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Teaching Profession Opinion

How Two Teachers Helped Me Weave a Dream

Without my high school English teachers, I wouldn’t be publishing my first novel
By Anne Shaw Heinrich — May 10, 2024 3 min read
Image of nurturing the craft of writing.
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Stories have captivated me as far back as I can remember. As children, my brothers and I were surrounded by good books. Our mother was a voracious reader of fiction; Dad preferred the news and nonfiction.

One of my first magical moments with storytelling happened without a book and when I was a very little girl sitting in the living room with my dad in the evenings, just the two of us, listening to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” on the record player. We sat there in the dark as he pointed out the characters represented by the different instruments and the rise and arc of the story threaded together with music.

I spent much of my childhood with my nose in a book, often reading the same stories over and over. Consuming one story after another has long been something I associate with joy.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered something even more thrilling. I cannot in good conscience claim the discovery as my own, as something I landed on because I was particularly clever or teeming with any more intellect than my classmates. This discovery caught me by surprise; it changed my life and simply would not have happened without the two incredible teachers who helped me see the stories swirling around me, waiting for me to be their teller.

These women had very different teaching styles, but they shared the responsibility of ensuring that everyone from freshmen to seniors in our tiny Missouri high school received exposure to some classic literature, understood the value of a complete sentence, and would be poised to write a cogent essay or term paper if and when needed. Most years, I had one or both of them because I pigged out on not only required courses but also any language arts electives available to me. Anything these two had to offer was my jam.

Constance Moore has a serenity about her. She helped me notice, for the first time, how elegantly and smoothly words could move a thought across the page. Watching her quietly delight in a poem or passage felt like I, too, had permission to be delighted. She taught me how to think about the writer, to consider what was happening in the world at the time a piece was written, to let beautifully written literature affect me.

I don’t know what she saw with her teacher eyes, but she likely sensed that words moved me. Coming to her classroom right after algebra, a subject that I never could master with confidence, felt like a relief. Numbers eluded me; but words opened pockets of possibility that were within my grasp.

Not too long ago, I was cleaning out some old papers and ran across a stack of essays from high school. The lined papers were folded over, and I opened them to remind myself why I kept them tucked away for so long. Her distinctive handwriting and comments were all over the pages, encouraging, appreciating, letting me know in her thoughtful way that I, too, could wield words, make them work for me. Those notes felt like a conversation, as soft and wise as her voice.

I knew that if the day I published a novel ever did come, I would honor these women.

Jane Reed was equally skilled at guiding students through reading good literature in ways that weren’t lazy or rushed. She mapped out structure that helped me appreciate books as I had not before. Her wry sense of humor has a no-nonsense quality to it that kept things moving without sacrificing seriousness. It was authentic and worked with teenagers because it was grounded in respect. She led a student magazine that literally formed the foundation of what I do professionally to this day: identifying stories that need telling, interviewing people, asking the right questions, and then my favorite part, writing the story.

With her lens, I learned that most of the interesting stories are based on things that really happen. Armed with what she taught me, I’ve interviewed and written features about hundreds of people, including opera great Beverly Sills, folksinger Judy Collins, film critic Gene Siskel, and actor Debbie Reynolds.

We have also stayed in touch over the years, and she’s been there to celebrate when new pieces of mine have been published. She’s even been kind enough to read some of my fiction with a critical, encouraging eye. Ever the teacher, she is still cheering, still seeing potential, still reminding me that anything is possible. When I learned that my first novel would be published, she was on the short list of people who got a text the day I signed the contract.

I knew that if the day I published a novel ever did come, I would honor these women who have influenced me—and hundreds of others—so deeply. For once, I am fresh out of words that adequately capture the full scope of my gratitude. But I can and have dedicated my book to these dream weavers, these lovely humans who led me to my path.

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