think, “Whom can I write and tell?” Do you, like McClanahan, have boxes of letters you can’t toss, that you would perhaps rescue from a house fire?

First some questions:
Who wrote these letters that you keep?
Why have you kept these in particular?
Are they one half of a dialogue from the past?
Who has the ones you wrote?

 What is your role in your life of letters?

I have always been a letter writer, and I learned long, long ago that if I wanted to maintain some of my important relationships, I couldn’t count on an even exchange. If I had something to write and it wasn’t my “turn,”I still wrote.

Take some times to think of the letters most worth keeping—put your hands on them if you can. If a letter was addressed to you, would it communicate the same message to a stranger? If not, can you invoke your memory to fill in the blanks?

Pay attention to the writer’s voice in each letter. If it was written by someone you know well, do the words convey that person’s personality? the mood at the time?

Do you have letters among your keepsakes that were neither written to or by you? How did they come into your possession? Did you know both parties? Just one? What would you ask them if you could?

I have a letter written by my great grandmother in her beautiful penmanship to her future husband while they were still courting. Although his name was James, she called him “Dear Jacobus.” The coyness and affection are so tactfully delivered in the letter. It pains me that since it was written in pencil, it has faded over the years. I found another letter written to her by her preacher after she was baptized, a beautiful letter of encouragement that was anything but a form letter. The closeness between the two is so apparent.

A packrat and a sorter, I’m trying to work out a system for my letters—and believe me, I have boxes and boxes, even though I try to purge. Take a little time to sort through yours, looking for a system. Give yourself permission to stop and read a few. Take notes if you see tidbits you might want to include in a writing project now or in the future.

Part II: Qualities of effective letters

As you consider these qualities detailed on pages 106-107, consider how they also enrich your other avenues of writing:
* Letters are a bridge between private (“I”) writing and public or social writing.
* If you’ve been comfortable with journaling but feel squeamish about an imagined audience, a letter gives you a real reader,   one you choose. Remember, too, that a letter can be addressed to more than one person—but it doesn’t have to be.
*  Letter writing helps you to develop your own voice. You can even let yourself imagine how the addressee will read your words and respond to you.
* Letters can be a “rehearsal” for your other writing—prose or poetry.

Part III: What makes a letter memorable?

In Part I, you considered the letters you kept that others have written to you. Now think of the letters you have written, the ones that may have left your possession—and control long ago, but that had an impact. It may not have been the effect you intended either, right? What about the ones you wrote and didn’t mail?

Do they reflect the qualities of memorable pieces of writing listed beginning on p. 108?
* The need to say it. If you’re a lifelong letter-writer, as I am, your first instinct when you need to process something is to write a letter. Especially before the easy access of internet, these kinds of letters kept me connected to friends in other towns too. Sometimes, too, a letter lets you say something you can’t verbalize out loud.
* Personal voice. When writing goes well—especially letter writing—you can almost hear yourself speaking, imagining the pauses, picking just the right words.
* A feeling of intimacy. Because a letter is a form of a gift, the writing forges a special connection between you the writer and your reader. Unless you begin all your letters, To Whom It May Concern, the identity of the intended recipient is clear—and significant.
* Time, reflection and discovery. Personally, I believe this is the most important distinction between a letter and an email. When you take the time to write—especially by hand, you have the opportunity to revise, rewrite, delete. With an email, once you click “Send,” there’s no turning back—even though sitcom characters may try. One lesson that transfers smoothly from letter-writing to any other kind of writing you choose: Give yourself a little time after you write. Put it aside and let it “cool off.” Immediately after writing, we tend either to think, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever written” or “This is a masterpiece!” Neither is usually exactly right. A little time and distance can allow you to be sure what you meant to communicate has come through clearly.

I’ll let you consider the discussion of email; I do remember years ago reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Animal Dreams, in which the protagonist was exchanging letters with her sister, who was somewhere in Central America during a time of political turmoil. It struck me that she saw the lag time between letters and responses as a positive, not a negative. How different from our own “real-time” communication when we sometimes send texts that cross paths simultaneously, our answers already outdated by the time we hit send.

Part IV: Special Purpose Letters

McClanahan gives special attention to sympathy letters in this chapter. There are so many situations for which we need a little handbook on “What not to say.” I was struck by her comment, “The only sympathy letters that ever caused me pain were the ones I didn’t receive” (112).

