National Book Award finalist author Gary Schmidt was recently interviewed by NPR about his YA novel Okay for Now. Okay for Now follows Doug Swieteck, a kid in a new town who already has a bad reputation. With no friends things are hard for Doug, but when teachers and even the police think he’s a thug things go from bad to worse. If that’s not enough for one kid to handle, at home he’s dealing with an alcoholic father and a brother who has just come back from Vietnam.
“Like Doug, the young Gary D. Schmidt was also underestimated by his teachers. He went to a school where students were classified by aptitude: “If you’re Track One you’re the college-bound kid; if you’re Track Two you’ll have a good job; if you’re Track Three you’re the stupid kid. And I was tracked as Track Three. … I mean, we were going to serve french fries at McDonald’s for the rest of our lives.”
That meant Schmidt’s early education didn’t involve a lot of books or reading — until one day, a teacher intervened.
“I was taken up by a great, great teacher … who just liked me,” he says, “and who one day walked into my Track Three classroom, no kidding, and she takes me by the hand, and she says, ‘Come with me.’ And I left my Track Three classroom and I walked with her to her Track One classroom. And she put me at a desk that was right beside hers, and she had stuffed it with books, most of which were below my grade level, but which I couldn’t read because I was Track Three — I was ‘stupid.’ And she taught me how to read. And I grew to love them.”‘ Click here to read the full NPR interview.
It’s amazing how one invested teacher can turn a student’s life around. We decided to ask our Teen Press Corps what teachers have most influenced them.
Hayden said, “It may seem surprising to those who read this, but the teacher who affected me most, a boy obsessed with medicine and doctors, was my 8th grade U.S. history teacher, Ms. Martin. I would be lying if I said we had a special relationship, but then again maybe we did. I came into that 8th grade year fully expecting to be bored out of my mind. (A bi-product of a too tired Texas History teacher who was ready to retire but didn’t for whatever reason). I was profoundly surprised. Everyday was a blast, from learning about the Boston Tea Party (acted out with bags of sugar, a large box, and a bucket of water) to the Bill of Rights (because everyone has a right to BEAR arm!). I was never bored. Mrs. Martin taught me that no matter the subject, if you love what you’re teaching it will translate into, at the very least, a memorable experience for your students.”
For Emily it was earlier in life. ” When I was in the 2nd grade, I wrote and illustrated a short story. I showed it to my teacher, who put it on the bookshelf in the classroom. Seeing my own writing along side that of published authors made me realize that I could actually be a writer. My teacher’s encouragement is what laid the foundation to my confidence in my writing and made me continue to write.”
For Laura it was even earlier than that. ” I was in the 1st grade at the time. Like most kids my age, reading was a huge bore and I couldn’t stand being surrounded by books. It was the beginning of the year and we had to do library orientations (ugh!). My class and I all sat in the arena in the center of the library while Mrs. Tuttle (who would prove to be the best Librarian EVER!) read to us about an amazing pirate boy and his orange. The story was a blend of silly comments and awesome adventure, and that was it – I was hooked. Later that day we returned to the library and Mrs. Tuttle told us all about the wonders of reading. On that day I fell in love with books. My relationship with literature is one of the most important in my life. It was because of Mrs. Tuttle’s dedication that I found my passion, and I couldn’t thank her more.”