While I’ve lived a blessed life, with most family losses coming from old age rather than tragedy, as a preacher’s kid, I was always just a few degrees of separation from much loss. I was probably taught more, implicitly, by my mother. A much quieter person than I, my mother has a gift for writing notes. I know this not from her, but from the account of others who have received her small acts of kindness. I do remember her telling me that saying nothing is usually the worst thing to do. (Second worse, I imagine, is saying too much!)

For those of you who have had more firsthand experience, I would love to hear your response to her suggestions (113-116). Are there others you could add?

I will make one suggestion: Facebook walls are not the best place to express sympathy at a recent loss. Even on the anniversary of a loss, I try to keep my words private. It’s hard to beat a handwritten note, stamped and mailed.

Love Letters: On the other end of the letter-writing spectrum are love letters. If you have the ideal recipient (as I do!) try out some of McClanahan’s tips:
* Construct a timeline of memories
* Share your dreams (and hopes and ambitions)
* “Let me count the ways”—make a list of your loved one’s qualities. Yes, humor is acceptable.
* Share a day in your life—especially if you are apart.

Letters of Gratitude: If there’s someone who has had some positive impact on your life, and you haven’t said thank you, what are you waiting for?

Thank you letters—even long postponed—are true gifts. They make their way into other people’s souvenir boxes. Best of all, you may receive letters of response or rekindle relationships.

Some of my most prized letters have come from former students. Some are slipped onto my desk at the end of a school year. Others show up out of the blue—and often when I need them most. That’s why during Teacher Appreciation Week one year, I decided to write to Flora Hopper, my fourth and fifth grade teacher (and ninth grade Latin teacher too.)

I might share more of that story later this week, but let me say that for the rest of her life, she sent me notes, clippings, and words of encouragement. A “Forever” stamp is a might small price to pay.

One last word: Since letters are often so personal, you may not want to post your actual letters here, but I would love some of your reflections and suggestions this week. Do you see how you can take your letters and shape them into a story, a poem, even a novel?

 

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. sandyyoung75 permalink
    June 30, 2015 3:11 am

    Letters and Me

    Back in the Dark Ages of the ‘40s, parents taught their children to write letters, especially thank-you notes. My mother was no exception. If someone sent through the mail or handed me in person a gift, my mother saw to it that I sat down immediately and wrote a thank-you note.

    My cousin who is like a sister to me, JoAnn, and I wrote back and forth to each other fairly regularly. From each of us, the letters went something like this:

    Dear JoAnn,

    How are you? I am fine. What have you been doing? I have been taking care of my turtle and going to the library.

    I’ll be glad to see you at Mema’s house in the summer.

    Love,
    Sandy

    Really interesting, huh?

    When my best friend went with her family to Utah for the summer when we were sixteen, we wrote to each other almost every day. She told me about that magical land in the Southwest, where different colored sand and mountains and Indians abounded. I was fascinated with her descriptions and stories of places she visited. She even sent some photos, and when she came home, she brought me a beautiful jar of levels of that colored sand. I guess I wrote to her telling her about all the excitement in Pensacola . . . nothing in comparison to what she was experiencing in Utah.

    In the spring of 1958, when I applied for acceptance to Mississippi College and was accepted, I received the name and address of my roommate. I’m sure I received her phone number, too, but back in those days, hardly anyone made long distance phone calls. When we met in Jennings Hall a few days after Labor Day that year, we felt as though we had known each other for years even though we had never heard each other’s voices. We had made all the plans for our room through hand-written letters. I took bedspreads, she took curtains. Of course, we had talked about colors so that the spreads and curtains would be coordinated.

    Yet another letter was one from a boy that I had a date with. He hadn’t even held my hand, but he wrote me a lovely letter after our date, complete with a poem about how much he enjoyed the evening and how lovely I was. We dated for several months, with no more than hand holding . . . not one kiss. I wound up marrying Frank three years later, and he married one of my friends from Pensacola. He was gay.

    I wrote to my mother and daddy every once in a while, but none of us were very faithful writers, so we resorted mainly to Sunday evening phone calls. I do remember one of my mother’s letters, though. She was catching me up on what was going on at home and told me that Daddy had mowed the front lawn and cut down her crysumpathisms. I have laughed about her spelling ever since 1959.

    Frank and I began dating in March 1961, March 10 to be exact, and in June we were engaged. I stayed at home during the first semester of summer school that year, and we wrote letters almost daily. I bought beautiful delicate blue stationery for my letters, always put a little perfume on the paper, wrote SWAK on the back of the envelope, and signed each one “I love you muchly.” Frank’s letters to me were written beautifully in peacock blue ink . . . not a ball point pen, though. He wrote with a fountain pen . . . or ink pen, as we called them back then.

    After we married on December 17, 1961, there was no need for letters between us; however, my parents longed for letters from us even though we still talked almost every Sunday evening. We were so busy being married students that we just never got around to writing. Mother even made up forms for us to check off and mail, but we forgot to do that. If I remember correctly, they were little 3×5 pieces of paper with the following statements:

    We are fine. _____
    We are sick. _____
    We are happy. _____
    We are hungry. _____
    We are making good grades. _____

    You get the picture! Poor Mother and Daddy!

    I hate to admit that I wasn’t as good as my mother was about teaching a child to write letters. I’m so sorry that I didn’t take time to teach Wendy to communicate by mail, and as a result, she didn’t teach her daughter. She did have Jackson write Frank a thank-you letter for the bike that he gave him. Someday he may learn to ride it!

    On Thursday, July 2, 1992, exactly twenty-three years ago this week, our son Jay died. I can’t remember when the cards and letters began to pour in, but I know that it wasn’t long after his death. Every afternoon for a month or six weeks after the funeral, we could hardly wait to open the mail. Many times, Wendy was with us, and we all cried over the things that people told us about Jay and how much they had loved him. The cards that we received were seldom just the “canned” messages that were printed on the cards. Most of the cards had long personal notes in them. Even the printed-only messages were wonderful, but, oh, those notes with messages about how much they loved our boy were just the best. Sometimes people think they don’t know what to say to bereaved parents, but I assure you that every message was perfect, just what the three of us needed to hear.

    When I joined the Facebook “revolution” in 2008, I began posting something about Jay on his birthday, February 10, and on the day that he went to Heaven, July 2. I always try to sound upbeat and to write something that readers will get a kick out of. I tell them to smile and tell funny stories about Jay. On both of these dates, I get close to two hundred “Likes” and usually about thirty or forty comments. We think of Jay every day, but it never ceases to amaze us that both his friends and ours remember him and write those memories.

    I literally hate to write by hand, but I’m trying to cure myself. It’s so easy to write an email to someone, and I really don’t mind getting letters through cyber space. In fact, some of the ones that are the most special to me have arrived in my INBOX. I must admit, though, that I get so excited when I see an envelope in our post office box and know that someone cared enough about me to write to me in their own handwriting. To me, writing by hand takes a lot of effort and really shows love.

  2. June 30, 2015 1:23 pm

    I loved this post, Sandy! Whether you realize or not, you really do have a voice (I hear it!) when you write. This reminded me of so many things I want to write this week. Back soon!

  3. sandyyoung75 permalink
    June 30, 2015 2:38 pm

    Well, darlin’, you have made my day, my week . . . my year! Actually, several people have told me that they can hear me in my writing. That’s the nicest thing anyone can tell me when they read something I’ve written. Thank you! It’s very special when YOU tell me this. And you know what? I can hear my cuz in her writing, too!

    Voice is one of the most important elements in writing. I tried to teach my each of my students to discover his or her voice. What I found through the years was that English teachers before me had almost ruined their possibility of finding their voice. The teachers taught only formal writing and had ding donged third person into their heads so much that not one of them had a voice. One student even wanted to write her autobiography in third person because her junior teacher had told her so many times not to use first person. I don’t think I could write formally if I had to!

    One more thing about voice. The article that I wrote and that was published in the English Journal was originally titled Voice and the Copycat Teacher. When it was chosen for publication, it was newly titled Student Voices, Teacher Voices or something like that. I never could remember the title. I loved my title! I’m not very good at thinking up really good ones, and that was a good one. By the way, do you just happen to still have the April 1994 edition of the English Journal? I think that’s the one where my article is, and I surely would love to have a clean copy of it.

    Can’t wait to read what you write this week!

  4. Kathy permalink
    July 1, 2015 1:46 pm

    Hello Fellow Writers! This week is a challenge for me, as I don’t write letters and posess few. But I do have three important letters that I have saved.

    One was written by my brother, Dave, when he was recovering from a life changing automobile accident. Sandy, you of course are familiar with the details. After being in Intensive Care, and then a Med/Surg room for 3 months (Sept 19 – Dec 24) he came home for a brief respite to spend Christmas with us. Then, after the holidays, he had to go to a Rehab Center in Mobile, AL to learn how to navigate his world from a wheelchair. He wrote a letter to me from that Rehab Center, he was 19 and I was 16. He was so depressed, and in such despair, and confessed to his little sister feelings and thoughts he could not share with our parents. It was a dark time for us all.

    The second letter that I have saved is from my dad, written to me on my 18th birthday. At that time, in 1976, 18 years old was an “adult” haha. It is a sweet letter, telling me how proud he is of the young woman I had become. Obviously a treasure.

    The third letter is a love letter, pages long, written to me when I was in my early 20s. I don’t remember the exact age, for this young man and I were falling in and out of “love” for years. We never were on the exact time schedule, and you know in love “timing is everything” But the letter was written during a period when I was wanting to stay friends and not have a romantic relationship, and he poured out his heart trying to convince me that we were soul mates, meant to be together. As it so happened, when we were in our 30s I introduced him to one of my best friends and they have now been married for 25 years! This couple is like family to me, are my son’s surrogate Aunt and Uncle, and a favorite duo for Richard and me to hang with (they are coming to visit next week!) I doubt he even remembers writing that letter to me, over 30 years ago, and I would never bring it to the attention of his wife. But I cherish it.

    Although not a true “letter” I do have another personal written keepsake. When Richard and I were dating in 1996, and he was trying to convince me that marriage wasn’t the “M” word as I called it, he hand wrote, on four yellow legal sized pages, 100 reasons why we should get married! Some were pretty weak, such as “your cat will be happier” and “you’ll save tread on your tires” but he got his point across, and we’re celebrating our 19th anniversary this month.

    Thanks for letting me share. I am going to write a couple of letters this week, one to a friend who recently lost her son, and one to Will for his 22nd birthday coming later this summer.

    • July 1, 2015 3:52 pm

      Kathy, I agree with Sandy. The letters you describe–and the “list” were great. You reminded me, too, that I wrote a letter to my baby sister Emily (thirteen years my junior) when she turned 18. I don’t remember all the advice, but one thing–a little superficial–was not to cut bangs if she had daughters. She was ten years older than my daughter, so when Laura turned 18, Emily wrote to her. I think she’s probably done the same for all the nieces. Thanks for sharing. Anything you would like to share–but not post for the potential world to see–send via email. I love the reading.

  5. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 1, 2015 3:32 pm

    Well, Kathy my dear, you don’t need to have a stash of letters. The ones that you have are priceless!

    How well I remember Dave’s accident and the effect it had on your family and almost all of Pensacola. We teachers at Woodham were devasted for all of you. I remember that one of the big disappointments of my life involved his accident. I primed myself for going to give blood because it was so desperately needed, but I was turned away because my blood pressure was too low. I think I know now that I could have done some things to bring it up, but I wasn’t too savvy on those things, and no one gave me instructions. The process of getting Dave back home and too a new kind of life (which, he and your family have handled as no one else that I know could have) was long and so difficult for all of you. The Thomases were, and still are, an amazing family!

    I loved your post, Kathy, and hope to read more of them. The one that I’ll write today will be difficult, and I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’ll post it. Since Nancy has challenged us with writing letters this week, I’ll take her up on one. I don’t promise any more, though. I, too, am not a handwritten-letter person. This is what I always call Jay Week. Tomorrow will be 23 years since Jay died, and I think I’ll write a letter to him. Since I can’t mail it, I’ll “compute” it. I don’t like writing by hand, anyway.

    Do write the letter to your friend who recently lost her son. Whatever you write will be most welcome. I wrote a piece on Sunday that deals a bit with that kind of writing. I didn’t post it, but if you want me to, I’ll send it to you in a Facebook message or email, but I’m not sure that I have your address.

    Sorry for the epistle . . .

    Love,
    Sandy

    • Kathy permalink
      July 3, 2015 3:08 am

      Sandy, I enjoy every word of your “epistles” haha. I would appreciate the wisdom from your piece written last Sunday. My e mail is ktoatl@aol.com

  6. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 1, 2015 4:40 pm

    A Perfect Assignment before Christmas

    I hope you won’t think me conceited when I say that I was a good teacher, maybe even an excellent teacher. To be honest, though, I must tell you that I was not a creative teacher. I was what one might call a “Copycat Teacher,” in that I was really good about taking another person’s good teaching ideas and either use them the way they were when they came to me or revise them so that they looked more like mine than someone else’s.

    One of the best assignments that I copied came from my teacher friend Shirley Clark. I heard her talking about it one year, and the next year just before she made her assignment, I asked her about it, and I knew that I wanted to do it with my classes. She told me that she was happy for me to use it because, after all, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

    The next day, I went to first period excited about what I would have my students do. After the usual housekeeping chores of checking roll and telling a couple of the students that yes, we did do some work in class yesterday even though they were absent, and giving them the assignments that they missed, I prepared to tell them of the treat that I had in store for them, knowing that I’d meet resistance from a few.

    I began by saying, “I have the most wonderful assignment for you,” probably not the best way to begin the assignment because I was met with groans and comments like, “Miz Young, you always say that and then work us to death!”

    And so began one of my Copycat Teacher assignments, with thanks to Shirley Clark. Here are the instructions that I gave my seniors:

    I don’t know whether or not you’re in the habit of writing thank-you letters to people after you receive gifts. If you’re not, you have a new experience awaiting you, one that will be valuable to you for the rest of your lives. It’s almost Christmas, and you’ll receive gifts that you need to acknowledge with a thank-you note, so this will be good practice for you.

    I want you to think of someone who has really influenced you in your life. This person must be an adult, not your boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend. Think of someone who has given you good advice, helped you through a time of trouble, loved you when you weren’t very lovable . . . someone whom you truly appreciate. Then write to that person giving specific examples of the reasons that you appreciate him or her. It might be your mother or dad or grandparents or a teacher or coach . . . just choose an adult to whom you’d like to say, “Thank you.”

    I was met with comments and questions such as: Do we have to mail the letters? My mother will think I’m crazy! I’m not thankful to anyone. You can imagine some of the things that seventeen-year-olds would say.

    And my answers to them? Yes, you have to mail the letters; in fact, you will give me the letters in a stamped envelope, and I’ll mail them for you. And then, if you write to your mother, believe me, when you walk in the door after she’s read it, she’ll be in tears and reading it for the fifth time. And in answer to the third comment . . . I know that you know someone to whom you want to say “Thank you.” Think! Think! Think!

    They all did just that. They thought about the person that they’d like to write to. The letters had to be turned in to me as rough drafts because I wanted to be sure that they didn’t have too many grammatical and spelling errors. Ever the English teacher! I wanted the recipients to be able to see that the writers had learned something in school! I even taught them how to address the envelopes because some of these almost adults had never written a letter and mailed it. I was amazed to find this out, but some admitted this either in class or privately.

    I must tell you that I cried as I read some of them. The things that they told their mothers and dads and grandparents . . . yes, and teachers . . . were so touching. Even big, burly football players laid bare their hearts in the letters.

    After the letters were revised and revised and I mailed them, my students were so eager to share the results of their letters. Sure enough, mothers cried, just as I had said that they would. And aunts and uncles couldn’t believe that their nieces and nephews remembered such specific things that they did together. Teachers were amazed and thrilled that their former students were so appreciative. Almost every student received a letter back from the person that he or she wrote to. My kids were ecstatic!

    I gave this assignment for the first time about twenty-five years ago and continued to give it every year around Christmastime until I retired in 1996. That was a long time ago, so I don’t remember details of the letters to share with you. I do want to share one that has never left my memory because of what happened afterwards.

    One girl chose to write to Sue Straughn, a TV anchor in Pensacola. She explained that she was from a single-parent home and didn’t receive all that much instruction in how to be a lady. She had learned so much from watching Ms Straughn on TV and wanted to thank her for being a true role model for her even though she had never met her in person. My student didn’t hear back from Sue. The weeks went by with this sweet girl listening to her classmates rave about their letters. I kept expecting her to talk about her letter, but I heard nothing from the girl on the front row, right next to the windows. I remember where she sat, but her name has escaped me.

    And then one day it happened. She smiled her way to her seat and came to me at my podium, letter in hand. She had received such a nice personal, handwritten letter, not a canned note, thanking her for writing to her. And she had enclosed an autographed photo! We both agreed that the response from Sue Straughn was worth waiting for!

    I’ll close with a funny but sad little remembrance. The head coach’s son was in my class one year, and it had been like pulling teeth getting him first of all to write and second of all getting the letter in shape so that his grandmother could understand it. On the last day before Christmas break, he proudly handed me his letter in the addressed and stamped envelope as he ran out of the room. I put it in the stack with the other procrastinators’ letters, determined to give final approval before I left school so that I could mail them that afternoon. As I came to the boy’s letter, I was in awe . . . maybe I was shocked. Evidently my wonderful teaching about addressing letters hadn’t “taken” with him because there in the middle of the envelope was his address, and up in the left-hand corner was his grandmother’s. At least he put the stamp in the right place. I just shook my head, sighed, took out a clean envelope, and addressed it correctly, and put my own stamp on it. I wish I could remember his name. He was one of those kids that I loved through my course, poking him along with assignments, making sure that he graduated.

    This letter-writing assignment was one of my favorites throughout my career. I’m just so sorry that I didn’t know about it earlier so that I could help kids make people on the other end of the letters happy. I know being a copycat isn’t always a good thing, but in this case it was.

    **********************

    Since Kathy may read this, I’ll add a little something about Sue Straughn because she probably knows this Pensacola TV personality. Sue is also very special to Frank and me. I can’t remember exactly when she participated in some comments on TV. After Jay died, so many of the people at WEAR-TV commented about Jay right there on their TV programs. Sue was one of these people who has remained special to us through 23 years.

    • July 3, 2015 3:10 am

      What an interesting story about Sue Straughn, who is still an anchor here. And I loved hearing the story about Shirley Clark, always one of Mom’s favorites.

      • sandyyoung75 permalink
        July 3, 2015 3:47 am

        I saw Sue on Channel 3 the last time I was in Pensacola. She never changes! Shirley is one of my favorites, too. We keep up via Facebook. A few weeks ago, my iPhone rang (wonder of wonders out here in the boonies!), and when I got to it, I saw that Shirley had called me. I immediately called her back, only to find that she hadn’t called. Woooooo! Strange things happen in cyber space, huh?

  7. July 1, 2015 6:08 pm

    Sandy, I’d have to pull my paperback copy of Lords of Discipline off the shelf to get more of the quote, but I’ve always love Pat Conroy’s “Great Teacher Theory,” part of which I include here:
    “Great teachers had great personalities and that the greatest teachers had outrageous personalities. I did not like decorum or rectitude in a classroom; I preferred a highly oxygenated atmosphere, a climate of intemperance, rhetoric, and feverish melodrama. And I wanted my teachers to make me smart. A great teacher is my adversary, my conqueror, commissioned to chastise me. He leaves me tame and grateful for the new language he has purloined from other kings whose granaries are filled and whose libraries are famous. He tells me that teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. Bad teachers do not touch me; the great ones never leave me. They ride with me during all my days, and I pass on to others what they have imparted to me. I exchange their handy gifts with strangers on trains, and I pretend the gifts are mine. I steal from the great teachers. And the truly wonderful thing about them is they would applaud my theft, laugh at the thought of it, realizing they had taught me their larcenous skills well.”
    ― Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

    Since I haven’t figured out how to italicize or bold print in comments yet, I’ll note that the line I was seeking is this: “. . . teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. . . ” I had a couple of letter-writing practices that I loved. I had seniors write a letter to themselves ten years after graduation. I’ve done my best to return them as their ten-year reunions arrive. Some wish they’d written more. I recall one girl who said that all those dreams had come true!

    I also learned to send a letter to the parents of my high school students the first week, before I had a chance to develop any preconceived ideas about these students. I pointed out that they, as parents, knew things that would take me most of the semester to figure out, and I asked them to share with me anything that could help me be a better teacher for their individual children. This helped to forge some wonderful relationships with parents. I always tried to remember that somebody loved each child, even the little scoundrels.

    • sandyyoung75 permalink
      July 1, 2015 7:49 pm

      I surely do wish we’d known each other when I was in the classroom, Nancy! I’d have copycatted this idea! I just knew, as I read Conroy’s quotation, that the part you wanted me to notice was “. . . teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. . . ” I just smiled and smiled as I read that!

  8. sandyyoung75 permalink
    July 1, 2015 8:46 pm

    Just now discovered a little something for this week. I don’t know if you have “bathroom literature” or not, but I always have a magazine handy just in case I want/need to stay more than a minute or two. (Is this TMI?) Anyway, today I picked up the “current” Reader’s Digest (December 2008) and turned to the “Laugh!:)” page. Here’s what I found: “Greeting Cards: When you care enough to send the very best but not enough to actually write something.” Thought it fit in pretty much with our Letters Week!

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